Performance, Part 1: Gold Stars

Performance, Part 1: Gold Stars


Leonard Zwelling

By the time this blog is posted, I will have performed at a book signing for my new novel Conflict of Interest graciously sponsored by our friends Nancy and Richie Freed. It is likely to be a small event of around 25 or 30 people. We (my co-author Marianne L. Ehrlich and I) are trying to have a multi-media event to kick off the book’s drive to selling 100 copies. That would be a lot for a privately-published first novel. I have no illusions about the book. I cannot answer for other authors, but I wrote this for me. It was what I had to get off my chest after 12 years of dealing with a lot of unethical nonsense at Anderson and having had over fifteen years to chew on it. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale about what happens in modern academic medicine when money displaces the greater interest of science and patients. That’s not what this blog is about. If you want to read the book, the information is below on how to get a copy.

In the weeks leading up to the book signing, I have been growing more and more anxious about the presentation. Have I lost confidence in the book? No. What about confidence in myself? I thought that was it, but upon greater thinking, I have concluded something else.

I think that after 70 years of performance, I have had enough.

To anyone who knows me, or my history of achieving in school, at clinical care, in the lab, and as an administrator, this will elicit a laugh. Len loves to perform. He lives for it. Except, as right as that is, I think my days of performing are not missed. And, I really loved to perform.

I can remember as far back as five years of age being on stage and loving it. I was in school plays, and loved to be in front of a classroom solving math problems. This ego feeding only got worse with every bit of positive feedback. Test taking and award grabbing, and performing in medical school were all just part of my make up. I think the main driver in my life was performing and getting gold stars for doing so. I loved it. And it drove me nuts. Literally.

In the novel I write about one of the main character’s visit to a behavior modification retreat where people with psychological problems work with horses to help with their diagnosis and treatment. The people, not the horses. When a screen producer read this part of the book, he said to me, this really happened to you, didn’t it? I had to admit it had. It was while I (the character is based on me) was working with this therapy horse that I finally realized that I was an achievaholic. I craved gold stars. I couldn’t get enough external approval and my self-worth had been based on it. And remember, unlike addictions to alcohol or drugs, addiction to achievement is never discouraged. The crowd always wants more.

Ever since that day with the horse, I have been working to let the gold stars go. I had chased them all my life and I was exhausted.

In retirement, I have continued activities for which I might be seeking gold stars. This blog for example. I do watch the numbers of readers I get and feel good when one hits a high number of eyeballs, but I don’t live for it. I write the blog because I think I have something to say that might help someone else. I have no interest in monetizing it and if I do try a podcast, it won’t be to make money or to be an influencer. It will be to have fun—pleasure, engagement, meaning.

All of this performance anxiety is flooding back in preparation for the book signing. Old habits are hard to break. I am afraid to disappoint. Then I remember that what is important to me is unaltered by my performance that night (and I will tell you how it goes). My life has become pretty simple and the people I love are the most important part of it.

There are no gold stars at stake when I present this week. If I sell a few books, great. If not, that’s okay, too.

My goal is to have fun. And, if others enjoy themselves, all the better

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle, 


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

6 thoughts on “Performance, Part 1: Gold Stars”

  1. The fact that you sat down and actually wrote a book is an achievement in itself. Just the thought of and empty sheet of paper gives me chills! So kudos to you. I know you’ll do great and you’ll sell books for sure!

  2. Gerard Ventura MD

    Writing your book (imho) was more about getting things “out of your system” (as our WWII generation dads used to say) than chasing a gold star, and I view that as a good thing. Remember that Kurt Vonnegut’s best work ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ centered around what he experienced as a POW in Germany, and in Dresden at the time of the bombing.
    In particular, it was his way of dealing with the death in the camp of the real-life Billy Pilgrim, Private Joe Crone-
    On a lighter note (oncologists are not good on ‘lighter notes’), you still got your golf game!

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