Building Blocks: Progress Over Perfection

09 Dec 2020

By Danilea M. Carmona Matos

As I reflect back on the various individuals who have supported my endeavors, I think of mentors and role models – male, female or gender non-conforming, surgeons and non-surgeons, underrepresented minority or not. Some of whom have known me and my family, others my work, and with some I’ve spent a fleeting moment that made a lasting memory.

At the end of the day, all of these impressive individuals brought a piece of advice to not only encourage me to succeed, but also to take care of myself in my journey. During this holiday time, I would like to share with you some of the positive messages that I carry close to my heart thanks to these individuals. 

Progress over perfection. 

From my faculty member who shared that even with what seemed like an imperfect start (7 years to complete a BS in Biology) by persevering and showing commitment you can still reach your dreams.

Perfection is chasing after a unicorn that can lead to frustration. Perfection can be an impossible standard that can let you and others down. Instead, aim for excellence and for the future. Do your best, be your best self and move forward toward your goals. 

You do you.

From the surgeon scientist at the mentor-mentee breakfast at a surgical congress who took the time to share his personal struggle with burn out due to always comparing himself to colleagues who had a completely different goal and how liberating it was to cherish his own accomplishments since it helped provide balance at work and at home.

Your journey is unique. If it takes more or less time, if the path is not as linear as you wish, it’s still YOUR story. Persevere, face your challenges head on and make it to the finish line. 

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. 

From the naval surgeon who I met at a surgical conference after a Q&A. A surgeon who complimented my lively personality and shared the importance of happiness in all we do. Having been told himself by superiors he wasn’t working hard enough because he looked too happy in surgery. He’s still smiling (through good and bad) and growing through the ranks.

Be open and unique. I used to be teased for being “too happy” and social and was told that perhaps my personality was more fit for primary care (which is still awesome if you ask me). 


From the amazing endocrine surgeon who has been there taking the time to talk about wellness. A woman who is accomplished in every way: a clinical and medical education researcher, an accomplished surgeon, mentor and mother. Who has taught many (myself included) to close their eyes, think of those they love, breathe slowly and relax.

You’re a human, not a robot. Wind down. Relax. Take moments to take care of your mind and body. Connect with things that bring you joy. Take a moment to get fresh air and sun. Clear your mind.

Reach out and let yourself be reached.

From my mentor who has been there in times when I have struggled. A person who’s always watching me and watching out for me. She challenges me in science and medicine every day and, when I least expected it, she picked me up without me asking her to do so. A mentor who is like family to me and takes the time to ask, “How are you? What are you plans? What can we do to get there?”

There will be times when you will need help. Even if it’s a routine task, a procedure you don’t understand, or something more personal, identify individuals with whom you are comfortable and don’t be afraid of reaching out to them. Even more importantly, don’t be afraid of those who reach out to you. Sometimes, the conversations you may be “evading” can bring the joy of connecting and learning you didn’t know you needed. Whether it may be new perspectives, words of wisdom and support, or help succeeding in your tasks, a moment to connect with someone else may be just what you need in this part of your journey. 

Don’t be afraid to say no.

From the amazing woman leader, co-founder of a recently established surgical society, who I met after seeing her as a panelist at a medical student conference. A successful surgeon who continues to make large strides in diversity, equity and inclusion. A great mentor who takes time to remind me to give my best while not forgetting to save time for me too. 

Sometimes, the more we do, the more work we get. However, it’s important to prioritize what will get you closer to your goals and identify what you can let go. You may receive twenty learning opportunities, but there’s only one you. Take your time to thank people for considering you for a task but don’t feel pressured to always say yes. Instead, consider if it will be helpful to you, if you will have the time and if it will not conflict with your other responsibilities. Feel free to kindly decline if needed (you can even take that moment to sponsor someone else).

Danilea M. Carmona Matos, MS, is an MD candidate at San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in Caguas, Puerto Rico. She is the Latin America Liaison of the AWS National Medical Student Committee as well as the President of the AWS Chapter at San Juan Bautista School of Medicine. She is an avid peer and undergraduate mentor, active member in various interest groups and has led community outreach activities. Danilea has also engaged in both clinical and basic science research in neuroendocrine cancer, surgical education and palliative care. Danilea aspires to become an academic surgeon integrating cancer research, education and clinical care. She hopes to be able to achieve this goal and mentor others in their path to achieve their own. When there’s down time, you can find her with her family, her dog Luna or working on arts and crafts! She can be found on Twitter as @danileacm.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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