Think Big

image“Think Big – Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence” by Dr Ben Carson
– a book review

I’m not sure I’d have ever picked to read this book, classified “biography/religious” had it not been for how my eldest sister came to meet him. Electricity was out in her office building at the University of Cincinnati one morning. When invited by an ex-manager to attend a private symposium with a visiting physician in the next building, she hurriedly agreed, thinking she’d at least be able to get some free coffee. A colleague had heard about Dr. Ben Carson and so she figured his talk might be of some intrigue. My sister’s been so taken with his story since that she eventually came to buy copies of his books as graduation gifts for her son’s classmates.

Ben Carson’s biography on the back cover is enough to draw anyone in. It’s a triumphant story of a Detroit ghetto black boy overcoming poverty. At age 8, he and his 10 year old brother were brought up by a single mom who was illiterate. In fifth grade, he was deemed the dumbest kid in class. By 33 he had become director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institution. His other big accomplishment was being the first physician to ever successfully separate Siamese twins connected at the head.


Ben attributes the primary source of success to his mother, Sonya, who was relentless in bringing up the boys right by restricting television time and requiring the boys read two books a week. She worked hard making ends meet financially by cleaning houses and being a nanny. She was also always encouraging the boys to do their best and came up with resourceful ways to admonish them appropriately. This is a thread that runs throughout. A sweet part of the book is where Sonya actually writes a chapter about her life and how she handled life’s misgivings and in turn brought up a celebrated physician and an accomplished engineer.

The first half of “Think Big” focuses on all the people Dr. Carson regards as those who had helped him along the way apart from his mother. He traces influential figures all the way back to grade school through medical school and eventually at Johns Hopkins. This includes fellow workers at the hospital as well as patients and their families – how each one affected him in different ways. What spoke to me most was how he stressed the equality of all people, from janitors to other decorated physicians or hospital staff – that everyone deserved to be treated with kindness, regard and respect.

In the second part of the book, “Think Big” actually spells out how the chapters are loosely organized. It is the acrostic to how Ben sees as factors that led to his success. T = talent, H = honesty, I = insight, N = nice, K = knowledge, B = books, I = in-depth knowledge and G = God. In each chapter, he draws on personal stories of how that particular acrostic or trait is important to him and can be for everyone else to prevail over life’s obstacles. One of his missions I wholeheartedly wish to highlight goes back to his having read so much. While I’d not quite gotten the encouragement at home to do so, I was fortunate to have discovered the amazing world of libraries and books at an early age in school. I’d even dare say it’s one of the few reasons that led me to a decade long career in publishing. While one of Dr. Carson’s missions outside of medicine is to promote a love of books, particularly to inner city kids, I’ve now taken it upon myself to give away the majority of books I’ve accumulated to (anyone interested?)

Another theme that strikes me deeply is gratitude, which is obviously huge in the book with the whole first section credited to people Dr. Carson found helped shaped him. As he stresses, “no one is truly self-made.” Alongside this sentiment is that of humility. This, he says leads to the ultimate form of humility where Ben believes it is through God’s intentions (and I say, the Universe, or however you wish to call The Divine) that he’s bestowed with the gifts of a discerning mind and ability to operate in 3-D. He defines humility as when one cannot explain one’s worthiness and recognizes abilities as gifts beyond the work of an individual self. As he surmises, “when I meet humble people, I equate their humility with godliness.”

A truly inspiring book, there are parts that could have been better told and perhaps abbreviated. It could easily have been classified a self-help book although that would be an antithesis to my last point. And possibly, that it had been written in prose makes the teachings more accessible and palatable than commonplace preachiness of self-help books. That having said, Dr. Carson also quotes the aphorism, “god helps those who help themselves,” affirming another success factor of personal responsibility.

I am just thankful for my eldest sister who’s been a source of inspiration all my life who needed a cup of coffee that fateful morning. She is a great example of how Ben characterizes success — discounting the merits of material wealth and accolades he affirms what is important is “that we make a contribution to our world” and “reaching beyond ourselves and helping other people in specific ways.” Hence, with all the gifts that are bestowed upon us, let us give back to our communities. When we are able to do so, that is the mark of a successful life.



About Magi Khoo

Yogi Freedom Fighter. Magi teaches yoga in San Francisco with a flair of humor, grounding, breath, mindfulness, strengthening and balancing it all together in one simple om.

2 Responses to “Think Big”

  1. Cindy Khoo September 2, 2014 4:01 am #

    Oh, wow….you write so well. You are an inspiration to me too…your courage to live an authentic life is very inspirational to me. THINK BiG!

    • Magi September 2, 2014 5:32 am #

      Haha, thanks cici! I try… love ya! ~magda

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