I often ponder about what makes one’s work meaningful. It’s a rumination that pops up regularly when I am enjoying navel-gazing time.
Having gone from showing up at work and getting the required job done to passionately engaging in both aspects of my work – coaching clients, and building a business – I now know the difference.
Work that serves a purpose has most if not all of these seven “C” attributes (in no special order):
So much of medical practice demands reductionist thinking – we have to narrow down a large number of possibilities to a precise diagnosis in order to meet the needs of our patients. We don’t just get to make up a new treatment regimen when we are in the mood for change, or invent a new operation today because we are feeling a little creative. Creative thinking, on the other hand, is expansionist.
So how do physicians get to exercise their creativity?
I argue that’s the role of leadership. Such as taking a leadership position on your medical staff or in your local or national medical society, or finding physician leadership opportunities where creative thinking and problem-solving are in high demand.
Or perhaps it’s re-engaging in old passions such as taking singing lessons, or playing in a rock band, or sculpting, or writing poetry in your time off.
What is your creative outlet?
Our work cannot help but feel purposeful when we promise ourselves that we’ll accomplish something worthwhile.
Isn’t this why medical students are so gungho about medicine? Aren’t they motivated by the feeling that their work will make a difference? And if so, what happens to all those earnest ideals ten or fifteen years out?
Perhaps this is why many physicians are drawn to adding leadership roles to their resumes, where they get to contribute to something worthwhile and larger than themselves.
What are you willing to commit to, once again or as a new effort?
Lots of research has shown that high-quality relationships lead to greater happiness. And the research suggests this kind of fulfillment (not the pure pleasure kind) on the job leads to greater meaning at work. Even introverts need other people!
What relationships at work need your attention?
Another source of deep personal satisfaction and meaning on the job is the experience of being in “” – when you lose all sense of time passing because you are so deeply engaged in your actions, thoughts and feelings. This happens most often when you have a good match between high levels of competence and the challenges you are working on.
A whole morning goes by — you look at your watch and say “Wow, it’s already lunch. Where did the morning go?” How often does that happen in your office?
When last did you experience “the flow”? And what extra skills should you add to your resume to get it back?
Setting goals that come from inside you (not implied or imposed by others) has also been linked to increased happiness.
So becoming clear about your goals – the little ones as well as the big – and then creating the plan to make them happen is likely to give your work much more meaning. And of course, it’s hugely important to remember to celebrate your accomplishments when you reach your goals. Meaningful work is also FUN!
What goals are you willing to set, no matter how small, to revitalize your work?
Taking care of others and allowing yourself to be cared for are two mirroring paths to work satisfaction. Most of you are probably good at the caring-for-others part and horrible at letting others support you.
What and whom do you care for? How can you show it? Who are you willing to let really care for you?
I’m continually struck by the need my physician clients express to keep contributing through their work, even as they walk away from clinical practice and into physician leadership or other careers. I guess that instinct is what drew them to medicine in the first place.
The hard part is accepting that you can still contribute without having to practice medicine full-time, and therefore free yourself of a whole lot of unnecessary guilt!
What is the song inside you that still needs to be sung?
Could these seven ingredients be the recipe to preventing physician burnout? I'd love to hear your thoughts.