“The difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively, while everyone else is created by their lives, passively waiting to see where life takes them next. The difference between the two is the difference between living fully and just existing.” – Michael E. Gerber
There is no greater job in the world than to be a physician. Sure, some other jobs are great too, and sometimes a physician decides to branch-off onto another path. Nevertheless, those facts do not detract from how fulfilling and well-paying a career in medicine can be.
My tip for today is to take, and maintain, control over your career. What do I mean by this? In what ways do we not exercise this control?
My assertion is two-fold: first, that all of us have a much wider range of opportunities practicing medicine than we may be aware of. And second, many of us have not considered exactly what we’d like to get out of our professional lives. Sure, we all need to make money to pay our bills, save for retirement, put our kids through school, etc. But beyond that…what?
Thus, our task in getting to a more fulfilling career is two-fold: first, learning the range of career possibilities that exist and may be right for us. I can help with this part directly by presenting different career models. (As an aside, if you have a unique and uniquely satisfying practice approach, please email me and I will share it with our many thousands of physician readers. Thanks.) The second part is figuring out what we actually want out of our careers. This part involves identifying your passions, wants, desires, and beliefs about your best and highest use. I can help you with this second part too, by reminding you and guiding you in questioning yourself about your priorities.
The title of this essay refers to a beautifully and disarmingly simple example of what I’m writing about. I’d like to tell you the story of a psychiatrist I met many years ago here in Chicago. At the time he was in his mid-thirties, single, living downtown, and out of residency for about four years. One evening he had a career revelation while attending, of all places, his friend’s cocktail party. He started talking to a new acquaintance at this party, a man about his own age. He found out that this man, although he was less educated and made a much lower income than the psychiatrist, had something in his life that the psychiatrist did not have: this man rode his bike to work every day!
Yes, that’s it – that’s all there was to it. But this simple fact stung the psychiatrist like a slap in the face. He first felt envious, and then silly and guilty for feeling envious. Then a feeling of something like remorse welled up in his chest. He thought of all the hard years of schooling and preparation he had gone through. He was proud of his medical training and the dedicated effort it took. But he also felt he had missed out on a lot in his late teens and twenties, a time when his friends seemed to be having the care-free time of their lives. Although only in his mid-thirties he felt that life was passing him by, that maybe he could not recapture the years lost to study and hard work.
He felt confused. He most definitely did not want to stop being a doctor. He valued his work with patients very much and he also knew that he couldn’t easily, if at all, replace his income. But, on the other hand, he felt an incoherent sense of loss and regret and a feeling that something had to change. Somehow that other person’s ability to ride a bike to work inspired him. He too wanted to ride his bike to work. That act of commuting by bike seemed like a way to recapture the dreams of his youth, to have a daily routine that was fun and invigorating, and to develop his current life according to rules of his own making.
Because the location of his current condominium made riding to work virtually impossible, he had the choice of changing his place of residence or the place of his employment, a clinic that was far away in the suburbs of Chicago. He decided to change his place of employment. He took a job working for a community mental health center on the north side of Chicago. Most of his commute was along the bike paths that line Lake Michigan.
He told me it was that conversation at the cocktail party that started a series of events that included changing his job and ultimately, his state of residence. He realized more clearly than ever that outdoor activities were his passion. He loved to mountain bike and to hike. He wrote poems in his head while hiking – for his own pleasure. A couple of years later he moved to the San Francisco bay area. He worked part-time at the state prison, a lucrative job that provided him plenty of free time for his other interests.
I lost track of him years ago. Perhaps he’s still there. Perhaps he’s married now with kids. Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter – I’m sure he is still the happy and fulfilled person that he was when we last met.
Until next time,
POTUS, FLOTUS, SCOTUS
With the political season heating up, we’re all likely to face more and more politically-related words. Are you familiar with POTUS, SCOTUS, and FLOTUS?
All three acronyms, now words, would seem to have a common origin. However, the first two were first used in the 19th century as abbreviations used in telegraphs. Remember, back then you had to pay by the letter. Apparently, SCOTUS’s first use dates to 1879 and POTUS to 1895. The last one, FLOTUS, was not used until the 1980’s in reference to Nancy Reagan.
POTUS is President of the United States.
SCOTUS is Supreme Court of the United States.
And FLOTUS is First Lady of the United States.