The Key to Find Meaning in Your Work Again
You may be exhausted, emotionally drained, and overworked. Maybe you feel like your work is monotonous, even meaningless, or you are tired of just being a robot, with no end in sight to the mundane tasks before you. You no longer have the energy or the interest to just do work in order to gain a little more money, a little more status, or a little more success.
I’ve been there myself. A recent encounter with a patient reminded me what work should be all about.
See Through to the Heart of People
I entered the exam room to see a patient whom I have seen many times in the past. She described her usual aches and pains. As always, I listened attentively. But for her, the real ache was much deeper than physical symptoms.
Lynn (not her real name) cries every time she sees me. You see, she is alone. She is in her early sixties, and her daughter is dying. She has been dying for several years. Her daughter was thirty-two when she was diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis. A beautiful and successful young lady, she was finishing her master’s degree when this awful disease came to steal her future. Now in her late thirties, she is completely bedridden. She is in constant severe pain, and has to be consistently medicated with painkillers. The disease has also taken a toll on her mentally. At times, she doesn’t even know who her mother is.
As Lynn sobs, she tells me with an agonizing mix of fear, guilt, and sadness, that she sometimes prays for God to take her daughter home. Recently she told me that she brought her home from the facility, and described to me how she turns her over every few hours to prevent bedsores. She tells me about her life between four walls. What compounds Lynn’s pain is that her husband—her high school sweetheart—walked out on them a few years back because he “could not take it anymore.”
Lynn’s visits to my office are some of the few times she leaves her house. Over the years, I have deeply empathized with her for the load she is carrying alone. I do my best for her, as her doctor. I pray for her. I pray with her. But nothing I have done medically has helped her really. No anti-depressants. No counseling. But this last visit, I did something different.
I sat close to her and said, “Lynn, why don’t you meet someone? You are kind and beautiful. Any man would love to spend time with someone like you.” Through tears, she smiled, and gave me this I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that look.
She said, “Who would want to be with me? At my age?” I said, “Yes, of course. Many people meet, even when they are older than you.” She grudgingly relented, but quickly said, “How would I find someone? How could I even meet anyone? I don’t go anywhere.”
I hesitated for a few seconds, then turned to her and confidently said, “match.com.” Now, she laughed!
“What do you think?” I said, urging her on. After a moment of self reflection, she said, “Well, I don’t even know how to sign up, Dr. Wes.” Well, I thought, we may as well go for it. “We’ll sign you up right now. Angie will help you do it.” Angie is one of the best nurses I have ever worked with, and she was in the room with me throughout the whole conversation. She is extremely caring and hard working. Angie has seen me do some crazy things before, but match.com? I think, even she was surprised.
Angie looked at me as if to ask, “Are you serious? Now? You know we have many patients waiting for us.” And then, she grinned. She wanted to help Lynn as much as I did, but she said to me in a low voice, “Dr. W, I have never been on match.com, myself.” To which I said with a big smile, “Angie, you’re smart. You’ll figure it out.” She gave me a big smile, shook her head, and agreed to figure it out.
Your Daily Routine is Full of Meaningful Opportunities to Touch People
I walked out of the room, stopped for a moment to reflect on what had just happened, before I continued to the next patient waiting for me. Truth be told, as interesting as it is knowing the human anatomy, physiology, diseases, and treatment…day in and day out, it can all get boring. Yes, boring.
I am sure it is the same for neurosurgeons or astronauts. It is the same for bakers and artists. It is the same for a pastor, a fireman, a CEO, or a president. After you learn everything you need to know in order to do the interesting job you have, it can very easily become mundane. What you once thought to be deeply meaningful, what you believed you would always enjoy, can lose its luster in the monotony of your grueling daily routine…
…unless you focus on impacting people.
That’s the key. People. In any job we do, people cross our paths: customers, coworkers, bosses, colleagues, vendors. They all need to be touched somehow. We are all struggling with something. Sometimes something so big, it rips your heart out. But too often, we pass them by. We pass by one another, not seeking to know each other’s stories, not looking deep into someone’s eyes, peering into their soul, or aiming to touch their life with an uplifting word or an encouraging smile.
For doctors like me, it is easy to make our job all about relieving people’s aches and pains, and that is honorable work. But the question is, can I be a doctor who touches people’s lives? Can I look at people’s physical symptoms as a means to bring them into my life? Once in a while, can God can use me to bring a smile and a flash of hope to the darkest room of their soul?
That is precisely how you find meaning in your work again. Friend, work is only an excuse for people to come into our lives for us to touch. That’s the beauty of your vocation. In some jobs, we see a lot of people. In others, we only see a few. Regardless, make it the point of each day to touch someone’s life.
So next time you see someone like Lynn pass you by, would you give her a hug for me? Would you ask her how she’s doing? Would ask about her daughter? Would you ask how match.com went? Would you pray for her? Lynn is everyone we meet!
May we find meaning in our work by adding hope and healing to people we meet through work.
Actionable step: Think of the people you encounter in your work, all of them. Making a difference in these people’s lives will give your work meaning again.
About me… My all time favorite restaurant is Bijoux in Dallas, Texas. They serve amazing French cuisine in a quiet and calm atmosphere. Chef and owners, Scott and Gina Gottlich, give every dish the most exquisite attention. If you are ever in Dallas give them a try.
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