I’ve been through my share of career angst, but today I had an interaction with a patient that made me realize how far I’ve come in answering the question: in the domain of work, what is enough?
For a long time, I had this unconscious belief that my job had to be special. I would say things like, “Yes, I helped this person, but anyone could have made that diagnosis.”
My therapist called me out on this: “Yes, but you made the diagnosis.”
Humans are deeply interdependent. If I have a car problem, a mechanic would be useful to me. In the same way, I am useful for people with neurological problems. It’s meaningful for me to help people, to do my part, even if my contribution is something small.
I derive joy from meeting diverse humans and learning about their lives. My patients give me the gift of their perspective on life, in the interstitial spaces of our visits. These stories enrich my soul.
It’s helpful to have reasonable expectations about what good work is. For me, good work threads the needle of joy, meaning, and utility. For a long time I had a fourth circle in my Venn diagram: doing something unique, something that would blow the status quo out of the water. Now I see that this fourth circle is not necessary; it’s an egoic desire to look good, to be a rockstar on the TED Talk stage.
As I reflect on my day today, my highlight was super normal: diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome in someone who needed surgery, connecting with a him and hearing his story. There are other meaningful things I want to do in the future, like environmental work. But that’s for the future. Today, as I reflect on a simple hour with my patient, I know that my work was enough.