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March 31, 2011

How to love your job, location, and life

Happy family: mother, father, children son and daughter on sunset

For the past seven years, I have studied human motivation and careers. Part of those six years was spent traveling the country interviewing people who love their work. After 95,000 miles and 145 interviews, I have been able to learn from people of diverse backgrounds, ages and careers.

When I was asked to write this section, the first person that came to my mind was Dr. Hillary Beberman, a family medicine physician. Her journey to becoming a doctor was not a simple one. She left a well-established career as a financial journal writer to follow her passion in medicine. Although she enjoyed her writing job, something was missing. "The pay was great and I was exposed to some great things, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I asked, ’Is this what I want to be doing for 50 years? Am I helping people?’ I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t know if being a financial journalist let me feel like I was doing that," she told me.

The change hit her immediately. "In medical school I was very interested in the subject, and it was the goal I really wanted."

Life did not stop during medical school and residency. Beberman lost her younger sister to cancer, got married between her second and third years, and had a baby during one residency. "Being a resident is brutal, and I didn’t know if this was for me," she says. "There were times I was ready to quit. I couldn’t take it. I missed my newborn son. I said, ’What am I doing, this is crazy.’"

But she pushed herself. "I almost quit, but this was my goal. I knew the pain was temporary, and in 20 years I’d look back and ask, ’Why did I quit?’ Now I can say I’m so happy doing what I’m doing."

There are many factors that go into loving your work. Yet you just don’t snap your fingers and have the job you love. The career equation is not that simple, but it can be solved. Here are two lessons from my book that have helped me, and others, on the career road.

Lesson 1: Find out who you are

In order to love your job, you need to understand yourself. That is easier said than done, but many times, we don’t put in the time and effort to know who we are. And that leads to us not being happy with the choices we make.

Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s VP of Human Resources, said, "Believe it or not, most people don’t take time to sit and think about what they want to do. We’re very much programmed to take a job to have a job. A paycheck to have a paycheck."

The advice is to take the time and put in the effort to analyze who you are and how that ties in to your job goals.

Here are a few important questions to ask during your self-actualization process:

  • When it comes to work, what do I naturally enjoy doing?
  • What am I naturally good at?
  • What energizes me?
  • What stresses me?
  • What motivates me?
  • What annoys me?

Once you have the answers to those questions, the next step is to examine the big picture of your work environment. The answers to these questions will help shape your environmental choices:

  • Do I want to go solo, or be part of a small or big group?
  • Do I want a rural location, the suburbs or the city?
  • What type of patients do I want to work with: wealthy, middle class or those in financial need?
  • Do I want to see a high volume of patients in shorter bursts? Or work with a smaller number of patients for a longer duration?
  • What type of physician-patient culture do I want to be a part of?
  • What type of peer culture do I want to be a part of?

The more data points you can have, the better educated your decisions will be. Learn from the experiences of others. Find a physician more experienced than you. Buy him or her coffee or lunch, explain your goals, and ask for their career advice. Their stories and input will be of great benefit.

Lesson 2: Do something in which you can make a difference

When I give talks about my book and interview experiences, I am always asked questions like, "What’s the common thread? What’s the secret to loving your work?"

My research shows the number-one factor for job satisfaction is not money; it is feeling like you are making a difference.

Beberman could have been happy making a lot of money writing financial journals, but her desire to make a difference propelled her into medicine, through residency, and into her practice.

My guess is that part of the reason you are in the medical field is because you want to make a difference.

It is important to know we all make differences in different ways. Because you are in the medical field, you get to have a more direct difference-making impact than most. You get to help people in need. However, research shows many physicians can go through their day-to-day activities struggling to feel like they are making an impact.

There are numerous reasons for this, including the insurance labyrinth, initial debt, and the fact that some patients may not improve. Others get consumed by trying to make a "huge" difference. It is true you will make a difference by trying to find the cure for cancer (please find it), but you will also make a difference right where you are.

In my book, I write: "The reality of making a difference is that each of us have been blessed with unique talents, gifts and aspirations. You make a difference by using your natural talents and abilities. You make a difference by having passion for your job and your life. You make a difference by being happy at work and at home. You make a difference by being a living example for others."

If you love what you do, you will make a difference in the world. There is no doubt in my mind. You may impact one person or you may impact 1 million people, but your ripple effect will be felt in a positive way.

When you love your job, life is good. It is also better for your patients, for your family and for the people you work with.

Job choices are not easy. But once you know who you are, what you want to do, and the difference you want to make, solving the career equation will be easier.

Andrew Harrison is the author of Love Your 84,000 Hours at Work: Stories on the Road from People with Purpose and Passion, which chronicles people from around the United States who love their careers and how they came to find them.

The views expressed in Remarks are solely those of the author and may or may not be shared by PracticeLink or its advertisers.



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