What's the point of careers and the way they impact our lives?

March 19, 2010

While this author was away from home at a conference, he found himself wondering about life and how scared he had always been of death.

I told him I was a physician, and he asked me what part of the body I took care of. "All parts. I take care of everything," I said. "I am a family physician."

The man then said to me, "I don't get it. What's the point? We are young, then we grow up and work so hard, then we die. What's the point of living?"

I asked the driver whether he had a family. He said he was married and had an 11-year-old daughter. He told me she wants to be a scientist.

"What is that, anyway? She doesn't know. How much school would it be, and how long did you go?"

I answered his questions, and he said, "Doc, what is the point? I mean, you work, like, 18-hour days, right?"

"Not usually. More like 12 on most days."

He told me he also works long hours, but then he said, "You work to live and you live to work. At least your job is safe."

I told him a job is just a job, and you must do something you love. He asked me if I loved what I did, and I said, "Absolutely. I always wanted to be a doctor, and I enjoy giving to others."

"But what about your family? When do you see them?" the cabby asked. "Before you know it, they will grow up, and you will have worked till you're like 60, then you will be old and die."

Although this person was referring to his own life and his personal worries and fears, I realized that these thoughts have preoccupied me as well throughout my life.

In fact, while I was away from home at the conference, I found myself wondering about life and how scared I had always been of death, which is why I worked so hard to take care of others, to keep them healthy and prevent illness.

The only career I ever wanted was to be a physician, not only to help and to heal, but also to help others to prolong their lives. It also has allowed me to face health and illness in life and has given me the ability to counsel others and help them handle issues surrounding death.

But still, although I have grappled with my own fears, I felt I should help the driver with his quandary.

"Life is not about death, but what we do with our time on earth that defines us," I said. "You have a daughter, and you work hard to provide her with a good life - food on the table, clothing on her back, and a roof over her head, and, hopefully, the means to become a scientist. Maybe your purpose in life is for your daughter. We have one life, and we should live each day to the fullest and love life for what it is, not lament when it will end. What you do in your life, no matter what job you have, is about who you are that will be passed down for generations to come."

"But I work so hard," the driver said.

I asked him whether he loves what he does for a living. "What else would I do?" he answered.

I told him it is important to be happy, otherwise it is correct to wonder what the point is. I suggested he reduce his work hours, spend time with his family, and not worry about the things he cannot control but the things he can.

"Doc, do you do these things?" he asked. I told him I have breakfast and dinner with my wife and three boys on most days, take time to exercise, and enjoy life the best I can. I then realized that, although I felt good about my life, I hadn't resolved my internal fear of death and worries of working too hard and not savoring all life has to offer. I, too, must re-evaluate my life and ensure that I follow the same advice I had given him.

And before I knew it, the taxi driver pulled up to my terminal and said, "This is it, boss. We're here." He got out of the car, let me out, and shook my hand, saying, "Thank you very much for your words. I have some things to think about. I would love to keep talking to you, but you have to go home now to your family."

"Thank you for an enlightening conversation. I enjoyed speaking with you and wish you well," I replied.

We parted ways, but I reflect fondly on our conversation and how it benefited me as much as him.

It is important that we, as caregivers and healers, not only spend time helping others but also take time to help ourselves, to make time for ourselves and our families and to enjoy and live each day to the fullest.

Robert N. Pedowitz, DO, is a primary care physician in Bordentown, New Jersey. Send your feedback to meletters@advanstar.com
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