Sunday, May 17, 2009

What is "Work Worth Doing"?

According to a blog I read regularly entitled The Happiness Project, former U.S. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is quoted as saying that the secret to a happy life comes from "work worth doing". I'm intrigued. Intrigued because I agree but yet don't know what "work worth doing" means to me personally. I flat out want to know. Now. Please.

I strive for the mental state of happiness like everyone else I know, plodding along with an idea here, an idea there, some good days, some bad days, and lots and lots of just plain in-between days. Is the key really "work worth doing"? I have to wonder. I have to stop and really consider this.

I believe the former Justice is right. Her response is so concise, a 3 word answer, sufficiently non-specific, open to interpretation and absolutely gorgeous in its simplicity. Work. Worth. Doing.

I went to work today. Was it work worth doing? The work was obviously helpful to some, I offered expertise, oversight, review, commentary, and the all important written documentation to prove that I was there, working. Much of this work was rather boring and tedious today (that is the exception rather than the rule) and most of the patients would have incited a deep sadness in me had I let those emotions bubble up. Feeling that what I do is so small in comparison with the real need often overwhelms me. "It" is broken and I can't "fix it". Imperfect and incomplete; the nature of what we do in Medicine makes me question on a personal level if this is really the right fit for me; "work worth doing".

I remind myself that our work is way more than our paid or unpaid jobs and responsibilities. When what we're paid to do or what we must do to keep life flowing doesn't quite satisfy the "worth doing" qualification, we must look deeper into life and find the nuggets of joy that make our hearts soar with creativity. Perhaps it is what we love, those inner passions and gifts that we throw out there with abandon, hope, and innocence that constitute the "work worth doing". When you happen to make a living at what you love to do, that's all the better. But, it's not a requirement.

I'm still searching. But at least I'm sensing movement and opening my mind to the possibilities.


  1. Dear Kate,
    Work worth doing. We physicians have it easier than many other people, because every patient encounter offers an opportunity to help someone heal. Sometimes that healing comes from using a cold scalpel or prescribing harsh treatments. Other times we can't fix the medical problem, yet we can still help others heal by prescribing comfort measures or offering words that stir patients' fortitude or hopefulness.

    A person's sense of fulfillment and happiness is affected by how he or she interprets the value of the work they do.

    One person's failure is another's success, as I explain in an essay in my new book, Only 10 Seconds to Care:

    With hope, Wendy

  2. How good it is to hear your voice again. I missed reading Ahead of the Wave and found myself wondering where you'd gotten to. Now you're back, and I'm glad.

    "Work Worth Doing?" What is it? Having gone through a variety of roles in the work world--from lawyer to writer to painter, and who knows what's ahead--I have asked myself that question many times, but the answers I've come up with have been less than satisfying. Last night, however, I read a book--A Path with Heart--by Jack Kornfield, who, quoting Don Juan's teachings to Carlos Castaneda, has this to say:

    "Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use."

    This feels so right to me. I doubt that the answer to the question "Am I following a path with heart?" comes easily to all, but the question is a solid starting point. And when you write in Ahead of the Wave about how it is perhaps what we love...that constitutes the "work worth doing," it sounds to me as if you are on the right path.

    As I said, it's good to hear your voice again. Keep writing. MBJ

  3. I am glad to hear there is movement. I feel my own movement as well. I keep reminding myself that I can not force the process but I need to be ready when it comes.

  4. I'm grateful to you for writing about this, because it crystallizes something that's been bothering me lately about my work. "work worth doing" - that's powerful. My work is feeling very unworthy lately.


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