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Finding Yourself In No-Man’s Land

Not Quite Happy With Your Work But Not Quite Miserable Either

Having a job makes me feel secure, miserable at the same time, but I feel taken care of. There are schedulers and extra shifts to pick up, there are managers and bosses who do most of the thinking and decision-making for me. I am happy to have a job but miserable working it.

The first step is recognizing that one is miserable, not just talking yourself out of it, telling yourself “you’re just spoiled, be happy you have a job”. Maybe miserable is too strong of a word… not content. One’s family life should fulfill certain needs and it’s okay to have the same expectations of one’s job.

Some love their job, totally satisfied, no complaints and happy to do whatever it is that’s demanded of them. If the urgent care volumes go up they know that they will get a lull come summer-time. If management changes and they have to now change their coding they happily comply. Others are happy to make an income but know that it comes at a cost… they can’t quite put their finger on it but the hours before a shift they don’t want to be at work yet miss seeing patients when not working. The last group of doctors are downright miserable, unhappy with the work they do, unchallenged and stressed out by the littlest work drama.

That inner turbulence will either make you hate your job, then hate yourself, then hate others or it will push you to pursue something else, maybe something better. The absolute worst thing to do is to become a workaholic, a common solution sought after especially by men, in response to their miserable lifestyle. In this sexist society which we live in, more so for men, it is socially accepted to work your ass off because it’s a good excuse to give others when they wonder why you’re being so bitchy.

Pursuing something else might be looking for another job… thinking that it’s just this medical group or setting that is making you unhappy. I changed my job once from an urgent care in Southern California to a similar gig here in Portland, Oregon. I thought that if I worked for a different place I would perhaps like my job more. For the first few months this was actually true… but it was likely due to the change in scenery. It didn’t take long before I had the same negative thoughts about my job.

I don’t want to paint myself as the burnt out grumpy doctor. I enjoy seeing patients, making them laugh, talking about their problems and getting to know a little something about them. However, practicing medicine is no longer a challenge for me, I often just have to go through the motions, trying not to harm anyone, trying to control the drug seekers, not give out too many antibiotics and say no to just the right number of patients who request to see a specialist. Do I need to be challenged? No, but I didn’t pursue medicine to be a drug pusher and just reassure patients… a competent nurse, even my grandma could do that.

I have finally come to terms that I am in no-man’s land and that’s great. I recognized this about 3 years after I finished my chief residency year. All the verbal masturbation regarding the relationship of Cl to K on a lab test, the specificity/sensitivity of one test vs another, though scientific-sounding, had minimal clinical applicability to 99% of my patients. The reason this is great is because it’s hard for us doctors to admit to failure and for whatever reason not wanting to practice medicine any longer is viewed as a failure – at least in my circles.

Admitting to the reality of a circumstance creates closure, justifies closing that chapter and focusing my energy the next pursuit. I find myself a little worried what that next chapter is going to be. There isn’t anything that is jumping out at me but I also realize that it takes time to lose that job-mentality.

It sounds so ‘typical American’ to think this way, but bear with me. If I am expending energy doing something I care about then I exude more positive energy. I do a better job at whatever it is I’m doing and I don’t suffer while doing it. If I am commuting into working doing something that I’m ass-excited doing then I won’t be that pissed off driver honking at everyone. If I’m on a telephone call, conducting business I am passionate about, even if I am trying to meet deadlines, I do it with a bit more grace and care.

Creating financial freedom is such an integral part of transitioning away from a job which you are not passionate about. Many of you can’t just leave your current gig and walk away but I believe that you can create a plan, lay out a financial path that allows you to be less dependent on your job-income. If you don’t start now then you will either become more and more unhappy with what you do, or you may take out your frustration on loved one or you may turn the other way and drown yourself into more work.


3 replies on “Finding Yourself In No-Man’s Land”

Love this post! But the fear of “becoming nobody” if I am not employed by a large enterprise is real.

That fear is manufactured and not a real fear which we have. When you wake up in the morning and enjoying a beautiful day and having a cup of coffee, do you fear that you don’t have a big-name entity paying you a salary? Unlikely. It’s once we digest the world of the medical enterprise when we start having doubts and fear that we might be left without any chance of an income.

In other posts I pointed out that it’s far riskier to a physician to be employed by only one employer – that’s like having only 1 single customer. But by having multiple sources of income you will less likely be afraid to practice the way you want and you’ll even have more options as far as career opportunities.

I have come across options which I never thought existed because I had my head up my ass – actually, I had my head up Kaiser’s ass. Looking back I’m a touch ashamed that I had this loyalty which was bred into me and I should have fought it but I thought there would be some reciprocity.

The large enterprises will always be there. And the feeling that you are missing out on something when you’re piecemealing your income and career will always be there too. But I’m convinced that the advantages of breaking free from a large group outweigh that feeling of stability.

Thank you Dr. Mo. My sense is that it takes certain personalities to remain comfortable in a large entity vs being independent (thus free-spirited). Following your heart is the key to happiness or contentment since the word happiness gets misused often.

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