This segment of the series may at first seem like a bit of a tangent to the central theme, but I assure you that it is directly related.
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”
– Thomas Merton
When I was in medical school at the Mayo Clinic, I had some amazing mentors who taught me to treat patients with the Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual model of healthcare. They would tell me that I needed to consider a person as more than just a biological creature, but one that had a psychological component, a social component, and a soul. Only then could I ever truly help someone with their health. I have tried to run my practice with this as my guiding principle. What I have realized over the years is that this applies to much more than medicine. We must live our lives with these four components in balance.
Unfortunately, I have also realized that most people put the majority of their energy into one or two of these components, and the other components get minimal consideration or no consideration at all. This is where dissatisfaction and frustration with our jobs begin. Not coincidentally, it is also here that satisfaction and contentment with our job, and our lives in general, begin as well.
Most of us typically focus on the biologic component first, and this make sense. We need food and water and shelter to stay alive. We would like regular rest and occasional (or more than occasional) sex. Once these basic needs and desires are met, we tend to focus on our social component next. We want to go out and do things and met with friends and family. Unfortunately, this is where the vast majority of people stop. They may go a bit deeper on occasion, and only when it is really needed, to the realms of the mind and the soul.
Our psychological health is usually only discussed when we “break”… when events in life, or our perception of these events, take us to the edge of what our mind can handle. Sadly there is still a very large stigma with seeking psychological help, so people will put on a veneer and pretend everything is just fine. The damage underneath the mask gets worse and worse. It is only when our psychological health is shaken to the very foundation that we finally stop caring what everyone else thinks, or we are unable to even consider what other people think because we are just trying to survive. Tragically, this is where some people turn to suicide. For others, it is the point where they finally reach out for help. The person, their friends, and maybe a counselor or a mental health expert, will try to repair the damage. But it has become so much worse than it ever needed to be. Instead of waiting until our foundation is crumbling, we should be performing regular maintenance. We need to prevent damage, if possible, in the first place. We need to be proactive about our psychological health. We need to see our psychological health as a key component of what makes us a healthy human.
Now the spiritual component of our being, our soul, is even more overlooked and ignored. We are frequently told by society that we should not even discuss this topic because we may offend someone. Additionally, we are sometimes told by those in modern science that humans have no spiritual essence or component, that we have no soul, that we are just a biologic system with deeply ingrained social patterning that makes us think there is another part to us outside of our biology and psychology. I am thankful that the vast majority of people, in survey after survey, despite what science claims, believe we do indeed have a soul. We know it. We feel it deep down. We feel it in our… soul. Agreeing on what that means is a whole other story. Acknowledging that we have a soul and keeping it healthy is spirituality. Focusing that spirituality on a Creator within a system of faith and devotion is religion. I think both are important, and I consider them two sides of the same coin. Personally, I am a very spiritual person who has placed my faith in Christ Jesus as my Creator and Savior, and this is due to a wealth of information and experiences. Maybe one day we will have the opportunity to sit down over a pint and discuss this. However, my goal today is not to convert you but to point out that we must balance the needs of our soul equally with the other three components (biologic, social, psychological) if we are going to be truly healthy as human beings.
What happens when we put most of our energy into just one component? Well, I have met far too many people who put all their focus on their biology. They live at the gym. They have abandoned marriages and children to pursue a focus on a body that will look good, at best, for a few decades. What will be left when their good looks fade or their body fails? Right on the tails of this first group are those that put most of their focus on the social component of life. They live to party. They abuse their bodies and ignore the psychological pain and the spiritual void. These are the ones who often fall to addiction or wake up one day and realize they have squandered many of the best years of their life. Then there are those who focus too much on the psychological component. These people fall into one of two groups; they are either the ones who consider themselves the intellectual elites, who are so filled with self-worth that they have no true friends or connections to people, or they are the ones whose lives are overflowing with the drama they create for themselves, but which they blame on everyone else around them. Finally, there are those who put too much focus on the spiritual. If they are “right” with God or the universe, then everything is great, but they often beat people with a religious stick and wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t want to be just like them. If they step off the “right” path, their world crumbles and they fall to guilt and regret. They often abuse their bodies with drugs or alcohol or they destroy relationships.
By now, you may be wondering what this has to do with a job. As it turns out… a whole lot!
“The challenge of work-life balance is without question one of the most significant struggles faced by modern man.”
– Stephen Covey
How are we ever going to find satisfaction in how we spend our day working if we cannot find satisfaction within ourselves? I don’t want to get too Zen or sound too esoteric, because this is a very real issue that affects us all. Most of us are living lives completely out of balance while hoping to walk through life without stumbling. I struggle with this myself, and it makes no sense.
Over these last three segments or articles, I wanted to give a reason why I am where I am. I know many people in our modern society find themselves in the same place. I wanted to detail the sad reality that there is no chance we are going to find satisfaction in our lives, let alone our job, unless we make some drastic changes to our assumptions and our actions.
I have painted a bleak picture so far, but hang in there. There is hope. I believe that there is a way for us to get back in balance and to live a life of contentment. As I said in the first article, it is not easy. It is against conventional wisdom. I know there are some that will call me foolish or naive. Again, I will say that I do not care. No one else but me is going to live my life and take care of my family in the way that I will or with the passion that I have. Until I am ready to say that, and mean it, and back it up with action, then I will continue to be discontent in my work and my life.
But I don’t plan to stay here.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau
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