Success versus Fulfillment
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie
The romantic lie in the brain
In the lie of authority
Whose buildings grope the sky…
We must love one another or die
Last week, a patient of mine asked me if I knew how Google rated me by the number of stars next to my name. She told me that Google did not give me five stars. I was surprised at her evaluation of me through the eyes of the ‘corporate standard’. I asked her what her definition of success was. She didn’t answer. I told her, in my opinion, there was a big difference between success and fulfillment. One can have both, but it is vitally important to be certain that one does not evaluate one’s worth through externally defined (patriarchal) ‘standards’ at the cost of fulfillment. These standards are meaningless and without exception have failed to align people with fulfillment, meaning, and self-worth. Besides, there is strong evidence of a poor correlation (1) between online physician ratings and the quality of care they provide.
How many people work in meaningless jobs to achieve a patriarchally defined standard of living? The collective consciousness in our society has been born out of patriarchal values. Its measure of success is defined by accumulated wealth, materialism, and the ability to adapt and comply with patriarchal principles without question. Successful physicians are defined by our society as people who live in large homes, drive name-brand cars, have full waiting rooms with sick patients, and are viewed as ‘team players’ by corporate health care. When asked if they feel fulfilled by their work, a majority would say they don’t. (2) Physician burnout is rising with the rate of depression and addiction (3) at an all-time high. (4) Sixty-nine percent of physicians with addiction problems revealed they used addictive substances to relieve stress and emotional pain.
Nearly two decades ago I left the corporate medical system to create meaningful work for myself, and to serve my patients authentically. For me, meaning as a physician included (and still does) the highest standard of care in medical expertise along with a deep commitment to restoring health and wholeness through a context that deepens and enriches my patient’s lives. As you can imagine, I do not see as many patients per day as employed physicians are required to, given the time it takes to work in this manner. Consequently, I am able to take the time to bear witness to my patient’s lives and help them create a course for regaining their health and living more consciously. I take the time to have meaningful relationships with my patients.
I made a conscious choice to sacrifice a large salary and benefits package offered by corporate health care for a practice that offers me a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment. I define my success as the restoration of physical, emotional, and mental health in my patients, not by merely covering their symptoms, but through the hard work of deep exploration of the cause(s) of their suffering, as well as by being their advocate, committed to their health and wholeness. Before embarking on this life’s path as a physician, I had to organize my priorities around what I felt held the deepest value for me, runaway profits or a commitment to my vocation. By choosing the latter, I not only created a meaningful working life but a sustainable business that is debt-free.
Imagine what our lives would be like if we all chose to work from a framework of love and meaning. Our evaluation of success would not merely be based on the rational standards of patriarchy, we are imprinted to normalize. The older we get, and the closer we move towards death, and the more we need to question what we have organized our sense of success or fulfillment around. Does it feel aligned with our Soul’s calling or do we define our success from society’s standards? Have we compromised our sense of meaning for these so-called standards?
I believe much of our inner work in this life on Earth is about asking these very questions. These are actually some of the questions that underlie many of our world’s religious systems. We must ask these questions every day and live into the answers as Rainer Maria Rilke (5) so aptly stated. It takes courage and sacrifice to live this way. It is difficult to live this way. It requires saying ‘yes’ to the suffering of transformation,(6) to leave the ways defined by society behind and to live from an alignment with our truth. Many of us who have made this choice may not receive a ‘5-star’ review by the corporate measuring stick, but in the final analysis, it is our sense of fulfillment that keeps us and our patient’s health. I believe with all my heart, that this standard is the highest and most sacred one to live from.
In the words of the Jungian analyst James Hollis: “To become a person does not necessarily mean to be well adjusted, well-adapted, approved of by others. It means to become who you are. We are meant to become more eccentric, more peculiar, odder. We are not meant just to fit in. We are here to be different. We are here to be the individual.”