M. Jackson Group Update – October 2020 – 12 Tips for Happiness at Work

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (www.mjacksongroup.ca).  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:

The following article is addressed to those in medicine but can be adapted to most of us in other fields.

MedPage Today includes an article: “How to Be the Two-Billionth Most Important Person Who Ever Live—Vinay Prasad’s 12 tips for perfect happiness in medicine” by Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH.

Here’s the author note: “Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH, is a hematologist-oncologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and author of Malignant: How Bad Policy and Evidence Harm People With Cancer.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Work-life balance is elusive and everywhere. A Google search returns 1 billion results, but everyone complains they don’t have it. 


I wish to offer 12 theses on the thorny issue.

1. Your value as a person is not linked to your career. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to mix up. While it is wonderful to take pride in your work, and medicine naturally begins to define your identity, your value is not wedded to your job. Promotions and accolades don’t make you a better partner, child, parent, or friend, and in the end, these matter most.

2. Things you don’t want to do matter less than you think. Whether you are a practicing physician, a research scientist, or a bit of both, there are undoubtedly things you do not want to do, but feel obliged to. Attending a kill-me-now meeting, or writing a review article for the Journal No One Reads. Often, a senior person in your department asked you to do something that makes you cringe, and you feel you can’t say no. The truth is you can. People will forget faster than you imagine because others do not think about you as much as you believe they do (the universal truth of life). Corollary: If you are the boss, don’t ask people to do painful things unless they are necessary. If you get asked to write a review article for a journal no one reads, just say no — don’t delegate it to an underling.

3. Extra money is rarely worth it.
There may, occasionally, be opportunities to make a little extra. Stay late or cover the weekend, and pick up a few extra bucks. A small honorarium to participate in a Saturday event. Money to take an extra overnight shift. These are almost never “worth it” in the long run. They rob you of downtime and the additional money is usually not enough to change anything about your life. You may pay back your loans 0.00001% faster, or have 0.00001% more in your bank account when you die.

4. It’s OK to make a career change. If you are deeply unhappy and frustrated at work, the right answer may be to do something else with your life. A busy private practice can burn you out, despite a nice paycheck. Academic life is full of politics and struggles, and the truth, which is the thing you are supposedly pursuing, may start to seem like an afterthought. It is OK to say: this isn’t for me. I am going to change. It is OK to quit — ideally in a blaze of glory — and do something else. 


5. Some places are no good and will never be good. There are warning signs to identify no-good places that will never be good. Most folks who work there are chronically unhappy or don’t have good things to say. There is a mass exodus, which I define as more than one-fourth of people in the institution having left in a year. Leaders brag about new hires, but are silent about losing existing staff. Good people — nationally known, externally successful people — leave, and are not enticed to stay. Bad leaders spend most of their time solidifying their position, and watch as Rome crumbles. Whenever I speak to a colleague of mine who left a “sinking ship,” there is always initial discomfort — it’s hard to relocate or start anew — but gradually there is elation, and folks wonder why they didn’t leave years before.

6. If it is truly important, they will email twice. Don’t get me wrong. I aspire to be polite and punctual and responsive by email, but the truth is, inevitably, we all fall short. Don’t beat yourself up. If it is really important, the sender will email twice. 


7. No need to answer emails after hours. A new law in France guarantees the right to not be obliged to respond to work after hours. Americans love to mock European attitudes favoring short work weeks and long vacations, but perhaps we could learn from their deliberate attempts to ensure life is full of joy and pleasure.

8. Most advances will happen without you. It is hard to hear the bitter truth that 99.99999% of us are replaceable at work, but none of us are replaceable at home. Even those of us who work on cutting-edge discoveries (or delude ourselves that we do) would do well to note that most advances in science are forced moves. It is likely in a 10- or 5- or 2-year period of time that someone working in the field will make the discovery. You, i.e., the flesh and blood that comprises your body, is rarely necessary for even Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. If you went to happy hour every Friday at 4 p.m., the discovery would still happen, probably at nearly the same time, and most likely it won’t win the Nobel.

9. If you achieve everything you want you will be the 2,245,234,235th most important person who lived; if you fail at everything you will be the 2,245,234,236th most important. Sometimes, it is valuable to view the world from the vantage of all of human history. There are few great people, whom I define as those who changed the course of civilization, for better or worse. 


10. Don’t compare yourself to your peers. No one took your opportunity. Recently, I was speaking to a college-bound senior. He lamented that he did not get into his top-rank school, and noted that a classmate was selected. “He took my spot,” he mused. I think his statement is both technically inaccurate, and practically unhelpful. It’s technically inaccurate in the sense that college admissions is a national process, and schools are not saving a spot for any particular high school, where one student’s admission directly pushes out a classmate. Instead, the competition is national. The comment is practically unhelpful because time spent thinking of yourself as a victim is time that could be used for productively living your life.

11. When you love what you do, it isn’t work. The opposite of being willing to decline some things you don’t want to do is to acknowledge the sheer pleasure it is to be paid to do some of the things that you do. In the course of human civilization, it is a rare pleasure to wed doing something that you might otherwise do anyway with earning a living for doing it. Thinking about this, and trying to maximize it in your life, may help achieve the elusive balance.

12. Spend less time wanting to be known, and more time having something to say. The Moby Dick of academic medicine is wanting to be known — to be praised, invited, and respected. Folks go to great lengths to achieve this, including the popular technique of obsequious flattery.


Improve yourself internally. Figure out what you have to say. What you believe in. Read more, talk less. If and when you have something to say, say it, and if it doesn’t come, then relax. Authenticity can be spotted from an airplane. We all want to escape the person who aspires to be known, but we can’t get enough of people who have something to say.

[end excerpts]

Ken Pope

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
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“We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”—C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Screwtape Letters (1942)
“You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity.”—Thomas Wolfe, novelist (1900-1938)