Why do we do what we do? Why we are particularly passionate about our professions?
The area with which I’m most familiar and comfortable—healthcare—accounts for almost a fifth of our nation’s expenditures. Let’s take a look at what makes us tick as health care professionals, and then broaden the discussion to other noble professions.
“Noble professions” are those in which the beneficiary’s needs and desires are placed ahead of the practitioner’s needs. Examples include healthcare, education, and the ministry. The needs of a patient, student or parishioner are paramount to the physician, teacher, or minister. And there certainly are other noble professions including architecture (where designs are created to make life’s activities better) and food purveyors (who help all of us with sustenance).
Years ago healthcare guru Quint Studer spoke to a group of hundreds of healthcare professionals at the downtown campus of the NCH Healthcare System, and related three principles which are hallmarks of noble professionals.
Purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference combine for a stable and long term satisfying experience for the giver of care, the provider of education or sharer of spirituality in the case of a physician, professor or minister. Of course, other occupations share these principles which are not unique or limited to healthcare, education or the ministry.
Having a worthwhile professional career is among life’s most satisfying activities, since most of us spend more time with our work and our colleagues than we do with any other activity or even with our family.
Psychologists and human resource professionals say there are three components of motivation that help explain our behavior regarding work, and why we do what we do:
- Our perceived importance of the work, called “Valence.”
- Our perceived chances for success, called “Self-Efficacy.”
- Our expectations for personal reward, called “Expectancy.”
VALENCE refers to the value we place on the work we do. If we believe the work we are doing is extremely important we will make many sacrifices. Consider all healthcare workers from emergency technicians to open heart surgeons and everyone in between. The importance of saving lives or at least providing comfort when cure is not possible is a primary motivation for people in this noble profession.
Florence Nightingale was the pioneer of modern nursing. While treating the wounded of the Crimean War, she found that nurses sacrificed their lives due to disease and accidents as often as soldiers were killed in battle. Also consider our military heroes, police and firefighters who view their profession as protecting freedom and providing safety for all—and are also willing to sacrifice everything so others might remain free and safe.
SELF-EFFICACY refers to the extent that we can be successful at work. Motivation is higher when we perceive we have a very good chance of success. If we assess a situation as being hopeless, we are much less likely to want to be involved. Being “set up for failure” is a term which is demoralizing right from the start.
If we are musically inclined and can already play an instrument adroitly, we are much more likely to learn how to play a second instrument.
Or if we have an ear for languages and are already bilingual in one of the romance languages, we would have much more ambition and aptitude to learn another language. On the other hand, if you just got by with high school and college French as I did, then taking on an additional language challenge would be daunting. Even psychologically believing you would not be successful contributes mightily to failure.
EXPECTANCY is our anticipation of what will happen to us if we find success—in other words, if our patient gets better, our student learns, our parishioner is comforted. When we are safe, free, have adequate food stuffs and material comforts within a stable economy, we have the expectation of success.
“Who will notice and who will care?” are questions usually asked quietly at the beginning of a work endeavor.
We all expect and deserve recognition. Motivation is likely to suffer when we think nobody will notice. Human resources experts in the business world observe that when workers whose productivity is high are lumped in with workers whose value is low, everyone becomes dissatisfied. The task at hand is to reward appropriately.
That way, the productive providers of care, education and spiritual comfort will continue to improve—and that will have a positive and direct effect on those who are being served. On a personal basis, find out what you are good at, and do it. Be passionate about your job, your life, your family—no matter where you find yourself. You will be better off and more successful.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up with this quote, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great sweeper who did his job well.”
We can all do our jobs well. And we should all do our jobs well.