President’s Message

Posted on Jul 1, 2021 in President's Message | 0 comments

There is a phenomenon well described in the social science literature called the “U-curve.” It illustrates the nadir of job satisfaction that occurs in one’s mid career, say in one’s 40s-50’s. To the layman, it is the proverbial mid-life crisis. Previously, it was though that one’s happiness and wellbeing was generally on a downward slope as age progresses, all things being equal. However, that appears not to be the case. Data sets of approximately 500,000 individuals in the U.S. and Europe clearly identify a low point in self and job satisfaction in one’s 40’s, with a constant and steady rise thereafter.

Coincidentally, I find myself in just such an age bracket at the midpoint of my career. My early years as a physician were filled with fears of ineptitude, fears of making mistakes, but curiously tinged with the optimism that anything was possible.  As I aged, my skills and knowledge progressed, but they were countered by accumulated disappointments and regret. As such, I found myself in the inevitable burnout. I’ll admit that on the physician satisfaction surveys over the past few years, I have responded affirmatively to the burnout questions. How much of this was due to the actual work though, or was it part of a greater social experience?

As it turns out, I am not alone. This experience has been replicated across all income levels and career types in over 50 developed countries (notable differences exist in developing countries, though the exact reasons are not entirely clear). Just by being “successful” does not ward off this particular phenomenon. Whether you’re the CEO or you’re housekeeping, you are susceptible.

So what can we do about it? The first is to acknowledge and normalize it. The second is to focus on the things that we have control over, namely the personal relationships we have around us. The third is to express gratitude – to yourself and others, every day. Lastly, stop comparing yourself to others. Fear of missing out is a powerful fear, but it tends to highlight differences and magnify discontent.

As physicians and allied health professionals, we have taken a long road to get where we are. It is not an easy journey, and to get to this point requires an unusual combination of perseverance, intellect, and character. This is not to say that we are better than those in other professions, but just that we should recognize all the hard work and accomplishment that has gotten us this far. Pat yourself on the back. And it’s ok to feel burned out or dissatisfied. It will get better.

https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-so-many-of-us-experience-a-midlife-crisis

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-real-roots-of-midlife-crisis/382235/

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/scientists-just-discovered-mid-life-crisis-peaks-at-age-47-heres-how-to-minimize-effect-of-happiness-curve.html

Jeff Chen MD, MPH, FACEP
Chief of Staff, ABSMC Summit Campus
chenje@sutterhealth.org
jchen@bayem.org

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