As I See It: Asking The Big Question
February 2, 2015 Victor Rozek
Before she became an activist intent on changing the medical system, my wife’s doctor was so unhappy that she once thought about killing herself. And for doctors, that’s not unusual. Although it’s not widely publicized, physicians commit suicide at an alarming rate. By profession, they have the highest rate in the nation. Almost every physician has either thought of suicide, or knew a colleague who took his or her own life. For Dr. Pamela Wible, the source of their common misery was not hard to identify: Their purpose has been corrupted.
Most aspiring physicians enter the profession as idealists, intent on caring for the sick. But after going through the rigors of medical school and sleep-deprived residencies, they enter an assembly-line model of medicine that requires them to see as many patients as possible, as quickly as possible. Connection with individual patients is lost, symptoms are treated without sufficient time to understand and address underlying causes. Over time compassion wanes; disillusion and depression set in. The realities of a modern medical practice are much less satisfying than many envisioned.
Dr. Wible came to believe that honoring your life purpose is the linchpin of good health. It’s the Big Question she asks each of her patients, and their response is duly recorded at the top of their medical chart. Answering the question, she believes, can save their lives. “What is your life purpose?” she asks. Most people don’t know.
Whatever your age or profession, there are, Wible believes, three huge benefits to discovering your life purpose. First, “your life will finally make sense.” Discovering your purpose is like locating true North after wandering around in the woods. It identifies the path to be travelled, and provides clarity and criteria for making decisions. Choices that support our life purpose are embraced; options that diverge from that purpose are rejected. It makes clear why we are attracted to some things and not others; why one thing is compelling, and another is not. It satisfies the yearning for meaning because life becomes less random. As we identify and begin to live in integrity with our purpose, the constant anxiety and internal churning subside.
Second, “you’ll have a lot more fun,” says Wible. My wife occasionally tells me (with a combination of pride and envy) that I’ve reached a place in life where I no longer do anything I don’t want to do. That state of being is how I define having fun. When I’m not resistant to my choices, I can embrace them fully and energetically, without resentment. And choosing what gives my life meaning and heart is almost always fun. Simply stated, purpose amplifies the passion for living.
Third, according to Wible, “you’ll have fewer health problems.” She found that patients with a clear and precise vision of their life purpose have less fatigue, fewer instances of depression, anxiety, insomnia; as well as fewer headaches and a host of other medical problems. And, in a culture where every symptom is immediately drugged into submission, they need less medication. By extension that also means less need for self-medication. As Churchill reportedly said, “alcohol is a good servant, but a bad master.” Living with purpose reduces the need to stay numb.
But having Purpose without Vision is like trying to drive a high-performance car without fuel or direction. Discovering your reason for being is the first essential step. The next step is to pinpoint what greater cause that purpose will serve. If, for example, a physician identified her purpose as being a healer, then it would be useful to identity what specific outcomes she desired to create. A vision can be modest or grand. For a doctor it may be opening a specialized clinic, inventing a life-saving surgical procedure, or having a practice where no one is turned away. Or, in Dr. Wible’s case, transforming the entire medical system.
“Purpose” and “Vision” are often confused and interchanged, although they serve expressly different functions. Identifying your purpose answers the question: What am I here to do? Creating a vision answers the question: How will things be different when I’ve done it? A proper vision should ignite your passion and inspire you to live your purpose. It should pull you forward into the future. Contemplating it should be exciting and even a little scary because often a vision will be so grand that it will not be attainable in a single lifetime. But that makes it even more urgent and compelling. A vision should eclipse your sphere of influence, and reflect your broader sphere of concern. Your purpose will be the path by which you move toward that vision.
If identifying a purpose seems daunting or elusive, you can reverse the process by identifying a vision first and then deducing your purpose. Begin by asking questions such as: What’s important to me? What would I like my legacy to be? How do I want the world (or some facet of it) to change? Grappling with such questions allows your purpose to begin to emerge. It will be related to the contribution you are committed to making in order to transform your vision into reality.
My personal vision is “One World in Balance, One People at Peace.” And my purpose is to “advance my vision through my work, my choices, and my being.” Purpose and vision may change with context, but without them we float lacking direction, at the mercy of changing tides.
Knowing what’s right for us usually isn’t difficult; doing what’s right can be more complicated. Although we lie to ourselves constantly, our bodies are incapable of lying. Symptoms and disease are evidence of a life out of balance. It’s our body’s way of telling us to pay attention to something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing; or something we’re not doing that we’ve ignored for too long. It is why, as Wible discovered, identifying and living your purpose is not only fulfilling, but curative.
Dr. Wible now teaches physicians how to create their “Ideal Medical Practice.” It’s a low-overhead, patient-centric model that allows physicians to make a decent living while only seeing six to eight patients per day rather than 20 to 30 or more. Appointments are spacious, no one is rushed, and no one sits waiting in an empty office. Doctors who have adopted this model report being happy. Patients report having the rare experience of feeling cared for, rather than being processed.
So, when patients ask Dr. Wible why she insists they discover their purpose, she shares with them her expanded vision of medical care: “I can’t let you die,” she tells them, “until you discover why you were born.”