In 1977, the movie, “Oh, God!”, starring George Burns and John Denver, came out. Denver asked Burns, who was playing the part of God, why there were so many things like natural disasters and plagues in life that caused pain. Burns’ reply was, “I never could figure out how to make roses without the thorns.”
I’ve had plenty of jobs and each one of them was filled with some incredible highs and lows. The one thing I’m completely sure of though is unless you’ve done it and lived it, you can’t fully appreciate what it is like, what it does to you, or how it feels. The “walk-a-mile-in-my- shoes” line has never been more accurate.
The two professions that I pursued that had the most incredible highs and lows were teaching and hospital administration.
As a young teacher, the day you realize that you may hold your students’ future in your hands can be overwhelming. The impact you have on some students can be permanent. Your work, dedication and commitment to their intellectual and emotional growth may contribute to the way they see themselves their entire lives. It’s an awesome responsibility that can be not only awe-inspiring but also somewhat intimidating for a new teacher. I can’t possibly tell you the number of former students, some now in their late 50s or early 60s, who have written to tell me how my work with them positively impacted their lives. Their sentiment is rewarding beyond belief.
There is no greater personal high for a 20-something teacher than to experience standing ovations from a grateful audience for the truly amazing performances put on by your students. Conversely, there’s no greater low than knowing that a student is being abused at home, living in a hostile environment, or witnessing violence that should not be part of any child’s life.
In one of my hospital administration jobs, we had a psychiatric unit for children. So often those kids would come there in complete turmoil, and after 30 days or so would leave with a level of normalcy and balance that was heart-warming. Then they would be returned to the environment that caused their pain in the first place. It was devastating when they came back a few months later because of a suicide attempt or a complete breakdown.
One very positive outcome from my hospital job was the satisfaction of knowing that I had recruited and hired or simply equipped the right physician with the tools they needed for saving a life. Yes, it wasn’t me directly, but my work contributed to those positive outcomes. Times like that late-night call from a friend in panic because his wife was having a heart attack, and no physicians were responding at the other hospitals. That situation resulted in my personal intervention with a friendly invasive cardiologist who contributed to her being saved. That was a high that cannot easily be equaled.
Conversely, being there time and time again for those negative outcomes from deadly accidents or health events that didn’t go well takes a chunk from your heart every time it happens.
After decades away from teaching, from the politics of running hospitals, and from the pressure from parents, patients, boards and staff, there is one thing that continues to sadden me. I’m absolutely convinced that the budget cutbacks that negatively influenced our behavioral health, education, and fine arts programs nationally have had an amazingly detrimental impact on the lives of our current students. If you can’t find your niche or your tribe, and can’t get the help you need, the ramifications can be devastating.
Bottom line? Unless you’ve worked as a prison guard, Navy Seal, a teacher, a preacher, or a candlestick maker, stop the judgment. Try driving a school bus or being a psychologist. Every profession has its ups and downs, but judge ye not until you judge yourself.
Nick Jacobs of Windber is a Senior Partner with Senior Management Resources and author of the book “Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare.”