I was sitting in the airport waiting for a flight recently (something I do all too often) when I overheard the beginning of what appeared to be a conversation between a grandfather and his teenage granddaughter about choosing a career. The conversation started with the grandfather giving thoughtful, if somewhat standard advice. First, the grandfather advised his granddaughter to pick a career that would provide enough financial return to consistently put food on the table. Second, he suggested finding a field that would not get boring even after many years on the job. Third, he recommended finding work that had meaning. I suspect the conversation went on from there but I had to leave to catch my plane.
This got me thinking about my own career choice and what advice I would provide in a similar situation. I agree with the points made by the grandfather, although I suspect I would have put them in a different order. There is another point I would have made that has been key to making my job so enjoyable through many years. That is to select a job where you respect the people you work with every day.
Many of us spend nearly as much time with our “work families” as we do with our real families. This includes time with co-workers in our own organizations who are above, parallel or below us on the organizational chart as well as interactions with colleagues from outside organizations. I have an extremely varied and extended work family. Within the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Iowa, this family includes
- Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other clinicians who care for cancer patients
- Researchers with a broad variety of backgrounds who spend their lives conducting basic laboratory, clinical and community based research
- Teachers and educators who train the next generation of care givers and investigators
- Students who are starting their careers in patient care and research
- Support staff and administrators who keep all our efforts and operations on track
- Volunteers and advocates who donate their time, energy and passion
I also have the privilege of working extensively with colleagues from other cancer centers, institutions and organizations with overlapping missions.
These colleagues have varied skill sets and backgrounds, and are employed by different organizations, but share the same overall vision and passion. The members of my work family are not people who are driven by the desire to make as much money as possible, gather as much power as they can accumulate or gain celebrity. They are dedicated professionals who believe in the mission we all share which is to reduce pain and suffering from cancer.
We see eye-to-eye on some issues and disagree on others. Sometimes we are told “no” by a colleague after putting a huge amount of effort into a concept we believe is the right way to go, and other times we need to say “no” to a very reasonable and well thought-out request. We deal with incredibly challenging and, at times, heart-wrenching situations where we have to rely on each other for support and guidance. The only way to do this day in and day out, and still enjoy the job, is to respect and appreciate the colleagues we work with every day.
My own granddaughter is only 2 years old, but if I have the good fortune of being in an airport with her several years down the road having such a conversation, I will advise her to choose a career where she gets to work every day with people she respects.