Stress blog

Finding that meaningful purpose in life

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. October 4, 2008

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Sometimes a casual comment can provide an insight and perspective into the stress and frustrations and disappointments we all deal with on an everyday basis. Let me explain.

I sat on a bus with a colleague as we were traveling between hospitals. He had just entered our cancer medicine training program and was at the start of a four-year journey. He was ten years older than his classmate, and I was curious about his background. Here is what I learned.

Following medical school, he became the CEO of a medical device company in an upper midwestern state. Over a six-year period, he made "tons of money" and had everything that money could purchase. However, at the end of the day, there was a nagging, gnawing sense that he was really not making a difference.

Sure, the shareholders were happy and the stock prices were skyrocketing, but there was a palpable emptiness. He then shared with me that he needed to do something in which at the end of the day he could have a sense that somehow the world or maybe even one person was a little bit better because of his efforts.

This meant stepping down from his high-income perch, working nights and weekends, and dialing back a very affluent lifestyle. He shared that this was a deliberate decision on his part and a great sacrifice for his wife and his young children. However, he was willing to endure the grind of going back into the medical arena with the hope of making a difference.

I think what I heard was the following: We can endure just about anything if somehow we can find meaning or purpose in our situation. Dr. Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor about whom we have written in the past, made the comment that if you give me a "why" to live, I can find out "how" to live. If there is meaning, if there is purpose, if there is some redemptive value in our stress and pain, somehow we can marshal the fortitude to move on.

Am I completely off base with this perception? I am thick skinned and would sure like to hear from our blog citizens on my interpretation of a casual conversation on a bus.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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28 Comments Posted

Oct. 04, 2008