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Cheat Others and You Cheat Yourself

I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently about the responsibility of doing good work. He made the comment that some people are more culpable for the quality of work they do. He said that physicians and police officers, for example, are responsible for people’s lives and therefore are obligated to have a higher level of performance and work ethic. This comment actually upset me and I worry that statistically at least 30% of people may have the same opinion.

I’ve worked different jobs prior becoming a physician. I was a lifeguard in high school, a waitress after college and worked as a retail sales person during medical school. I enjoyed all those experiences and they imparted valuable information about people and taught me how to handle various personal and professional situations. Never once did it cross my mind to put in less than 100% effort because it wasn’t my anticipated career or “no one’s going to die if I don’t do the best job that I can.”

Having a good work ethic has nothing to do with whether the job is important enough. It comes from how much respect you have for yourself and others. If you’re in a job or profession and you’re not doing the best job that you’re capable of, you are cheating. You are cheating your boss who is paying you for a certain level of work; cheating whoever is paying for your services or for the end result of your services, cheating anyone who depends on you financially, and most importantly, you are cheating yourself out of self-gratification, self-esteem, and self-worth. Certain professions may entail a higher level of expertise or risk and require constant vigilance; however, anyone who promises a specific service is accountable for delivering the best possible product for their own self-respect, at the very least.

As a pain management physician, it is important to figure out why someone has developed chronic pain and which outside influences might be preventing the natural healing cycle from restoring the pain-free state. Oftentimes, stress and anxiety are the top factors that cause pain to become chronic. For example, a person who experiences a whip lash injury in a car accident is at risk for chronic pain. The injury causes the joints of the cervical spine to be strained and the small nerve within the joint becomes irritated. This irritation causes the neck muscles to spasm and tighten, attempting to take the strain off the joint. Once the joint and nerve irritation calm down, the muscles relax because they no longer need to “protect” the joint. Normally, this type of injury has a healing cycle of about 15-30 days, after which the pain is minimal. It is not uncommon for the muscle spasm to become chronic after the irritation has calmed down because of external social or emotional stress. Stress will increase muscle tone and cause the neck muscles to stay in a state of spasm for a reason that is related to but not directly caused by the initial injury.

Similarly, if a person is doing a job they don’t enjoy and are aware that they aren’t delivering their best quality of work, they may feel guilt, stress, anxiety, anger, etc. If the underlying problem that is causing the dissatisfaction isn’t remedied, the resultant stress will cause muscles to reactively tighten which may then worsen with time and create more severe pain. The most common types of chronic pain related to emotional distress are headaches, neck, and low back pain. The correct treatment is not medication; it is for the individual to change the aspect of their work that is causing the unhappiness.

Having pride in what you do and in the work you perform is an essential component of a happy and fulfilled life. We spend at least a third of our day working and if that doesn’t motivate and fulfill us, it’s wasted time. When a person stays in an environment that perpetuates negative feelings and emotions, that person can develop chronic pain.

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