When experiencing burnout on the job, enjoying activities outside of work may lead to greater happiness and life satisfaction, until your passion for work returns.
Many healthcare professionals are drawn to their careers because of a deep passion for the job. As a child psychologist, I gratefully reflect that I often find meaning in my work of supporting child development and well-being. However, the past several years of the pandemic have highlighted increasing rates of job dissatisfaction and burnout. Spending years in training unfortunately is not a guarantee that passion for one’s professional role will be sustained. Even for those of us who often find meaning in our work, we may experience periods in which seeking joy and meaning outside of work may be more accessible.
A mindful approach to self-assessment may be useful in taking inventory of one’s engagement in professional and personal activities that provide a sense of passion, purpose, and meaning, both at work and outside of work. Studies of behavioral activation suggest that engaging in a range of enjoyable activities across life domains (for example, professional, social, physical, relational, values/meaning-oriented) helps reinforce a person’s motivation and life satisfaction. We tend to feel better when we engage in activities that give us a sense of achievement, connection, and/or closeness to people or experiences that we enjoy.
A personal inventory of activities throughout one’s typical week might highlight an absence of meaningful activities at work that could be balanced with pursuit of more meaningful activities during off-work hours. For example, if one’s satisfaction on the job has been decreasing, then a mindful recalibration may lead to considering whether other aspects of life may offer more reliable sources of meaning and purpose. An inventory of one’s engagement in meaningful activities may help us seek and discover opportunities to serve the community using professional skills in a different setting (for example, volunteer opportunities, teaching, mentoring, advocacy, policy change) that yields passion in work-adjacent activities. A mindful dose of behavioral activation may restore a sense of meaning and purpose, even if passion at work is elusive.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.