Friday, December 07, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0741 - Work as therapy

I started a new job this week as Implementation Consultant for Covarity, an information technology company providing loans monitoring software services to financial institutions. I've just written an entry on my technology blog about the collegial experience of working with other IT professionals on a daily basis. But one of the things I've been ruminating upon recently is the idea of work in general as therapy.

This morning, I received a Google Alert about an academic with rectal cancer who died almost immediately after delivering his last lecture of the week before scheduling his surgery. Professor Lee Ki-yong was only 50 years old and had only been diagnosed two months ago. He was receiving radiation and other forms of treatment, but had decided to complete his semester lecturing responsibilities before undergoing surgery. He did that, but died shortly after delivering the final lecture for the semester.

Without speaking with him, it's difficult to know what he thought about work as therapy, but clearly he felt deeply committed to his professional obligations. Whether or not he felt there were personal therapeutic benefits to continuing his lectures or not, that sense of commitment and duty is inspiring.

My own experience confirms the therapeutic benefit of work, more specifically of contributing in a significant way to the benefit of other people. Sure, when we do so in a corporate setting, we are remunerated for our services. And it is true that the remuneration is a measure of how our services are valued by others. But the true benefit, the true nature of the "therapy", is the inchoate sense of contribution and engagement with and for other people.

Whether we stand before a group of students or assist in the implementation of software solutions, the bottom line is that we are doing something worthwhile, something "bigger" than those health issues we face.

One of Professor Ki-yong's students remembers him saying that losing your health means losing everything. True enough on a personal level. But losing the opportunity and the capacity to help other people, however meagre, however momentary, is a far worse fate.

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