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Man’s Search for Meaning

By Gary D. Salomon, MD

I am writing this while on a surgical mission with Rotaplast in Firozabad, India.  I find the work I do on these missions to be extremely meaningful, as I do with my work at home. The book that comes immediately to mind is Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. The author, a Viennese Psychiatrist, survived Auschwitz, and, having lost all of his family, continued to find meaning in his life.  He wrote about his philosophy of life, that “life is not primarily a quest for pleasure…but is a quest for meaning.” As noted in one of the afterwards, he found meaning in his life by helping others to find meaning in their own lives.   

It is a seminal work, first published in 1945, but every bit as relevant to our quest for meaning in our lives today.  Read the forward, then read the book.   

Why do I think this is a book every hand surgeon should read?

I have been thinking and reading a lot about the science of well being, positive psychology, and happiness over the past year and a half, and there are a number of other books I could have chosen that have helped shape my current view of my life and hand surgery practice. I realize that my interest in this topic is informed by my own experiences with symptoms of burnout and what I have perceived as dissatisfaction and negativity in many of my medical colleagues. I was immediately drawn to positive psychology when I viewed an introduction to a course on the subject that asked the questions “what is a life well lived” and what does it mean to “flourish” at work. I wondered what I was missing that I was at the peak of my career, yet was often negative about my time spent at work. It didn’t seem like I was “flourishing” in my chosen “métier.”

After much self reflection and study, I have come to understand what Frankl and Nietzche define as the “why” in my own life. I have incorporated many of the changes that the science of well being shows improve happiness into my life. I find meaning in my work helping my patients with hand problems overcome their injuries and difficulties. I find meaning in the loving relationships I have with my wife, children, and grandchildren.   In addition to finding meaning in the work we do healing patients from around the world, my wife and I find our travel experiences satisfying and memorable, and we develop social connections with people halfway around the world (members of our teams, and the patients we help). 

We return to view our lives with new appreciation for the many things we previously took for granted.

After I recover from the jet lag, I find that I return to positive emotion, engagement in my work,  greater meaning in my work and life and relationships, and a deep sense of accomplishment. I check myself. I am fully engaged in my life and flourishing in my chosen career as a hand surgeon. I find my work energizing. I am no longer burned out.   #healtheworld  #findingmeaninginhandsurgery  #endburnout

Photograph: 5-year-old girl with a severe burn scar contracture of the elbow and wrist that our team cared for on this trip.  X-ray below. 

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