“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.”
– William S. Burroughs, American author and poet
This article was first published on the PBS Affiliated Website This Emotional Life.
It has always seemed to me that life is a series of stages. And yet, rarely do we recognize such fleeting moments when one stage ends and another begins. Irrespective of who or what may be behind the impetus for any given change, these significant, transitory periods in life often accompany opportunities to reflect upon individual priorities. Such was recently the case with me, as I found myself on the cusp of not one, but two major life changes, as well as with an unusual amount of free time with which to think.
Although my titles, job descriptions, and central focus may have shifted through the years, health care has always been my industry. For well over a decade my work has involved legal matters, consulting opportunities, hospital management, academia, and creating a foundation in a public benefit enterprise. These two most recent changes, the birth of my first child and my transition from head of a community hospital to the private sector, occurred simultaneously and permeated practically every aspect of my life and touched upon my inner most thoughts and feelings. Such intensity in transition can be unsettling, and when reliance upon intuition and instinct is called upon to surpass experience and knowledge in utility, there is often not much time to recover from vacillations in self-confidence and pride.
My father instilled in me the notion that professions were not to be seen as mutually exclusive, and he taught me the importance of finding ways to create an individual path whenever possible. In reflecting upon the past sixteen years since completing my academic studies, I would like to think that I succeeded in reaching the appropriate professional autonomy he espoused, even if I existed under his gentle influence and sometimes watchful eye during the first 41 years, 1 month and 16 days of my life.
Parents can play many different roles, and for me the union between my mother and father formed something like a trapeze net that waited to protect my siblings and me should we find ourselves falling as we attempted great heights. Of course my vantage point toward my family changed over the years as I matured and tried new things, and at times my height was such that I could not confirm their existence below. Still, that net has proven quite sturdy even today as my mother holds it alone, nine years after my father’s passing. My mother’s firm grip still reminds me of the ways in which my parents influenced my many decisions by providing that rock solid foundation, but I was recently surprised to note that it is a newcomer who seems to have the most influence over my security these days. Weighing in at a cool sixteen pounds, I am talking about my son.
When I reached a rather significant crossroads in my career last fall, my son was still nesting safely inside his mother’s womb. At the pinnacle of my professional transition, he was a mere six weeks old. And yet, when I recently looked below to see if anyone was holding the net for me as I prepared to make my next leap, my son stood there by himself, smiling up at me. This recent lesson from my son is of equal significance to my father’s instructions a decade ago, yet the two sets of truths could not be any more different from each other.
When my position at the hospital came to an end, I redirected my attention to the various job experiences I had gathered over these past 16 years, with the only common denominator being the industry. Under the umbrella of health care, I sought to combine legal, administrative, and literary acumen as I set out to define the next chapter in my existence. Without the security stemming from the job that had been my professional centerpiece for the past nine years, however, I knew this task would be quite challenging, and my frustration grew when I found I could not readily identify the origins of my perceived obstacles. I feared that something had changed within me, so my response was to increase my efforts in even greater directions. This, of course, did not help my focus.
And then it occurred to me what had caused my recent change. All along, I had been blaming this previously undefined shift in personality for preventing me from advancing my career to its next logical stage. And yet, as it turns out, this change did not blunt my focus or energies at all, but rather readjusted my priorities in such a way so that I now find myself proceeding along the path I had been seeking all along. I have held many positions in my life, but there is one for which I had no experience up until recently, and its impact stands in stark contrast to everything I’ve ever learned in an office or hospital.
Though I may be new at my role as father, the old adage continues to ring true in my ears – timing is everything. For just when I realized that my career was teaching me how to be a better father, I’ve come to learn that my son has improved upon my professional abilities. As it turns out, this is very convenient for both of us, and I cannot wait to see where this partnership will lead.