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By Sabe Sabesan, PhD, FRACP, Anoj Sabesan, and Lynden Roberts, PhD, FRACP

When everyone is aligned with values and purpose in our societies and workplaces, we create spaces that put the well-being of all humans at the center.

In our modern society, mental well-being has garnered significant attention, with individuals and organizations investing considerable time and resources to improve or maintain it. As we pursue this goal, two essential questions arise: What constitutes the ideal state of well-being, and what mindset underpins the achievement of this desired state?

In an era characterized by technological advancement, wealth accumulation, personal accomplishments, and corporate activities like mergers and acquisitions, it’s easy to complicate these questions.

Learning from these observations and personal experiences, we want to share two concepts that could help answer those two questions and help alleviate suffering in our daily life and within workplaces: “insignificant being” and “significant existence.”

“Insignificant Being”

It is crucial to recognize that none of us are indispensable on this planet; each of us is just one person among a global population of 8 billion. Within workplaces, we are just a small part of the workforce that is renumerated to contribute to the organizational purpose. But we share a common purpose—to create and cherish meaningful experiences for ourselves and others. None of us are destined for a life of misery, and this realization should not lead to feelings of futility or indifference.

It is also essential to understand that controlling others is not a birthright we possess. Despite being taught about our vulnerability and insignificance in schools, families, and religious settings, we often struggle with an innate instinct to control and judge others. Overcoming this instinct requires reframing our mindset with statements such as the ones listed below. Such a retrained mindset can help us appreciate our unique circumstances, experiences, and needs while promoting equality.

  • “I am grateful to be among 8 billion people who have the opportunity to experience being a human.”
  • “I am grateful for the opportunity to create meaningful experiences for myself and others.”
  • “I am grateful for being one of the members of the workforce who has the capacity to create meaningful experiences for myself and others in everything I do.”
  • “I cannot control, judge, or expect from fellow human beings; I can only influence.”

“Significant Existence”

The concept of “significant existence” may revolve around three things:

  1. Every individual is unique and not reproducible, even by the most state-of-the-art technology.
  2. Everyone is connected to the universe through its energy and atomic structures.
  3. Everyone’s purpose is to create a meaningful experience for themselves and those around them.

This means none of us require validation from other humans, but rather we are grateful for our uniqueness. We belong wherever we set foot and do not require an invitation to feel belonging since we belong to the universe already.

Prior to making a positive impact on others, we must ensure our emotional energy is full and protected—a car can’t travel long distances without a full tank. Our purpose, values, “chill pills”, and levers empower us to maintain emotional energy, allowing us to create meaningful experiences for us and others.

Purpose

Purpose could be defined as: “to create a meaningful experience for myself and others around me in the things I do.” Instead of reducing many activities to being mundane and getting frustrated, we could attribute values to them and create meaning and joy in what we do in that moment. Every individual has unique daily goals, regardless of their roles, beliefs, socioeconomic status, jobs, or educational backgrounds. These goals range from mundane tasks like cleaning and chores, to more ambitious goals like changing the world. Recognizing that everyone’s goals are equally valuable helps us embrace the concept of “proportional impact.” Each person contributes to society and workplaces based on their intellectual capacity, physical abilities, financial situation, roles, and networks. We can argue that those with higher financial means and platforms should contribute more to achieve the same “proportional impact” as those with fewer resources and platforms.

In busy clinical environments, where we must juggle patient consultations, training, research, filling of forums and insurance claims, and many other unexpected and emerging events, our default is to focus on completing tasks at the expense of labelling them mundane, not enjoying these activities in the moment, and waiting for the end of the day or the weekend to have fun. To create meaningful experiences in all these activities, if we can identify the underlying benefits for patients, families, trainees/colleagues, and ourselves, and underlying values such as compassion and respect, we could make these activities meaningful and rewarding.

“Chill Pills” and Values

Values serve as guiding principles for interactions with and reactions to others, as well as for personal accountability. For example, respect is shown by responding to emails and closing communication loops in a timely manner. Compassion may be shown by being curious about others’ ideas rather than saying “no” as the first response.

The concept of “chill pills,” previously discussed in InSight+, focuses on using kindness, gratitude, and acceptance to minimize energy depletion while managing our personal sphere. This includes showing kindness to others and expressing gratitude for our current circumstances and the people around us. Accepting the reality may help us find peace with its presence and help us decide whether the reality needs to be changed.

Clinical areas may be demanding, and their set up is unlikely to be perfect, although we expect the “system” to make it perfect for us so that we can focus on helping patients. Similarly, many meetings and forums may become talkfests while innovation and progress may seem elusive. We could get frustrated and drain our emotional energy in a way that could impact the rest of the day at work and home. By accepting this as a reality first and accepting that people would have varying capabilities and perspectives could stop us from getting into a downward spiral of energy wastage. Then, being grateful for the opportunity to be there and show kindness to others may keep or boost the emotional energy to influence the necessary change. Not everything needs to be changed.

Levers

In an imperfect world with persistent power imbalances, a sense of empowerment is an important state of mind. Identifying and utilizing our inner power becomes crucial when we feel powerless to manage reality and effect change. These levers often involve advocating for the well-being of patients and of our colleagues; referring to guidelines, policies, strategic plans and legislation; and when all of the above fail, escalating through line management pathways, media, external bodies, and the political system. We have described how clinician levers can be identified and used in the Medical Journal of Australia.

It is crucial to recognize that enacting change and rising above challenges requires worthwhile causes, co-designed solutions, well-considered implementation plans, and the appropriate clinician levers.

When we advocate for change and before applying clinician levers, it is crucial to make sure we are doing the right thing by following implementation science principles. Personal opinions should be backed up with qualitative or quantitative evidence or subjected to stress testing and peer review before pushing for change. This approach ensures the effectiveness and sustainability of our efforts to create a positive impact. Clinician levers need to be identified and applied from the outset to keep stakeholders engaged and to avoid frustration and a sense of powerlessness.

Conclusion

These concepts, summarized in the figure below, have changed our lives while we continue to learn and insert them into “mental memory” every day through meditation and self-reflections. We encourage others to explore whether these concepts of “insignificant being” and “significant existence” are relevant to them when fostering personal well-being while advocating for improvements and change. When everyone is aligned with values and purpose in our societies and workplaces, we collectively create spaces that put the well-being of all humans at the center.

Figure: Essential Components of the “Insignificant Being” and “Significant Existence” Mindset

Professor Sabe Sabesan is a senior medical oncologist at Townsville Cancer Centre in Queensland, Australia. He develops and implements teleoncology models to improve rural and regional health outcomes. Having suffered moral injury during implementation phases and PTSD during war, he has become an advocate for better workplace culture as the foundation for workforce wellness, while searching for his own mechanisms for achieving inner peace. Disclosure.

Anoj Sabesan is an undergraduate student at the University of Queensland Business School and Day Hospital receptionist at Icon Cancer Centre, Brisbane, Australia. Living with ADHD and its associated comorbid anxiety, he is keen for more awareness and acceptance of mental illnesses in workplaces and in society and for the workforce to develop resilience techniques to find joy at work. Disclosure.

Professor Roberts is a senior rheumatologist and director of programs and transformation at Monash Health, in Melbourne, Australia. He has become a believer in non-duality as a basis of improving personal wellbeing. Disclosure.

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