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Life Lessons: Finding Joy in Challenging Times

By Barbara Schmidtman, PhD

July 27, 2022
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In her monthly leadership series, Dr. Barbara Schmidtman—vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health West—offers her perspective on addressing workforce-related issues through effective leadership practices. Find all her posts in this blog series on the ACCC website.

Recently, my family and I went on a two-week road trip out East. Leading up to a vacation like this, a lot of thought and excitement goes into the planning process. For our family, the excitement was tangible because of all the places we would see, people we could meet, and old friends we could finally visit with again.

From St. Joseph, Mich., we started off our trip in Gettysburg, Pa., over the fourth of July weekend. While there, we did a ghost tour, swam in a creek and pool, and rode a golf cart around the campground. You name it; we were having a blast. But then, as some unavoidable mishaps began to occur, I found myself becoming upset. It’s not often that one gets to take a two-week long road trip.

I later began to ponder why the hiccups along our journey were frustrating me and why I was allowing these circumstances to take away my joy. It wasn’t until we were back from our trip that I really began to think about how I let the now silly, uncontrollable situations bother me in the moment. This then led me to think about joy in general. There had to be a way to apply what I learned from my vacation to my daily life and workplace.

What is Joy?

If you google “What is joy?” you will find a dictionary definition that says it is “a feeling of great pleasure or happiness.” If you google “What is the opposite of joy?” you will see words like “despair, misery, or sadness.” One time, while having a conversation, a professional colleague asked me about failure. My response to anyone would be that although failure is real feeling, there is always another way to solve a problem. Therefore, failure is never an option for me.

I bring this up because when we feel that we’ve “failed” it is often accompanied by feelings of sadness. But what if we allowed that feeling of failure to bring us joy? Joy in lessons learned or in trying something different or solving an issue in a different way. Looking back on my vacation, I wish I would have done a little bit more of that—finding joy in the things that were not going right in the moment and that were completely out of my control.

Joy in the Workplace

In oncology, healthcare providers usually find joy in the work that we do. I know I experience incredible amounts of joy by leading a team of highly skilled and trained professionals, who provide high-quality care to our patients. But sometimes, we have bad days and unavoidable situations that are out of our control. And sometimes, we let these situations cloud our thinking when remembering what our purpose is. When this happens, it doesn’t mean that you’ve lost all the joy in your work. Instead, you may need to rethink or regroup, so next time you can take control of the situation to feel joy and success rather than failure and sadness.

In fact, finding joy, even in the darkest of times, helps to set an example to our patients and team members that we can and will make the most out of difficult situations. Although there is limited research on the topic, I would hypothesize that when all members of the team keep a positive outlook, it could positively drive team engagement and overall patient satisfaction.

We can find joy in the simplest of forms, from beautiful flowers and someone’s smile to performing a random act of kindness. I believe this holds true for how we bring our patients joy, too. A brief smile, a warm hug, or a listening ear can help our patients know that we care about them and that will bring them joy.

Barbara Schmidtman, PhD, has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years in a variety of professional and clinical roles. Currently, she is the executive director of cancer health at Spectrum Health West Michigan in Grand Rapids. Dr. Schmidtman is the ACCC Workforce Subcommittee Chair, a subgroup of the association's Governmental Affairs Committee. Dr. Schmidtman earned her Ph.D. in business administration from Northcentral University, where she specialized in industrial organizational psychology. Dr. Schmidtman’s doctoral studies focused on physician behaviors and how demonstrated physician leadership affects individuals and teams—either positively or negatively. Dr. Schmidtman has a passion for speaking locally and nationally on leadership styles and approaches.

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