EACH time I am confronted with someone shuffling off their mortal coils, I am forced to remind myself that I too have a “sell-by-date”.
Being in a reflective mood led me to explore various topics in my mind. One of the things I contemplated this past week was on how people who have terribly stressful jobs, deal with life. For example, people who work in the emergency services or military personnel in combat duty or doctors who deal with dying patients. Daily, these people have grave situations to assess, and to act on.
But then as I reflected further, I realised that all jobs involve some level of stress, and require determination. It is just that some jobs appear to be easier than others.
Teaching for example is an incredibly noble profession. But often, people forget how demanding a vocation it is. Instead, teachers become easy fodder for people making frivolous remarks about how much vacation time they get. Yes, there are about ten weeks of holidays per year for school kids, and the assumption is that teachers have an easy life, because of these lengthy vacations.
The truth, however, is that being a teacher is not an easy task.
My mother, Vasantha, was a primary school teacher before she retired. Each work day, she left home at 6.30am and came back at around 2.30pm. Being a career woman as well as a mother meant that she worked both at work, and at home, too.
But on top of her grueling daily schedule, every evening she would spend at least an hour or two, after dinner, getting ready for her classes. She would organise or prepare teaching aids, and lessons plans. Alternatively, she would be filling up her school record book that kept track of whether she followed the prescribed syllabus, or if not, she would be reviewing her students work.
There is certainly nothing cushy about being a primary school teacher. It took hard work. And often, my mother was stressed because she had to deal with a range of complex issues like demanding parents, underperforming pupils, and finicky school heads.
In a similar vein, being a pilot conjures up romantic suggestions of the worldly-wise bon vivant. It is an exceedingly glitzy sounding job. But can you imagine how stressful it might be, to have so many lives in your hands, as you steer a gigantic metal contraption through the air?
When you consider just how much pressure pilots face while performing their job, it sure doesn’t sound like a fun gig. This is why Forbes Magazine regularly lists being a commercial airline pilot, as one of the top 5, most stressful jobs.
My friend, and commercial airline captain, Ruben Sivanathan shared that while the charm of being a pilot motivated him initially, the work itself requires a remarkable amount of fortitude.
Dealing with scheduling, changing weather patterns, coordinating with dispatchers, maintenance, safety, on-time departures, cranky passengers, not to mention having to endure family separation, applies huge pressure on pilots.
Ruben recently told me that it still scares him to watch Air Crash Investigation on the National Geographic television channel.
I have another friend, who perhaps has a tougher job.
Dato’ Dr. Venugopal Balchand is a cardiothoracic surgeon at a leading private hospital in Kuala Lumpur. Prior to this, he was the deputy director of the National Heart Centre. In this capacity, he performed heart surgeries on a range of people including notable luminaries like the former prime minister of Malaysia.
What can be more stressful than operating on the heart, lungs and other thoracic organs of another human being, and knowing that their life is completely in your hands? While the job in itself is tense enough, qualifying as a cardiothoracic surgeon is no easy feat. It takes more than 15 years between college, medical school, residency training, and fellowship training.
You think your job is stressful? Imagine having to perform many open heart surgeries each month, and being completely responsible for those who go under your knife. This puts the stress caused by that unfinished report for your boss into perspective, right?
What do teachers, pilots and cardiothoracic surgeons have in common?
They all need passion and dedication to sustain themselves through the pressures associated with their work. They must cognize, and connect with the reality that what they do, serves or saves people. It is this desire that enables them to continue in the face of sustained hardship.
And, ultimately their success is predicated on their love for their chosen vocation.
My mother really loved being a school teacher. If not, she couldn’t have had the drive to work after-hours, so dedicatedly. Captain Ruben loves being a pilot, and has no problem making the sacrifices, and to continue to get tested at regular intervals. Dr. Venugopal loves the fact that less than one hundred people in Malaysia possess the skill-set that he has worked so hard to master.
What will keep you going, in the face of adversity? Deep-seated love, and an unwavering passion for what you do.
SHANKAR R. SANTHIRAM is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”