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Less Cupcake, More Kung Fu at Work

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Kung Fu is Much More Than Martial Arts

Contrary to common belief, Kung Fu, doesn’t refer simply to Chinese Martial Arts. Instead, it’s a descriptor for, “Any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete.” [1] So why is it important that we learn to get our Kung Fu on at work? Well, by doing so, your work will become more meaningful and enjoyable in the process.

50% of Working Americans Feel Disengaged at Work

Survey after survey of the American workforce shows that upwards of 50% feel disengaged at work. In part, this may be occurring because we are not spending enough time mastering our trade. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come easy. It takes patience and, more importantly, the willingness to put the work in to develop a skill set needed to be one of the best in your field. But why is this important?

More Kung Fu = More Work Satisfaction

I’m not saying that mastering your craft will cause you to love your career. It won’t rid you of a toxic boss, get you out of soul-sucking meetings, or free you from office-politics, but it may cause you to have greater satisfaction while at work.

In a study conducted by LinkedIn, 2,400 people were surveyed and asked a series of professional questions about how they spent their time at work. The study found that those individuals who spent more time learning about their field felt more confident and happy at work. As an added bonus, they were less likely to be stressed, more likely to feel successful, and looked forward to taking on additional responsibilities. [2]

You Can’t Always Eat Dessert. Sometimes You Have to Eat Your Vegetables

As a resident physician, one of my favorite attendings used to say, “In Medicine and in life, you can’t always eat dessert. Sometimes, you have to eat your vegetables.” He would say this when anyone complained about the mundane tasks that consume so much of a physician’s time these days, like documentation, battling insurance companies for prior authorization, and attending billing/coding workshops.

The yummy stuff in medicine, one’s metaphorical “cupcakes,” is the patient care. It’s spending time with patients, learning their story, treating their ailments, and relieving suffering. The unfortunate truth is, in order to provide excellent patient care, you have to master the other stuff. You need to perfect documentation so imaging and interventions can be approved by insurance companies. You need to learn how to battle insurance companies when necessary care is being denied. You need to bill and code effectively to ensure the viability of the healthcare institution so you can keep seeing patients.

Building up Your Career Capital = More Dessert

In essence, learning to eat your vegetables is part of mastering your trade. The good news is, as you continue to learn about both the exciting and mundane aspects of your craft, you build up what Cal Newport in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, refers to as, “Career capital.” [3] Essentially, “Career capital” means you are developing a skill set that is both rare and valuable.

The good news is, once you build up enough of it, you start to gain more control of your life while at work. Essentially, your stock has gone up allowing you to ask for more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t–ultimately providing you with greater workplace satisfaction. By developing your career capital, you get to eat more dessert, less vegetables.

So, if you find yourself being less engaged at work think about how you can dive deep into your field and earn more career capital. Try immersing yourself in the details. Think more Bruce Lee, less Sarah Lee. Become a master in your field. It will require more study, energy, and practice on your part, but will likely make you a whole lot happier in the process!

We’ll end with some inspiring lyrics from Jack Black:

“Everybody is Kung Fu fighting,
Your mind becomes fast as lightning
Although the future is a little bit frightening
It's the book of your life that you're writing.”



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