Can you remember the first time you truly felt connected to your job?

I can.

I was fresh out of school and working as a physiotherapist at a large teaching hospital in Montreal. My colleagues and I felt young and invincible, and life was beautiful. On the neurosurgery floor, I worked with post-surgery patients, helping them become active again with intense one-on-one sessions. On this floor I met many patients who had terminal brain cancer. This was where I learned my first lessons about living in the moment and it is also where, for the first time, I felt truly inspired and connected to my work. This experience touched me to my core and anchored my true passion.

Mr. Kuznetsov was a wonderful man. He had a great booming voice and always offered a joke and a willingness to work hard during his sessions. His wife was a strong woman and they enjoyed a close and loving relationship. Working closely with my patients, I got to know their families. I enjoyed the glimpses of their relationship and flashes of their pasts that they shared in the stories they told me and each other. Mr. Kuznetsov was suffering from end stage brain cancer and I had been seeing him after his brain tumour surgery.

One morning, I had an early start to my day so I visited Mr. Kuznetsov, an early riser, first. When I walked into his room, he was sitting in his chair crying softly.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Look at me,” he said. “I am useless. It’s my wife’s birthday today and I cannot even get her a surprise.”

His vulnerability struck a chord deep within me and I heard the call for help in his voice. I desperately wanted to help him. Then I had an idea.

“Come on,” I said, “You can still surprise her!”

Mr. Kuznetsov gave me a dubious look but played along, dressing in his robe and slippers. At 6’3”, Mr. Kuznetsov towered over me as we slowly made our way down to the hospital gift shop. This was a major workout and we made took frequent breaks along the way. As soon as we got to the shop, his face lit up. Mr. Kuznetsov winked at me and sought out his wife’s favourite flowers and a card. Twenty minutes later we were back in his room and Mr. Kuznetsov was exhausted but smiling.

For the rest of the morning I attended to my rounds and a few hours later, I noticed Mrs. Kuznetsov coming out of her husband’s room. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged me. “Thank you,” she said. “That was the very best birthday present I have ever had. You gave my husband his dignity back.” I met her gaze and tears came to my eyes too. In that moment, I understood what it meant to be there for and with someone.

Mrs. Kuznetsov invited me back to her husband’s room for her birthday celebration. She introduced me to the crowd of family members and cut me a generous portion of birthday cake.

That night, I thought about what had happened and why the day was so special. Sure I followed the correct physical rehabilitation procedures but there was more to it than that. I learned that when meaning is attached to motion, patients are more motivated and more energetic. They are proud of their accomplishments. And I was inspired to be creative in my approach to my work.

If you have a story about the first time you felt connected to your job, please share it below in the comments. As you think about your story, consider how your core values are connected to it. For me, the value of empowering other people is key and that day with Mr. Kuznetsov, I was fully connected with that value.