November 15, 2019

Does Your Job Spark Joy? Does It Need To?

‘Tis the season… to be Joyful!!

The greeting cards, the Christmas shows, the holiday music, even the wrapping paper – it’s all reminding us to feel joy.

I’ve got joy on the brain and my mind is drifting off, not to the land of sugar plum fairies, but to this question of joy and work.

Marie Kondo, the Declutter Queen and author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” implores us to hold up each object in our house and ask, “Does this spark joy?” And if it doesn’t, we are summarily instructed to get rid of it! Off with its head. Or at least – off to Goodwill. 

Should we do the same with our job?

Should we hold it up to the light of day and ask, “Does my job spark joy?”

And if it doesn’t, get rid of it?

Maybe this approach works for our extra T-shirts, books, and Tupperware, but hey, we can do without those, but most of us need our jobs!

I am down with Marie Kondo’s litmus test for inclusion of things in our life – testing them on the Joy-O-Meter to see how they move the needle…but how well does it work for, well…… our work?

I personally hold the belief that finding joy in our career is of utmost importance. It is estimated that the average person spends 90,000 hours at work in a lifetime. If you dread your job, that is a mountain of dread. Or more aptly, a Himalaya of dread. One hundred energetic Sherpas by your side might not even be enough to get you through the mountains.

I feel very fortunate that my work brings me a lot of joy. But it didn’t always. And that is a major reason why I changed careers. I LOVED learning dermatology. Even the word “keratosis” excited me. Residency was like being in a dermatologic Disney World with 12 of my best friends. However, after 9 years of solo practice, I couldn’t find the joy anymore, no matter how hard I tried to change things.

But there are those who profess work is not meant to be enjoyed, that is why it’s called work after all. Duh! “They” maintain that only a few rare, lucky individuals really love what they do so we should be happy to have a paycheck.

What is the right approach? If our job isn’t sparking joy, should we just soldier on and find comfort in telling ourselves we’re in good company and be grateful we’re not bunking at the Salvation Army?

Or should we declare joy to be a necessary ingredient for our professional happiness and not rest until we’ve found career bliss?

Like a lot of things, it really depends….

It depends on your own personal view of work, your life situation, and what you value.

You get to decide what your work should bring you and how important it is for career and joy to be intertwined. And your view need not be fixed or rigid, it can change as your circumstances change, or the color of your parachute.

Right now you might be the primary breadwinner for your family. You could be working hard to pay off loans. Perhaps you are paying your dues in a new partnership and delaying gratification to invest in the future. In these situations, you may be making a conscious choice to barter some (or a lot of) current joy for future rewards.

It could also be that work feels like 50 shades of gray, and joy, like an endangered species, rarely, if ever appears. “Was that an Orangutan I just saw? Nope. I must be hallucinating.” Yes, you get a paycheck, but you feel like your soul is being sucked away into a black hole. While you’re not expecting work to be a party on wheels, you don’t believe it should come at such a high personal cost.

Or maybe, your job is OK. You don’t love it, it’s not your passion but it’s good enough. Gotta love the benefits. You find joy in other areas of your life.

There’s no right way to do joy. The only wrong way is to deny yourself this essential ingredient of life.

Are those of us who leave jobs because we’re unhappy and seeking greater fulfillment just whiners? Not tough enough? Are our expectations too high? Do we possess a selfishness gene?

From my own personal experience, as well as my work with hundreds of physicians, I’ve come to believe that when we find work that brings us joy, it’s as if we are bathed in a growth medium that stimulates us to be our best and highest selves. The energy of joy makes us more willing to take risks and be vulnerable, elements necessary for growth and expansion. When we are at our best, we are better for our loved ones and we bring more positive energy and creativity into the world. This is true for anything that brings us joy, personally or professionally. When there is a lack of enjoyment in whatever we are doing, we disengage, disconnect and contract. We try to limit the demands on our energy, and over time, this constriction stagnates and stifles us.

When I kept wanting to cut back on seeing patients and was less motivated to go to our dermatology academy meetings to learn the latest and greatest, I knew this direction was not sustainable. My dear patients deserved more and it became clear I was meant to be doing something else.

In contrast, I have now been in my second career as a physician coach almost as long as I was in practice. I wish there were 10 of me because there is so much I want to do for my clients through The Doctor’s Crossing. It is a great medium for growth and expansion.

In the process of starting this business, I’ve had to stretch myself and grow in ways I wasn’t interested in before. I joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking. I learned bookkeeping and blogging. I solicited supervision on my coaching to get valuable feedback. I also had to let go of my identity as a “real doctor.” The growth isn’t always easy or without bumps and bruises, but joy is like rocket fuel and can carry us to places we never thought possible.

While I do believe material objects can spark joy – I love my kitchen gadgets – profound joy comes from allowing ourselves to experience the fullness and depth of who we are and how we are meant to create in this world.

This approach, by nature, involves taking risks, embracing uncertainty, misstepping, and making mistakes. In giving ourselves this freedom, we lessen the tethers and shackles of self-doubt that threaten to keep us from knowing and manifesting our unique magnificence.

Whether it’s your career, your relationships, your hobbies, your pets, or some combination that’s a catalyst for joy, giving yourself permission to maximize your joy is one of the surest ways to find your true path. Joy connects you to your true self, and you couldn’t ask for a better guide to spark your journey.

Here’s to a best-ever 2018 for each and every one of you!












  1. Well said Dr. Heather! Sometimes your DREAM job becomes just a DAY job that beats you down. That happened to me until I found a way to enjoy what I loved, being an Anesthesiologist, on my terms…part-time, while pursuing other interests.

    My new joy is professional speaking and as a physician with over 35 years of experience, I have LOTS to say about my profession and the trials and tribulations that can occur. How do we change our physician mindset to allow joy to occur? How do we become brave enough to express our deepest desires in our profession that would promote joy, such as a large doctor’s lounge with hot food 24/7 and a nice comfy rest area (just sayin’).

    I feel that joy IS a part of professional happiness and career bliss! Since “downsizing” my practice, I have felt more in control than I’ve felt in years which brings me joy. You speak about giving up being a “real doctor”. Imagine what people say to me when I tell them that I do anesthesia for “Butts and Guts” three times/month?! But hey, just like you, I am sooooo happy! I love the gastroenterologists with whom I work; I love my work environment (a free standing surgicenter); and I love my patients! I wake up each GI day excited to provide patients with “anxiety relief” through Propofol (love that drug even though I still have to explain that it wasn’t Propofol’s fault re: Michael Jackson. It’s not like Propofol put itself in the IV bag and dripped itself into Michael’s vein). Propofol was just doing its job and in my skilled hands, patients love its outcome: no nausea, no memory loss, and a feeling of JOY! Oh, I digress.

    You are so right about “joy connecting you to your true self”. Finding your true path and connecting with your true self will lead you to your “nirvana”. It did for me. Thanks again for this insight.

    Lynette Charity MD, your Burnout to Bliss Humor Specialist and part-time “Gas Passer”

  2. Sue Zimmermann says:

    Thanks, Heather, for a really balanced and inspirational piece. Everyone can aspire to joy if they allow themselves – it’s the allowing that gets tricky! Sue

  3. Liz McMurtry, DO says:

    As one who entered medicine for its vocational prospects rather than as a life-long dream or personal mission, I have long felt joyless at work. I lived as a doctor trying to find joy in pursuits other than my career, and finally, the unhappiness I felt every time I went to work overwhelmed any enjoyment I found in my time away from work. Recently, my personal circumstances prompted me to do something about it.

    Now, after working with Heather, I’m pursuing joy in my career for the first time ever. I can’t wait to be joyful and fulfilled in both my work AND my extracurricular activities!

    Heather, thank you for this post which speaks directly to the benefits of seeking and finding an exuberantly joyous life.

  4. A big thank you to each one of you, Lynette, Sue and Liz, for sparking joy with your comments! I can’t say I have ever liked writing, but I am starting to find joy in it, seeing how words can be helpful to others. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your heartfelt expression. I am really happy Liz, that you are getting to embark in a new direction that you are so excited about. I know you will bring an incredible amount of value to this role. Lynette, it’s a joy to see you take your passion for speaking, storytelling and humor out into the world to help inspire others. Sue, I am so happy for all the recent new job developments for you with work that brings you joy! Congratulations to you all! You rock.

  5. SM Johnson says:

    Thanks for a beautiful essay for the new year ! You are an inspirational person.

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