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!











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  1. Lynette D. Charity MD on January 4, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    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 on January 4, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    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 on January 4, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    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. Heather Fork on January 5, 2018 at 4:34 am

    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 on April 5, 2018 at 11:58 pm

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

    • Heather Fork on April 6, 2018 at 1:42 am

      You are so welcome Dr. Johnson! Thank you so much. I really appreciate your kind words. I hope your year is going great.

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"Heather’s approach was great! She would listen to me and helped me appreciate who I am."

I remember when she said ‘do your resume before our next meeting’, I was about to push back but she gently nudged me along and I’m glad I did exactly what she wanted me to do. We also did interview prep via Zoom and I was offered a great job in UM. She has continued to follow up even after I was offered this job, helping me with pointers about negotiating. I will totally recommend the Doctors Crossing and Heather to anyone feeling stuck like me and looking for a great coach! Thank you Heather!

- Modupe Oladeinde, MD

Family Medicine
Tim O

The coaching I have had with you has been life changing."

You helped me find the courage to seek out leadership positions and become a medical director as well as a physician advisor. I am grateful we crossed paths and am a different person because of it. You have inspired me to "believe" in spite of my inner skeptic. I consider you one of my most important mentors and am proud to also call you a friend. This says a lot given the apprehension I felt when I took a chance with our first coaching session. Even though I have already made a successful transition, I still value your ongoing mentorship and can enthusiastically attest that the value of your services is tremendous!

- Tim Owolabi, MD

Family Medicine
Lynette Charity

“I was at a crossroads in my medical career. I asked myself, "Do I stay or do I go?" 

I met Heather at the SEAK conference. She and I revisited this question.  Did I want to quit being medicine completely? She helped me to identify my needs, wants, and my vision for my FUTURE, not just in medicine, but in life!!!

She was able to listen to my "ramblings" about becoming a stand-up comic, lounge singer and voice-over actor and translate them into action steps.  I chose to become a composite of all of these. Now I am a more confident, healthier, happier person. I credit this in its entirety to the tutelage I have received and continue to receive from Heather.  She cares. She listens. She was there for ME.  She will be there for YOU!

- Lynette Charity, MD

Gail Miller

“I am forever grateful to Heather for helping me to recognize, I am more than just my M.D." 

Heather helped me understand that I am more than just a doctor and that my experiences in clinical medicine are valuable in so many arenas.  As a result I realized that there are other ways to use my background, still be able to help people and continue to challenge myself and grow.  To that end I discovered coaching - specifically health coaching.  I am on my journey becoming a health coach and truly loving it!

- Gail Miller, MD

OB/Gyn physician

“Thank you, Heather, for helping me transform my career, my faith and my life."

What started out as an initial thirty-minute consultation call turned into an amazing four-year journey that transformed my life, personally, spiritually and professionally. 

Heather helped me to discover my doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth... wife and I are opening our first concierge medicine clinic in a community we love. I’m actually excited to have the opportunity to practice medicine the way I believe it’s meant to be, with a focus on the doctor-patient relationship and an emphasis on faith. I know if I had not reached out to Dr. Fork, my life would not be where it is at today.

- Steve Lapke, MD

Papillion, NE
Sue Zimmermann

“Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart."

She is incredibly knowledgeable about the range of careers available to physicians and provided me with advice and connections which I would not have found on my own.  From the start she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try different things.  I was laid off unexpectedly in early 2017, and Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart and making decisions based on trust, not fear.  Now I am enjoying working part-time in a clinical setting in addition to teaching and writing.

- Sue Zimmermann, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon
Devki Patel

After months of struggling to find a non-clinical career that matched my values and passion, I stumbled upon Heather's website which truly changed my life."

Heather's insightful and personalized approach to career coaching made me think outside the box since she took the time to evaluate my personality, values, interests, and preferred lifestyle.

Through her encouragement, practical advice, and professional connections, I was able to find a non-clinical position at a state Medicaid agency that aligned with my passion for population health and serving low-income communities. In addition to her coaching sessions, Heather has built a community of like-minded physicians through her blog, and I feel honored to recommend her to friends and colleagues who seek to make positive changes in their professional and personal lives.

- Devki Patel, MD

Jay Macregor

Working with Heather ultimately helped me leave my job in corporate healthcare and find a path that was much more fulfilling."

My career was going reasonably well but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling I could do better; or at least find a better long-term career fit.  

I was able to find a surgery job that better aligned with my goals and professional interests.  Additionally, Heather helped me start a consulting business which has allowed me to pursue a true passion: helping medical students, residents, and attendings surgeons navigate the challenges of high-stakes standardized exams.    

If you are reading this as a “Type A” surgeon who doesn’t think coaching is for you, I would encourage you to give Heather a shot.  I’m very glad I did!

- Jay MacGregor, MD

Colorectal Surgeon

“I gained the confidence in myself to develop an action plan that blended the best parts of my experiences and interests into a cohesive career." 

Through our work, I learned to trust myself to make good decisions for my own future – something I hadn’t realized I was struggling with because as an emergency physician, I make life-changing decisions with patients every day. 

By feeding my creativity and interests in other realms of my professional life, I’ve found renewed compassion for my patients and myself, making every shift an opportunity to actually care for people. Thank you Heather. I really couldn’t have made these changes without your help!

- Liz McMurtry, DO

Emergency Medicine Physician

The simple truth is - Heather Fork totally helped me change my life."

I never would have had the courage to make the changes I’ve made without her unwavering support, wealth of knowledge and commitment. 

When I first started working with Heather, I was downtrodden...I’d been practicing medicine for 20+ years and yet had never quite found my place.  During the first year I worked with Heather, I left the practice I’d been working at, and recreated an entirely new professional purpose.

I’m now an executive and leadership coach, a university professor, and a Brené Brown Daring Way facilitator, and I have never looked back.  I love what I am doing more than at any other time in my professional life and I credit Heather with seeing in me what I was never able to see in myself, until now.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt yourself, schedule your time with Heather as soon as possible- she can help you reconnect to your purpose and reinvent your life.

- Amie Langbein, DO

Family Physician
KB Karen Barnard Photo

"After 30 years in academic medicine, I wanted a career change but had no idea where to start. Medicine was all I knew."

I signed up for coaching with Heather and it transformed my life. She helped me get clear on what I wanted my life to look like. We reviewed my skills, values, and strengths. She instilled hope in me that change IS possible after 50 years! 

The outcome is that I have created a life I love! I practice endocrinology part-time and own a life coaching business! Coaching with Heather is one of the best investments I have made in my life. 

- Karen Barnard, MBBCh, MPH

Endocrinologist and Life Coach

"Heather was my source of hope during a time when I felt stuck and confused. She gave me the permission and confidence to reach higher than I believed I could."

After graduating from residency and starting a family, I lost sight of why I became a physician. I struggled to convince myself to stay in a career that was clearly the wrong fit for me and my family. My anxiety about work was at an all-time high when I reached out to Heather. She provided something that my mentors, friends, and family could not – rather than just offering career advice, she changed the way I think about my life so that I could understand how my career would fit into it. I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on medicine and eventually found a job in academic medicine. I finally feel that excitement for medicine that I used to feel when I was in training. More importantly, I feel like I can be the role model to my young daughter who may one day also face similar challenges between career and family. Thank you, Heather, for all your kindness, support, and skillful coaching! The experience was life-changing!

- Yuri Shindo, MD

Internal Medicine Physician
Camille Gardner-Beasley

"As a Physician, your personal and even professional needs are often overlooked. I learned how to prioritize my career goals by working with Dr. Heather Fork."

She taught me how to put into practice what I knew in theory, that taking care of myself was a priority. I learned to give myself permission to make the career choices that would give me the work-life balance I desperately craved and needed. The process of confronting fears and insecurities was a bit scary, but well worth it in the end. I am now a happier version of myself with a non-clinical job that I truly enjoy!

- Camille Gardner-Beasley, MD

Family Medicine
Anna testimonial

"After 10 years in outpatient family medicine I felt stuck and knew I needed a change but I didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully I found Heather and she guided me every step of the way."

She helped me carefully assess my interests, strengths and passions while also providing me with constructive changes to implement in my job search and resume. With Heather’s help, I just landed a fully remote UM position and I am also exploring coaching as well. Now I feel like the possibilities are endless and I’m excited for this next chapter in the nonclinical world! Thank you Heather for changing my life for the better.

- Ana Jacobellis, DO


"I'm truly thankful to have had the opportunity to be coached by Heather, she is not only a resourceful mentor but a wise and supportive friend. I'm honored to recommend Heather to all my friends and colleagues."

I had been a practicing Internist for 20 years when I reached a point when I needed to make a serious change in my career path. While I enjoyed seeing patients, I was not satisfied with my life-work balance. My job was taking me away from my family and left me little time and energy to do other things that are important and meaningful to me. I came across Dr. Fork's podcast; The Doctor's Crossing Carpe Diem Podcast, it is such an informative and enjoyable podcast for any physician who wants to do more with their career and life in general. Then I had the pleasure to get career coaching from Heather, it was truly an amazing experience. Heather has broad knowledge of all the different career paths that are available for physicians, she is so insightful and very easy to talk to. She helped me clarify my goals, examine my own mindset and definition of success. Together we developed a clear plan and actionable steps to reach these goals. I eventually made a career transition to a remote non-clinical position that allows me to do meaningful work which aligns with my personal and professional goals and priorities.

- Abbey Awad, MD

Internal Medicine