Is Guilt Putting a Monkey Wrench in Your Career Transformation?


There are many kinds of guilt, Catholic Guilt, Jewish Mother Guilt, Generic Parental Guilt, Couch Potato Guilt, Not Feeling Guilty Enough Guilt, and so on. Guilt is such a pervasive emotion it will likely never be on the endangered species list, and as painful as it can be, it is not something we should try to completely eradicate like small pox. Guilt serves a worthy purpose to keep us in line, however, it can also unnecessarily hold us back. As I see it, guilt can be divided into two types:

Guilt Trip
Appropriate guilt: when you’ve done something wrong (or not done something you should have) and you rightly feel regret and hopefully make amends.

Inappropriate guilt: when you feel guilty about feeling a certain way, or wanting or needing something, yet these feelings and desires are healthy and valid.

Inappropriate guilt often arises when you’re feeling conflicted about what you want to do versus what you feel you should do.

Of course there are many instances when we need to put our shoulds over our wants. We may not want to answer a page at 1 am, but we know we should, so we do.

What I often see happening with my physician clients is they feel inappropriately guilty when it comes to making their needs and wants more of a priority, and the SHOULDS win out because guilt is a very uncomfortable and PAINFUL emotion. They end up make decisions based on avoiding the feeling of guilt, and these are not necessarily the best decisions.

Common GUILTY THOUGHTS that can get in the way

“I feel guilty taking my kids to daycare on my day off.”

“I feel guilty taking a job where my income is less; my family shouldn’t have to sacrifice because I’m  unhappy.”

“When I think about leaving my patients, I feel guilty.”

“If I don’t stay in medicine I feel guilty wasting my training.”

“If I work part-time, I feel guilty knowing others are working more.”

“I feel guilty wanting to do something by myself when I don’t get enough time with my family. Sometimes I wish I were single, not really but….”

“I feel guilty for wanting to be happy. Shouldn’t I just suck it up? How many people like their work anyway?”

Guilt is tricky. It’s good we can feel the emotion of guilt, so we have some starch to go with our moral compass. But too often we set unreasonable expectations, putting ourselves at risk for rubber-stamping “Guilty” on our psyche like a bored government worker. We don’t take the time to really understand why the charge of guilty. The gavel comes down and Bam! We’re Guilty! Case closed. No further discussion.

We keep doing what guilt tells us we should be doing, all the while building up resentment and frustration. Nothing really changes except change seems even harder.
Q – What is the way out of inappropriate guilt?

A – Take the time to understand what’s underneath the conflict you’re feeling and reassess your situation without judgment.

A “How To Guide” for Putting An End to Inappropriate Guilt

 To make this more concrete, I have included an example of a physician who wants more time for him/herself,  but feels guilty taking time from family.

Identify what you’re feeling conflicted about that’s creating guilt.

I’m not finding time to do the things I need and want for myself. Work already takes up too much of my time. I feel guilty taking more time away from family.

Write down your underlying feelings, needs, and wants in this situation (It’s key to write these down, get them out of your HEAD, and see them on paper).

All day long I am giving to patients. When I come home, I am giving to my family. After the kids are in bed, I finish my charting and I’m exhausted. I get up the next day and do the same thing over again. I don’t have hardly any time for myself. At the very least I want to exercise more regularly, and eat healthier and get more sleep. It would be great to be able to work on improving my career and just do something for myself, anything!

Look for where you are judging yourself or comparing yourself to others in this situation.

I feel it’s selfish to take time away from my family.  I made the decision to have these children and they should come first. Dr. So and So seems to find time to work and be the perfect parent. I waste what little time I have procrastinating and internet surfing.

Write down the potential benefits if you meet this need.

If I take more time for myself, I will:

Be able to exercise more and feel healthier and less stressed
Be more patient and present for my loved ones
Feel better about myself
Have better relationships (avoid jeopardizing my marriage and job)
Be able to work on my career and make progress
Be healthier and happier for the long run
Not build up underlying resentment
Realize how important my happiness is, and make it a priority

 Write down the potential negatives of meeting this need.

 If I take more time for myself:

My family could feel neglected
My spouse could feel I’m not doing my share of the household duties
I might cut my work hours and see a drop in income
My family might have to see some budget cuts
I could discover I HAVE TO make some changes and that’s scary
Others may see me as being selfish

Write down the cost to you and others if you continue to deny this need or want.

I continue to be unhappy
I become more grumpy, irritable, and resentful
I damage my relationships at work and home
My health suffers; I develop some illness or disease
I grow to hate getting up every day and feeling overwhelmed
I feel like I am wasting my life
I end up not doing anything well

Step back and look at the whole situation. Ask yourself what choices will lead in the direction of optimum mental, physical and emotional well-being and health – for you. Then make any changes you can that will support this overall move towards, not away from, healthy and joyful living. Nothing has to change overnight. Making even small steps over time in the right direction can profoundly change the course of your life. And remember – innocent until proven guilty!


Latest Posts

Find what you're looking for:

Heather Fork


  1. Salil Gupta on March 15, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Sadly we all put ourselves first. Medicine is about patients and their lives. We would not be here i they were not here. Why do we always put ourselves first. People who excel and succeed go the extra mile and go above and beyond to achieve something. We look up to them but do not want to be them. Doctors have become paycheck workers and punch in and out. Work 12 h shits to make money and live our lives o luxury. Now you can easily make 250,000+ working one week on and one week off and have no responsibility. just collect your paycheck at the end o the week and go enjoy.
    I wish we did what we should and ask ourselves, why we went into medicine. I can go on and on and on but will leave everyone to reflect on these few things.

    • Heather Fork on March 15, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you very much Dr. Gupta for reading and sharing your perspective!

  2. Deborah Munhoz on March 15, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Heather this article is so specific and helpful.
    Especially for women, who are often torn between the expectations of various roles- guilt can be debilitating.

    • Heather Fork on March 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you very much for your comment Deborah! And since you do leadership coaching for women physicians, you have an insider’s perspective on the challenges women face balancing their different roles.

  3. Lynette Charity MD on March 15, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    I have guilt over my decision to retire. “Doctor Charity, YOU can’t retire! We need YOU! What will we do without YOU!” As an Anesthesiologist for over 35 years, I’ve felt guilty about getting married, having children, going part-time, having a nanny, not cooking for my family because I was on-call for 24hrs, choosing sleep over sex, not taking certain positions in the academic sector. Medicine is certainly a big part of my being, but as I’ve aged, I’ve found that along with the drive to help others, there was a drive to help ME! Now I don’t need a nanny anymore, my marriage is stable and I still don’t cook, but I am okay with retiring and feel content that I have given a lifetime to medicine and it’s now time for me to “have a life”. Now I guess I will feel guilty about that! NOT!!!!

    • Heather Fork on March 15, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      That’s some awesome sauce Dr. Charity! Thank you for your candid post. You raise a great point in that we have different seasons in our life – there are times when we give an incredible amount to our career, and then times when we seek greater balance. Each individual must determine what the balance for him or herself. Congratulations on your 35+ years of doctoring and all the best for your new direction.

  4. Jane Zendarski on March 17, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you for a very helpful post!

    • Heather Fork on March 17, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      You are most welcome Dr. Zendarski! Thank you very much for reading the blog and commenting. It is helpful to have the feedback.

  5. Don Salzberg on March 19, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Good AM. I fell into your website and see so much burnout around me. I’m 62 and still truly love what I do (Ophthalmology). I have my own solo practice. I’ve avoided EMR as I will take the penalty over the pain. I’m divorced for 2 years and if not for another 3 big years of alimony I’d consider changing careeets or maybe selling my busy practice and work part time. Guilt. I feel like I’ve given up many passions like tennis and family and stamp collecting and replaced them with work and meaningless dating. I have little time. But giving people eyesight either via surgery or simple glasses/contacts still gives me immense satisfaction. I guess I am writing to figure out what my next step is. Or just keep doing what I enjoy but tweak it. I give myself a lot of free time but I am a typical control guy who wants to be sure others (I have an Optometrist) are doing everything right (or my way!!). I guess I fear burning out. I can’t imagine another “career””.” Don.

    • Heather Fork on March 27, 2017 at 4:32 am

      Hi Don, thanks for sharing some background on your situation. It sounds like you have a very successful career and have sacrificed a lot in different ways, but I am glad that you still derive satisfaction from helping patients. I imagine it would be incredibly gratifying to restore someone’s eyesight or improve their vision. You are smart to be thinking about what direction would be most enjoyable for you, short of another career, with an eye (no pun intended) towards avoiding burnout. I’m curious if you plan on selling/transitioning your practice? As this might a way to be able to cut back some, while still working, and have a bit more time for yourself. There are some good books that have come out recently on physician burnout:

      I have found that addressing burnout is a very individual and there are not ‘one-size-fits-all” solutions, but making your own well-being a priority is a good place to start!

      Please feel free to keep us updated on your situation. Thank you for reading on The Doctor’s Crossing.

  6. Mandy Armitage on March 27, 2017 at 12:24 am

    Yes! This is great, Heather. Guilt is a major obstacle when it comes to transitioning out of clinical medicine.

    • Heather Fork on March 27, 2017 at 4:17 am

      Thank you so much Mandy! Doctors are no strangers to guilt and it really can be an unnecessary burden! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  7. Erin Ollila on June 2, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Very interesting post share. What are some career types that go well for a 6 personality type?

    Thank you for an amazing resource also, this blog has helped me in ways I did not think possible 🙂

    Erin –

    • Heather Fork on June 2, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Erin!
      It sounds like you may have been reading the blog on the Enneagram personality types, Burning Out? Recommendations For Your Personality Type. Thank you for your kind comments and interest. The Enneagram Type 6 personality is a fascinating type, and because 6’s are known to be responsible, hard-working, focused on meeting expectations and being a loyal member of teams and organizations, they can excel in almost any job where they have talent and interest. Many physicians are Type 6’s, which capitalizes well on the common preferences of 6’s for critical thinking, exactness, identifying with others, skepticism, and taking precautions, as described by Wagele and Stabb in their book, The Career Within You. Other fields where 6’s may gravitate towards are business, finance, journalism, engineering/math, and acting. But please know that any area you choose to work in, can work for you as 6, as long as you don’t have a lot of unmanaged anxiety and self-doubt in this particular job.

Leave a Comment


"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