Who's In The Driver's Seat? You or Your Inner Critic?

Photo by Andrew Thomas

Photo by Andrew Thomas

If your Inner Critic’s in the driver’s seat, it could steer you away from what you really want in life, including a better career. Seriously!

Coming home last night from dance lessons, it was definitely my Inner Critic at the wheel. Two years ago I finally got up the nerve to begin learning partner dancing (Waltz, Swing, Two Step, etc.). I wasn’t at my best in the lessons and my Inner Critic, who for convenience I’ll call, “Never Satisfied Nellie,” was giving me an earful. “Why are you bothering with those dance lessons? You’re really not that good, and it’s taking up a lot of our time. You shouldn’t be wasting money on this. Those other girls in class are a lot better than you, especially the one in the white top.”

I know. I saw her. I have to agree with you there, Nellie.

She went on. “If you weren’t spending all this time at the dance studio, you could be volunteering at the animal shelter or doing something to help people. Besides, you’re too tall and have no musicality.”

Sigh. So maybe I’m not “Dancing With the Stars” material. Do I always have to be doing something “productive,” Nellie?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “Inner Critic,” it’s the voice in our head that freely offers unsolicited advice, opinions and directives. As the name implies, it is often critical and full of judgment. It’s all about what you should be doing, not what you want to do. A key element of the Inner Critic is that although it may act like it’s there to help and keep you productive and out of trouble, it will never be satisfied. No matter what you do, your achievements will never be enough and you will never be enough.

I bring up the Inner Critic because it can be a roadblock when you’re trying to make changes in your life and challenge the status quo.

The Inner Critic of a physician seeking career change might sound something like this,

“What makes you think you can be happier in your career? You thought you had a great plan and look where it got you. Most people don’t like their jobs. That’s life. Why do you think you deserve something better? Besides, what else could you do? You don’t have any other skills. You have a family to support. You’re being selfish to want more. You don’t even know how to find other options, so just buck up and be grateful. You’re lucky to have a job where you can help people. Oh yeah, and by the way, have you looked in the mirror lately? It’s not a pretty sight. Better get to the gym!”

With my clients, I use an intake form that asks a lot of questions. There is one question in particular that shows me how prevalent – and off-base – the Inner Critic is:

What negative thoughts about yourself tend to occupy your mind?

The answers are poignant and telling:

I am not good enough

I am not smart enough

I am an imposter, I don’t belong here

Others are always better, smarter, and more capable than I am

I don’t have much to offer

I am not taken seriously or listened to

I am not a good enough doctor, wife, mother, sister, friend, etc.

I am lazy

I make bad decisions

I have wasted so much of my life

I am a failure

No one will hire me, I don’t know how to do anything else

I should have listened to myself

And this is from highly accomplished doctors nonetheless!

All of us can have negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves, especially when we’ve had a bad day or experience. Negative thoughts are pretty common and can come and go. The problem arises when we buy into them and let them limit us.

Here are some steps you can take to deal with the Inner Critic:

Step 1. See if you can characterize your Inner Critic. Does it sound like someone you know, perhaps a critical parent or boss? If you could draw it, what would it look like? A drill sergeant? An over-caffeinated rabbit with a stop watch? A perfectionistic taskmaster? A frowning, disapproving version of you? Personifying the Inner Critic distances you from it and helps you identify when it’s in the driver’s seat.

Step 2. Do a reality check. Is what the Inner Critic saying really true? Are you not smart? Are you lazy? Are you a failure? Do you have nothing to offer? Objectively question what the Inner Critic is telling you.

Step 3. Ask yourself what you really want. Because the Inner Critic jumps in to tell you why what you want is not going to work, and brings up all the what ifs and the potential problems, it’s hard to get very far with a new idea or plan. Write down what you want in a given situation without allowing the Inner Critic to interfere. Give yourself the freedom to explore possibilities free of the Inner Critic’s naysaying.

Step 4. Notice what thoughts bring a sense of peace and calm. The Inner Critic will tend to make you feel anxious, depressed, agitated, disheartened and stressed. When you are listening to yourself (not the critic), you DO know deep down what is best and right for you. Even when you have to admit hard truths to yourself, or make difficult decisions, there is a sense of peace that comes from being in alignment with who you really are and not who the Inner Critic says you need to be.

Step 5. Trust in your own guidance. As you learn to listen to yourself, and not the Inner Critic, you will find your own answers and know that even in the face of uncertainly, you will figure out what to do. Turn up the volume on your own voice, take hold of the wheel, and drop the Inner Critic off at the nearest treatment facility.

And…….keep on dancing!!








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  1. Ann Roberson D.O. on October 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I really enjoyed this topic and recognized myself with this issue. The negative nurses, patients and sometime other doctors just the way they look at you or don’t listen to you……it feeds the inner critic. Overall I am in a position where I am well liked and very thankful for the good co workers I have now. I have however had lots of pain from co workers and patients that don’t get want they want even when we all know it is inappropriate and sometimes illegal! This was a super concept for me, thank you.

    • Heather Fork on October 22, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Thank you for reading the blog and your great comments. You make an excellent observation that we not only experience our inner critic, but the inner critic of those around us and how challenging that can be. I’m glad to hear you have a good environment where you work now, where you’re appreciated and have good relationships with your co workers. This does not just happen, so I am sure you are doing a lot of constructive things to create this positive atmosphere. Thanks again, Heather

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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
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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!

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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 passions...by doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth...

Today...my 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
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"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