For Those Who Work On Holidays And All The Days

“We really missed you at Thanksgiving!”

“What do you mean you have to work this Saturday?”

“How can you miss the party?”

“I wish you didn’t have to work on Christmas.”

I know it doesn’t surprise any of my friends and family to learn that the hospital is open 24/7/365, but sometimes I wonder if they think that little elves come in there and work the less desirable hours.  Of course, those of us who work in that setting know that there are no elves! 

I graduated from medical school almost 14 years ago.  That means that I started my clinical rotations 16 years ago.  During that time, I have missed countless holiday celebrations, birthdays, weddings, and even funerals.  Some years have been better than others, but comments like the ones above are a regular part of my life.

They used to really sting.  Intellectually I knew that my loved ones were just voicing their own disappointment but thinking back on those past interactions there’s one emotion that comes up for me: guilt.

I took those lovely sentiments and I made them mean that I was a failure.  Every event I missed was just another example of how I couldn’t balance my work life and my family life.  Every time I responded to an RSVP that I was working and, therefore, unable to attend, I felt my guilt grow.

That guilt led me to do things that were ultimately not in my best interest so I could attend various events.  I would cut my sleep short.  I would plan months at a time where I never had a single unscheduled day.  I would cancel or forgo my own selfcare in order to show up for others.

This repeated habit of self-sacrifice ultimately led to another emotion: resentment.  It started with resenting my job, but then it morphed into resenting my friends and family.  I would find myself repeatedly aggravated and annoyed when events were planned that I couldn’t attend.  I have a very flexible schedule if I have 2 months’ notice, but it turns out not everyone plans their life 2 months in advance.

Last year as the holidays approached, I decided to give up the guilt and resentment. Due to Covid most of the usual gatherings were canceled and this gave me a lot of free time to think about my approach to working during this time of year. 

The truth is that holidays are some of my favorite times to work in the emergency department.  I enjoy celebrating with my coworkers and the shifts tend to be much more emergency-focused than a typical overnight shift. 

No one is forcing me to work.  I could quit my job tomorrow if I really wanted to.  Although I would have to do some pretty major financial restructuring, if quitting was what I wanted the most, I could figure it out.  The honest truth is that I’m CHOOSING to continue working.  I’m CHOOSING a job where I will miss holiday celebrations, birthdays, parties, and, sometimes, even funerals. 

If this is what I’m choosing, why would I also choose to make myself feel guilty about that choice? 

I often find that, when I reframe things in my mind from an obligation (have to) into an option (choose to), it’s much easier to follow through without the negative emotions and resistance.

So, this is my challenge to you this holiday season.  Instead of focusing on the fact that you HAVE TO work over the holidays, offer your brain the option that you’re CHOOSING TO work over the holidays.  Then pick an emotion that you want to cultivate on those shifts and decide how you need to think to make that emotion a reality for you.  I’ve chosen joy.

If you’d like more help with this, please sign up for my free course How To Feel Better On Your Next Shift.  Then sign up for a free mini coaching session, or reach out to me at to learn more about exclusive one on one coaching opportunities.