I Feel Guilty When I'm Not Working

Posted: May 22, 2014
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I remember when I was eager for the open shifts to be posted so I could sign up for an extra one. When three days off in a row seemed excessive, I could fit in another shift. When I was happy to be interrupted with a phone call asking me to please come in and help with anesthesia because it was crazy on the floor. A couple weeks ago I was laughing with Meredith about the good old days when we worked a million shifts in a row and stayed up for days at a time. Now we have to be asked to pick up that open overnight shift… And I got to thinking about guilt.

This is a tough job that we all do. Whether you’re up working at 2am or squeezing in that extra surgical patient over your lunch break, this is a physically and mentally demanding job. There always seems to be more that you could or should be doing for that client, your patient, your coworkers, your own pets, not to mention yourself! Almost every veterinary professional I know runs around carrying a LOT of guilt.

When I was a manager it was the WORST. I felt responsible, and therefore guilty, for everything that happened. I missed the insane Sunday where we saw 60 patients through the ER and did 9 surgeries. I would beat myself up that I wasn’t there to help. That crazy anesthesia where the surgeon literally picked porcupine quills from the lungs and aorta? I should have been available to help with that. The last freak snow and ice storm where people camped out in a local hotel and didn’t go home for three days? Oh wait I did that routine twice, I was okay watching movies during that one. My point is, Even if I was working 6 days a week and covering crazy shifts, every second I wasn’t in the building I felt guilty. Work/Life balance had no meaning and I was pretty miserable. Managers out there, does anyone identify?

There are multiple problems to this guilt complex, the first being that I was burning myself out on an EPIC scale. I began to resent my phone ringing, people taking vacations, and people living a normal life! I lost the ability to talk about anything but work because that’s all I did. Talk about the dud at the dinner party! Oh yeah I never had time to go to those. When I transitioned to my new position and started having two days off IN A ROW on a regular basis I started to rediscover life outside of work. It’s awesome.

The next problem I was causing was that I trained my team to expect Megan to fix everything. You want vacation? SURE! I’ll work your shifts. Things are crazy and you don’t want to go into surgery? SURE I’ll do that for you. Someone is sick and you don’t want to call everyone on the list? SURE I’ll just come in. Not only was I setting a ridiculous expectation of me, but I was setting the next manager up for an equally horrifying run. Setting expectations for your team and yourself isn’t just a good idea, it’s important to giving yourself some boundaries and some time to be a real person.

Lastly, every time I swooped in and solved a problem I was stealing a critical thinking opportunity away from someone. Medical problem solving is something my team was and is fantastic with. But schedule and staffing problem solving was something I tried to shield them from, and there was quite a bit of catching up that is still happening. Even though I love teaching, I somehow missed that each scheduling challenge was a learning and thinking opportunity and I didn’t need to be involved with every tiny decision.

Megan Brashear lounging with her dog phoebe.

And so today I am somewhat reformed (see above picture for proof). I read books, I watch current movies, I have opinions. I spend time going to the park with my dog. My family sees me more than once a year. I’ve even gone on a couple of vacations. When I hear tales of an insanely busy weekend my eyes widen and I congratulate the team on a job well done. The next generation of eager, workaholic technicians is doing a great job working those extra shifts, mind on the management prize – and good for them! I’ve got my eye on a leisurely breakfast this weekend.

[Love this blog? Make sure you check out Life Lessons and Avoiding Career Burnout with Megan and Liz Hughston]