Why Vets Must Prioritise Personal Development Over Pets

At first glance, this title might appear like I’m promoting negligence in the workplace. Don’t panic, of course, that’s not what I’m suggesting.

I was talking to a good friend last night; we were ‘chewing the fat’ over issues in the profession. How did it get to this stage? What will the future hold? What’s going to give first?

He said something I’d never heard before and it struck a cord with me. Put quite simply; he said “I spend 80% of my time at work and the other 20% worrying about it”. I know for a fact many vets can relate to these sorts of statistics. A constant awareness of a level of stress or anxiety. In my opinion, that’s no way to exist.

Now … brace yourself; I’m about to drop a Sylvester Stallone quote.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

source: motivationgrid.com

Yep, that just happened. We had our first Rocky reference.

It’s a bit of a cheesy quote I know but stay with me. In my ‘short’ time working in the veterinary profession (6+ years), I’ve taken many hard-knocks. In the early days, I took these blows to heart, beat myself up over them. I had tremendous support from my first practice; I was very fortunate. Why was I still feeling bummed about the tough times?

The profession has a lot to learn from other sectors; I sense a significant disruption in the pipeline. I can’t envisage where we will be in 1 year, let alone 5 or 10. Especially with Universities churning out more and more graduates, how with this affect supply and demand? In the meantime, here is what I’ve learnt.

1. Take responsibility

You can’t hang around waiting for somebody to do it for you. If you are concerned about your health, career, personal development, relationships or wellbeing you have to put yourself in the driving seat. Don’t wait for governing bodies, associations or your employers; you’ve got to take responsibility for yourself. Once you have this clarity, its a lot easier to build from there. I appreciate the RCVS are trying to make a difference through Vet Futures, but they’re looking to 2030. I’ll be 42 by then; I’m not waiting around to see what the future holds.

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Seth Godin

2. Graduation is only the beginning

For some recent graduates, this could be a difficult pill to swallow. I’ve seen it time and time again. Vets graduate, they feel like they’ve reached the summit only to realise they’ve just arrived at base camp. It’s not a bad thing; you should never stop learning and developing. I’m not saying you must pursue further qualifications (if that’s your path that’s ok), but dedicate time to growth and educating yourself. Don’t plateau and stagnate.

I recently signed up for an app called Audible, where you download a library of audiobooks. You can now turn your car or commute into a mobile University. There is so much knowledge out there to tap into; you don’t have to go back to College to continue to educate yourself. Some people would argue that self-discipline and learning-by-doing are more beneficial than further qualifications (there is certainly less debt involved).

You can shy from your mistakes, or you can embrace them. Accepting that you will NEVER be the finished article is quite refreshing. You can master your trade for sure; it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in anything. However, there is ALWAYS room for development. It’s ok to stumble, at least you’re still moving forward.

3. Mentality

Until recently, I never realised quite how much your actions affect your mental state. As time goes by, you begin to correlate certain activities to feeling satisfied, motivated or even inspired. Taking responsibility and pursuing personal development will certainly help, but it’s not the be all and end all. For some other useful advice regarding mental toughness see the VetFresh post linked below.

“The thing about excuses is, nobody cares”. 5 steps to being a more successful vet today, and being happier for it!

The nurses I worked with at the weekend will likely scoff if they read this, as I ploughed through half a leftover birthday cake. However, I never feel better than when my diet is on point. I read a good stat the other day that if you aim for 60–70% of greens with every meal including breakfast, it’s hard to go wrong. Cravings subside after the 3-day hump. I’m no nutritionist; there is some great advice out there if you do your research.

Paleo ‘Cave-Man’ or green juices diets are worth trying for those looking for a drastic detox, but all change must be sustainable. Diets are fads; there is no point in losing weight only to go back to your old habits. You need to commit to a lifestyle change if you are serious about nutrition. Scales are for dummies, look in the mirror; if you don’t like what you see then fix it.

I’m a miserable git if I don’t get to exercise. I feel at my most productive and creative just after a sesh. Humans are social creatures. Visiting a globo-gym and doing a couple of bicep curls is a waste of time. Invest in a personal trainer or community activity, something that will motivate you to return. Set yourself goals and make sure it’s enjoyable. If you are new to exercise try and try again until you find something you like. I can’t promote Crossfit enough; I love it. Won’t be for everyone but working as part of a team drives you to return every day through shared experiences.

“It’s either you make time for your body & health now, or you gonna have to make time for illness later” — Peter Voogd

Paris Marathon 2015

When I say prioritise personal development over patients, again I’m not advocating negligence.

The future of animal welfare relies almost entirely on the well-being of veterinary professionals. We’re seeing a mass exit of vets from the profession, so much so it has its own name; ‘Vexit’. Putting the customer first should never be at the expense of an employee’s health. Vets must stop acting like martyrs and realise that by doing so, not only are they doing themselves a disservice; they jeopardise the future of the profession and the welfare of animals in their care. Prioritising your development and prosperity, we will carry the veterinary industry into the 21st century. And remember, “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

In summary:
1. Take responsibility for yourself.
2. Invest in your personal development, don’t stagnate.
3. Eating right and exercising is vital to your mental well-being.

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