The calendar’s turn at year’s end prompts many to take time out for some reflection. Were your goals for 2022 achieved? If not, do you feel like all the blame belongs on your own shoulders? If you spend time beating yourself up regularly for your perceived shortcomings, or you just sit in your car outside the clinic before your shift starts, trying to summon the will to carry yourself through another day in a job that you once had a passion for but now seems like a rough slog, it could be time to for a reset.
If you find yourself feeling lost, empty, and dissatisfied with veterinary medicine, I get it, truly. Been there, done that, got the SSRIs. I assure you, however, all is not lost. Not by a long shot. Course corrections are allowed, even encouraged. And you don’t need the ‘New Year’ to apply self-care. Your re-invention may be minor or major, but if you’re unhappy, the time to adjust may well have been yesterday. Pivot is not just for Silicon Valley startups or moving couches.
The Reflected Best Self Exercise
Here’s a suggestion for re-evaluating where you are versus where you could be, to increase your future potential for happiness and well-being. The Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise is a fun way to see yourself through the lens of others and, perhaps, help you remember things about yourself that you may be overlooking. It is a great way to find the answer to ‘What can I do differently going forward?’ and, hopefully, reignite your fire if your love light for vet med is growing dim.
Step 1 – Identify Respondents and Ask for Feedback
The first task in the exercise is to collect feedback from a variety of people inside and outside work.2 Create a list of the folks you interact with the most. I recommend at least seven, but no more than 14. It is important to get a variety of opinions, but inputs are only as valuable as the depth of your relationships with the reviewer. Think quality over quantity. I chose two current and three former colleagues, a vet school friend, a long-time friend, and my significant other.
You then ask these individuals to provide information about your strengths, accompanied by specific examples of times when you used those strengths in ways that were meaningful to them, to their families or teams, or to their organizations.3
Step 2 – Recognize Patterns
Next, assemble the results of your interviews into groupings based on common themes, such as honesty, helpfulness, a sense of humor, or being open to feedback. You may be surprised to see the specific examples recounted by others, but this is precisely the point. You can then analyze common behaviors that exist when your best self is present.
I saw that I regularly perform many unconscious behaviors which make a big difference in the day to day of those around me. For example, people pointed out that I give words of encouragement that people remembered long after the fact. They also shared that I tend to be the one keeping my head on my shoulders during stressful moments, and this was news since I usually am swimming in my own anxiety during those incidents, but I appreciated their external viewpoint of my actions that helped support them.
Step 3- Compose Your Self-Portrait
Yes, there will be writing, and it should be in complete sentences, paragraphs even. And worse still, it is writing about yourself. It’s my least favorite thing to do, honestly, but I have found I can have no growth without putting pen to paper, OG style. Typing into your laptop, or narrating into voice text is equally fine, use the medium that works best for you. Start with the prompt “When I am at my best, I…” and detail the images and feelings that inspire you when you see your best self in your consciousness. For me, the connection I make when explaining diagnostics or treatment plans with pet parents allows me to showcase scientific knowledge and compassion, and this is something I find very affirming.
Step 4 – Redesign Your Job
Returning to the opening question of this article, if the answer was yes, then a change is in order. The challenge is to create a better fit between your work and your best self. I found, like many who try the RBS exercise, my strengths could be better utilized within the field of patient care. If you love derm cases, for example, see if you can direct more of those patients to your exam room. If surgery does not spark joy, consider if your practice would benefit from you spending your time on other cases, standing up a new and needed walk-in urgent care service, or a low-income vaccination support program. I feel fervent that we must place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution. What are my strengths? What are my values? Where do I belong? What should my contribution be? Spend less time trying to change yourself to fit an arbitrary expectation of others and their constructs, and rather concentrate on improving the skills you have and focusing on building a workplace conducive to your individual way of working.4
Don’t wait for others to open doors for you
Practices that recognize and support the power of the individual will thrive, while those that attempt to treat people like cogs in a machine will flounder. The time to ensure we are living our values and doing our best work is now. We can’t afford to wait for another minute. Take a self-appraisal, compare that to the feedback analysis you receive from your RBS, and you are on your way to improving the understanding of your best self, and you are ready to take the steps to realize that potential.
Dr. Frank DeCecco
Dr. Frank DeCecco is an experienced small animal veterinarian, having spent time in general and specialty practices, in the US and abroad, immersed in all levels of practice, from cutting edge, state of the art facilities to the most austere environments. Today he operates at the intersection of vet med and organizational psychology, bringing scholarly research from the world of business to inform a fresh perspective on how to change our profession for the betterment of all. He is the founder of dvm6.com, an exciting veterinary telemedicine solution, rooted in helping hardworking clinical teams meet the needs of pet parents. Dr. Frank is passionate about improving mental health and quality of life for veterinary care providers.
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1-3. Roberts, Laura Morgan, Gretchen Spreitzer, Jane Dutton, Robert Quinn, Emily Heaphy, and Brianna Barker. “How to play to your strengths.” Harvard Business Review 83, no. 1 (2005): 74-80.
4. Drucker, Peter F. “Managing oneself (HBR classic).” Harvard Business Review 100 (2005): 0017-8012.
Official site at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business https://reflectedbestselfexercise.com/
The Positive Links Speaker Series, presented by Michigan Ross’ Center for Positive Organizations, offers inspiring and practical science-based strategies to build and bolster thriving organizations. https://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/conferences-meetings/positive-links-speaker-series/