Photo courtesy of Michael Weinhardt Photography: So Many Other Things.
At work, as in life, what we think largely determines how we feel, and how we feel becomes how we act and interact. Through our actions and interactions we put out a certain energy into the world that those around us will absorb and radiate it back to us. This in turn affects how we feel, which will influence the way we think. Call it confirmation bias, call it karma, but just don’t ignore it. It’s a cycle that can lift us up as easily as it can drag drag us down. If we want to use it to have a positive influence on our careers and our lives we should examine the start of the cycle where we have the most control: what we think.
Our profession is filled with incredible people: big brains, big hearts, big talent, but it’s also a profession plagued by a fair amount of negativity and whingeing. To be sure, there are many things about veterinary science that are challenging and can be improved upon, but over the years I’ve been both witness to and guilty of perpetuating some unhelpful stories. In your career in veterinary science you’ll undoubtedly come across examples where these stories are proven to be true, but if you accept them as irrefutable fact you will hobble the potential growth and happiness in your career.
“…if you accept them as irrefutable fact you will hobble the potential growth and happiness in your career.”
What follows are five of the most destructive attitudes that I’ve held, and still see commonly around me.
Belief #1: Clients are an obstacle to overcome.
Clients are rude. They’re stupid. They don’t care enough about their animals, they are inconsiderate, have no empathy for us and the struggles we face, they’re demanding, unreasonable in their expectations and they want everything for free.
When was the last time you thought any of these things, said it out loud or heard someone else say it? Make no mistake, you will come across people who are any or all of these things, but in reality most people are not. We’re just so damn good at ruminating about the handful of negative experiences we do have that we go totally blind to the examples of the best of human nature that we encounter on an almost daily basis as vets. Humanity can be so very cruel – just pick up any history book if you need to be reminded of our dark side – yet as vets we consistently see people sacrifice their valuable time and resources to bring creatures of a different species to us to help them care for these animals. They might bring them in later than you’d prefer, they’ll often have limitations as to how much they are willing to spend, but what we tend to miss is the miracle that some human eventually cared enough to do something to intervene in the suffering of an animal in their care. This really is no small thing.
And that’s just talking about our problem-clients. Many, if not the majority of your clients are caring, committed, self-sacrificing, grateful and generous. I’m often astounded at how far some people will go for an animal that they love, and I’m moved on a daily basis by the depth of connection and emotion that this usually selfish species of ours can share with animals.
Then there is a significant percentage of clients who fall somewhere in between – people who have lives full of problems and worry and duty who are suddenly faced with the extra responsibility of an animal in need of veterinary care. We often attribute to this group the traits listed above, but the reality is usually much more benign. They are mostly just a mixed bag of worried, stressed, frustrated, uninformed, confused, time-poor, broke, scared, pre-occupied… and then we take it personally that they’re not overjoyed to have to come see us! We perceive it as an insult and a belittling of our skills. We’ll react to them with moral superiority and a sense of injured pride, and in doing so we often push them from this middle group into the ‘bad client’ group, whilst what we should be doing is simply acknowledge their concerns with empathy and address those concerns in a way that leads to the best possible outcome for that patient, that client, in that particular situation.
There’s a quote that I keep front of mind for when I find myself getting frustrated with clients:
Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.
Never assume stupidity when ignorance will suffice.
Never assume ignorance when forgivable error will suffice.
Never assume error when information you haven’t adequately accounted for will suffice.
In other words – everybody is not out to get you or to ruin your day. They’re just dealing with their own shit to the best of their abilities. Help them if you can.
But it’s about more than just finding ways to put up with clients. If that is your goal: simply to survive the clients until you get to work with animals, then you’re missing out. Most of the happiest vets I know will tell you that it’s relationships that matter. That sustained fulfilment comes from connection. Those very interactions with those troublesome people who cross our paths a hundred times a week holds the key to the source of the biggest and most lasting source of satisfaction in our job. If only we let them.