|January 4, 2021
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
Quitting my job to go back to school. Changing careers. Moving, Saying yes to something new and exciting and screaming “ABSOLUTELY YES,” with the immediate panicked follow up feeling of “Oh God, what have I done?”
That’s what it feels like for me to step out of my comfort zone. Every single time.
I’m very very good at what I *currently do. I’m fast, I have an extremely low complication rate, I know my anesthesia drugs and protocols backwards and forwards, and I can have a coherent discussion on the pros and cons of a gazillion different variations of how-to-do-the-job.
*It just occurred to me that because I don’t talk a lot about work and career here on the blog that it might not be clear what I do beyond “she’s a veterinarian.” For the last 4 years I’ve stepped back from general practice and almost exclusively do low-cost surgery.
For the last 4 years I’ve immersed myself in this particular veterinary industry niche. Because it plays to my strengths in multiple ways, it’s been incredibly fulfilling. I’m making a real difference in the communities I work in. I try to say yes as much as I can because I know for many people and their pets, I’m the last stop. Leg amputations, eyeball enucleations, tumor removals, GI surgeries, abscesses, pyometras, and laceration repair….these have been my bread and butter next to spays and neuters. Yeah, it’s a lot of dog and cats, but also rabbits, rats, guinea pigs and whatever else anyone can talk me into. I’m known for having a knack for big dog spays, which is probably how I found myself saying “yes” to a whole litter of piglets plus momma recently……
It would be easy to stop right there. I’m good at what I’m doing. I feel safe. It pays the bills, has great hours, and a great quality of life. Why take a risk? If I want change I can always move or work for a different clinic ro focus on a different aspect.
I’m 36 years old and probably have close to 30 years of working life in front of me. When I think about doing this and just this for the next 30 years….heck, just the next 10 years….I start to feel claustrophobic and penned in.
The initial learning curve is over and any further gains are so infinitesimal that they are more points of philosophical discussion between vets in this same niche than real issues (let’s discuss whether we should fully or partial reverse cats after a alpha-2-agonist surgery induction, and when we are done with that we can have a rousing discussion of when and how cats should be intubated for short routine procedures). I’m starting to get bored.
I still absolutely love surgery. I love high volume low cost work. I still want to make it a huge part of my regular practice, unlike when I left general practice work (I still feel like throwing up when I think about doing GP again. At this point my brain is still screaming never again)
As usual, an opportunity came knocking when I needed it to. And as usual, saying yes was scary, and I equally did, and did not, want to do it.
Emergency shift work.
One of my favorite techs used to be an ER tech and years ago she told me I would be a good ER vet. Vets I trust who have worked with me over the last couple years have told me I would be a good ER vet. In theory I thought ER was a great fit for me. Small animal ER was a rotation I took during my clinical year of vet school by choice because like the other small animal rotations I chose (dermatology, shelter med, community surgery), I had a hunch that it might be something that would come in useful later on (my brain likes as many open doors as possible). I really enjoyed it despite the ward techs being incredibly mean and making all the students cry and feeling incredibly stupid because I couldn’t list the DAMNIT ruleouts for a vomiting dog (#largeanimalstudentproblems)
Here’s the problem with me just casually wandering over to the ER vet side of things.
Changing vet niches is sort of like changing riding disciplines. Just because you do endurance doesn’t mean you can do dressage, and just because you’ve dabbled in dressage does not mean you are ready to take on a jump course.
Some rather forgettable GP work and a successful career in HVSN/shelter does not mean I can waltz into an ER and do anyone justice.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to easy myself into ER work for at least a year.
There’s 2 ways to look at this.
The first is how I would frame this if I was trying to convince you that I know what I’m doing in life.
“Just wait for the right opportunity,” I would say. “Be patient and you will be rewarded. The very thing you wanted will became apparent and all you have to do is walk through the open door. Waiting for the right moment and a little luck is 99% of success.”
Here’s the real honest truth.
I am a coward.
I don’t like moving forward until there’s a clear path to the thing I want. I bide my time. I rarely kick down doors. I wait until they are unlocked and ajar, opening at a small nudge.
I hate disappointment. I don’t want to work towards something I can’t have. I find it soul crushing to long for something that is never to be mine. I try to avoid that. I have a long memory and often there’s three or four things I have in the back of my mind that I’m waiting for the perfect opportunity to come up for.
Diversification. It’s the coward’s coping strategy.
Look, being a coward isn’t a bad thing. The thing is to recognize you are a coward and make it work for you! And then rename it as a character virtue. Like “patience.” Or “tenacious.” It’s like a job interview where you turn your flaws into strengths. I’m risk adverse and like being good at things. The trick is to take risks and try new things I might be bad at all while making my brain think it’s the best idea ever.
Which is why the coward’s first strategy for life success is “wait for the perfect moment.”
A couple months ago a good friend mentioned she was picking up shifts at a ER clinic and they needed help. It sounded perfect. Great support and mentoring, good pay, and a small clinic with a well-defined mission statement. It sounded like the perfect way to dip my toe into a new world. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Since I’ve been utilizing the coward’s strategy for success for basically my entire life, I have a knack for recognizing moments of opportunity. A burst of excitement on a rather dull wake. I asked her to give me a recommendation and she did.
Here’s the thing.
You can dip your toe, but there’s still a point where you have to jump into the water and start your swim.
And that’s still a terrifying moment.
You still have to jump in, knowing the water is going to go over your head and it’s going to be cold, but trusting that you will bob to the surface and warm up as you swim away.
You have to trust that you made the decision when you were in your right mind, and the fears and uncertainties that make you want to turn around and run away NOW are the product of a brain that is not making the best decision in the moment. It’s reacting. Ignore it. Jump anyways. Trust your past self that made the decision.
So I did. I jumped. I trusted that my mind that had been looking for a way to do this for over year had seen the right opportunity and said yes for the right reasons.
I knew I had made the right decision after my very first shift.
Look, I’m not very good at it (yet). I’m passable. I’ve nailed a lot of my cases, muddled through others, and mostly done alright. But, working ER shifts is the best thing I’ve done in my work-related life in the last 2 years. I’ve been more motivated and interested in vetmed in the last 2 months then I have been in a really long time. There’s so much to learn and do! It’s challenging, rewarding, and hits all the right places in my brain. I’m going to be a darn good ER doc with some more experience and I can’t wait.
So many good things came from making the leap. My career is better off, I’m financially better off, and it’s done wonders for my mental health.
As I journaled about 2020 I focused on two questions:
- “What did I do really well in 2020?”
- “If I had the year to live over again, what would I do different?”
It was question 1 where I noticed a pattern (there were patterns for question 2 too, but since they mostly involved me spending too much time mindlessly scrolling on my phone, we are skipping that).
When I looked at the things that went really REALLY well in 2020 I noticed a theme. The most rewarding things in 2020 were either directly or indirectly related to leaving my comfort zone and saying yes to things I wanted…but I wasn’t quite sure what would happen after I said yes.
ER was one of 2-3 things that went really well for me this year because I took a deep breath, stuffed down my fear and little voice that said I wasn’t good enough, and said “yes” to a giant leap into the unknown.
MOST successes in 2020 relied on this strategy (coward’s success in life strategy #1)
There was one notable exception.
An exception that beautifully illustrates the coward’s second strategy to saying yes to scary things: Lie to yourself well enough that by the time it’s time to say yes, you’ve backed yourself into a corner and there’s no other option.
That’s the post for next time.