In 2014, I was teetering on the edge. I was burned out and tired of being a vet and I had only been one for five years. I spent a lot of time thinking about what jobs I might do instead, but would always boomerang back to “but it cost so much, and I worked so hard.” If people told me their kids wanted to be vets, or expressed admiration for the Dr. in front of my name, or told me they envied me because I had the best job ever – I got really prickly and launched into all the difficult and depressing parts of the profession. I would effectively shut down their enthusiasm about vets and darken my own mood by reminding myself of all the reasons I was thinking about quitting, but couldn’t.
Then I went to a vet conference in 2015 and attended some incredible talks on social media and marketing, joy in practice, and the human-animal bond. I came home inspired and started to take photos with some of my patients (with permission of course) and put them on Facebook. The comments poured in. “You have the best job!” “I knew it – you just play with puppies all day!” “If you need any professional kitty snugglers, I’m available!” I thought this would annoy me. People just don’t understand our struggle and they need to know about our debt load and weird hours. They need to see how hard we work all the time! They need to know about clients who show up late with no money or who blame us for mistakes we never made or the clients who write bad reviews on Google because we couldn’t fix their neglected pet for free.
Except… I didn’t get annoyed. I was shocked to realize that not only did these comments not irritate me, it dawned on me that they were right. When they said, “You’re so lucky! I don’t get to have dogs climb in my lap at work!” they were telling the truth. I DO get to have that and that DOES make me lucky. If someone said, “That smile on your face shows how much you love your job,” it pointed out something I had forgotten – I smile a LOT at work, and for the most part, it’s genuine. Although I think we all have our moments where smiling is the only thing standing between us and hysteria or incarceration, right?
I also realized that the owners of most of the pets I photographed are pretty awesome people. They love their pets fiercely, like I love mine. They want only the absolute best for them, and they sometimes ask a lot of questions to make sure that is what they are being offered. Then they decide to trust me not only with their pets’ care, but also with their love.
When I was a kid in the 80s, glimpses into other people’s lives meant things I saw at sleepovers and birthday parties, photos tacked into lockers, albums pushed into my hands by people’s grandmas, and the impossibly harmonious fictional world of The Cosby Show. I could envy the other kids’ sneakers and hair, but I also saw them get bad grades, eat gross lunches, and get in trouble for talking in class. I could never have imagined that one day, not long in the future, I would have 24/7 access to an endless stream of photos and videos of near or complete strangers. On social media they are seemingly living their lives spontaneously and joyfully, artfully edited, curated, and filtered with free apps and showing only the very best and most appealing parts of every day. While I used to long for the trendy clothes and breezy confidence of the popular girls, now we have literally millions of popular girls to envy, without knowing when they are sad, being privy to their family dramas, or hearing them whine about having to get up and go to work every day.
Experts tell us too much time on social media can be a barrier to happiness, because we fall into the comparison trap. Certainly, this can be true, but I would argue that social media can also be a powerful weapon in your happiness arsenal. Seeing your life through the eyes of others can be incredibly uplifting. Sometimes they point out the beautiful, amazing parts of your day that you are letting yourself miss. Yes, they’re seeing only the good parts – but don’t you deserve to enjoy those, too? And maybe even give them top billing in your mind when you think about work?
Overall, is it worth it to me to deal with the mean/noncompliant/financially irresponsible/bad-review-writing clients in order to stay in a job that allows me to sit on the floor and have puppies chew on my hair? Well… yeah. I could do something else for a living and still have to deal with people who don’t see things my way, but at least now there is always an animal involved who is blameless, voiceless, and generally adorable – and who needs my help. No matter what sad case I might see on a given day, at some point I know I will walk into a room where a smiling owner waits to start her life with a bouncy puppy who absolutely cannot bear to sit still one more second without leaping into my arms. And then we’ll take a photo. Maybe on my next down day, I’ll see that photo and remember that the bad stuff doesn’t always need to take the starring role. Try it yourself and see – if you take a simple step to let the good stuff shine, it might just make you feel a little luckier.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
Dr. Katie Berlin is a small animal general practitioner in Mechanicsburg, PA. She is also a reader, a rider, a runner, a lifter, a teacher, and an art lover. She graduated from Williams College in 2000 with a degree in Art History and worked in art museums before going back to school and earning her DVM from Cornell in 2009. She is an avid supporter of Fear Free practice and the battle against compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession.