A couple of years ago, I heard about an alternative to the New Year’s Resolution.  Instead of making a list of resolutions that will likely be broken by February (something I am very guilty of), you decide on just one word to focus on for the year. The plan is called “One Word that will Change Your Life” by Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.  I decided to try this. I thought about it and prayed about it for a few days and let the word come to me.


I was surprised when I realized my word for the year was JOY. I was content in life – I had the career I had dreamed of since I was five, three children who can always make me laugh, a loving husband, and a few very close friends.  But if joy was my word for the year, maybe contentment wasn’t enough.   I decided to focus my thoughts on being joyful, which sounded easy enough.  Little did I know my plan to be joyful would be quickly put to the test at the place where I spent most of my time my small animal veterinary hospital.

The first three months of 2016 was the most anxiety-ridden and stressful period of my career so far. I found myself dreading going to work and hating every minute I was there. When I wasn’t at work, I was still thinking it. I couldn’t sleep and when I finally did fall asleep, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing.  At one point, I remembered my word for the year – JOY. How could I be filled with joy when I was so stressed out and miserable that I didn’t even like myself?

I realized that just because my word was joy, I wasn’t just going to suddenly be joyful. Joy was something I had to find.  So every day, as I drove to work dreading what lay ahead of me, I told myself “find the joy”. When I started to feel anxious, I repeated “find the joy” to myself throughout the day.  It wasn’t easy, but eventually I began to find the joy at work.

Joy wasn’t obvious, standing out big and bold like I expected; it was in the little things.  When I was able to get a cystocentesis sample on a patient on my first try, I heard a little “dun da da da!” anthem in my head. Getting a blood sample on a wiggly patient when everyone else failed involved a small little victory dance when no one was looking. I celebrated when my patient’s blood tests improved and did a Tiger Woods fist pump when a histology report came back as benign. Instead of quickly leaving the exam room after puppy exams, I took a few extra minutes to play with the puppy. I started taking pictures of cute kittens to post on the clinic Facebook page.

After a while of focusing on myself to find joy, I decided to focus on others. I made it my goal to sincerely compliment my patients, finding something positive to say beyond the pet’s medical state. I was surprised that saying things like “I love the collar you put on Buddy” or “Look at that adorable spot pattern on Baby’s back” helped me bond and connect with clients. I extended the compliments to my veterinary technicians and receptionists when they did their job well, again I focusing on little things, like “that is a great paw print you made. Lucy’s family is really going to appreciate it!” and “thank you for going over those instructions with Mrs. Jones so thoroughly.”

As 2016 came to a close and I reflected on the past twelve months, I saw what a journey it has been and how far I have come. I still have my anxious moments and there are days when I find myself counting the minutes until the clinic closes and I get to go home. My team will tell you that I have my times when I am crabby and not fun to work with. Being a very reserved person who doesn’t let my emotions show on the outside, I’m sure no one would say “she is bursting with joy”.  But overall, I feel I am a better person. My thoughts are more positive, I find myself focusing on others rather than my own feelings, and I notice the little things around me. I don’t have to tell myself “find the joy” as much anymore because it has become part of who I am.

I learned that joy can be found anywhere if you look hard enough. I wonder what my next word will be……

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-pic-1-604x917ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Jennifer Shepherd received her DVM from Colorado State University in 2000. She is currently the owner and head veterinarian at Cloquet Animal Hospital, a small animal practice in Cloquet, MN.

When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband Paul, three children, and her dog Coal.