When I was in elementary school, I was already an overachiever. I had been planning my career as a veterinarian since I was six years old. Somehow, my mother convinced me that my vet school application would contain a section where my grades for grades four through twelve were scrutinized heavily and could make the difference between getting into veterinary school and a life of disappointment and abject poverty.
When I got my marks back from various tests, I would show my mother the 94% on a science test and she would say, “What happened to the other 6%?” She was proud of me and this was clearly sarcasm. I was too young to understand sarcasm. I thought that she meant it. This has led to the feeling that whatever I do, it is never enough. This feeling has set me up well for a career in veterinary medicine.
This feeling drove me to work and study hard so that I could get accepted to veterinary college and eventually get a surgery residency and a surgical oncology fellowship and then get a tenure track faculty position and then get tenure. Maybe one day, if I keep working hard and getting good marks on my annual review (aka report card) I can be a full professor. It never ends. It has also helped me to be humble, which is a good thing. However, as you may suspect from reading this, a general feeling of inadequacy can be unhealthy.
I don’t think that I am alone in this feeling. When I look around at my veterinary colleagues, I see the same desire to achieve more. We are all searching for that elusive 6%. At the beginning of each oncology rotation where I teach, our final year students will introduce themselves and tell us their plans for after graduation. For the students that are going into general practice, they will say, “I’m just going into practice.”
Because just being a general practitioner and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, is not enough and they feel judged. They judge each other and they judge themselves. They think that I must be judging them too because I am a specialist and they are not. This always breaks my heart. Of course being a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine is enough. In fact, it’s fantastic! I always have to correct them, pointing out how important the job of the family veterinarian is and how I believe that being a veterinary general practitioner is one of the hardest jobs in our profession.
We do it to ourselves and we do it to each other. When I say “we” I mean veterinarians, but it might be bigger than this. I have noticed a trend in the workplace of pointing out the one thing that a colleague is not doing, rather than focusing on all of the great things that they do. No one can ever get 100%. It is not possible. If you or the people you work with are consistently hitting about 80-90%, then that is enough. It has to be enough.
Sometimes, the people you work with are not going to do this well. Sometimes they will fail. A failing veterinarian is a person in trouble. You need to pick them up. You need to help them. So, heading in to the new year, I am encouraging you (and myself) to stop looking for 100% in yourself and in your colleagues. Don’t compare yourself or your colleagues to others. At this stage, this really is like comparing apples and oranges. If your workmates bring more positive than negative to the day, then take it, that’s as good as its going to get.
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.
Sarah Boston is a veterinary surgical oncologist and public speaker. Sarah is also a cancer survivor and author of the best-selling, hilarious memoir, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life.
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