On your first day working with pets, you are given four gifts. Three are dogs; one is a sled.

The three dogs are named Giving, Happiness, and Stability. The sled is called Life.

Giving represents what we do to help pets or people without expecting repayment. This may involve time, labor, money, medications, or knowledge.

Happiness represents our enjoyment and wellbeing.

Stability is our ability to support ourselves, our families, and the people working in our practices who rely on us for their livelihood.

The gifts are given so that Life can take us on a meaningful journey. We can experience the thrill of our three dogs working together, thriving, and covering new ground with exuberance. Life can be exhilarating, and the passage on it consequential and rewarding.

Those of us who love, feed, and exercise all three of our dogs have an amazing trip with Life, and we experience these joys. When we neglect one or more of our dogs, we are limited in where Life can take us and how rewarding and exciting the journey can be. It takes all three dogs to pull the sled.

People who struggle with Life are often suffering from a common problem: They tend one dog more than the others, making for an uneven journey. In the veterinary world, the most commonly neglected dog is Happiness, and the most over-fed is Giving.

“Wait!” you say. “Giving is important!”

Yes, giving is extremely important, but it’s one dog in a three-dog team. Giving should be exercised regularly, but not at the expense of Happiness and Stability. I know first-hand that this is something people in veterinary medicine have a hard time with.

If Giving gets all your love and care, while Happiness and Stability languish, you’ve got a team with one strong dog and two weak ones. When you hear people say they feel unhappy about how much they give of themselves without any return benefits, you are hearing what happens when Giving is allowed to take everything while Happiness and Stability go without. At some point, these people lose control of Life and go wherever Giving takes them. After a while, they become exhausted and resentful, because this sled ride isn’t turning out at all as they’d hoped. It happens all the time, especially in this profession.

Some of us make a different mistake and let Stability get our attention, while we ignore Giving and Happiness. If you focus solely on financial gains, you may end up wondering why that Life journey isn’t as rewarding as it could be. It’s because when Happiness gets weak and Giving is miserable, the sled team falls apart.

Alternatively, those who give all their attention to Happiness while neglecting Stability and Giving usually have a great time… for a while. Ultimately, Happiness can’t thrive without Stability or Giving, and Life stalls out.

So, if we want Life to provide us with a long and wonderful journey, how do we make that happen? There are three things to remember.

Rotate Your Dogs Regularly

In a successful Life, each dog takes a turn in the lead. Sometimes the sled is pulled by Giving, sometimes by Stability, and sometimes by Happiness. Letting any one dog run the show all the time is a recipe for mediocrity at best, catastrophic failure at worst.

If you haven’t rotated your dogs recently, now’s the time. Maybe you should follow Happiness for a while, or maybe you need to figure out where Stability could take you. Or if Giving hasn’t set the pace for a while, let that happen now, and see how your Life changes.

Make Sure Your Dogs Work Together

The best path for Life is not the one your favorite dog wants to take. It’s the one that best suits all three. For example, Giving should never trample Happiness or Stability. They should goad each other forward — just like the packs of happy dogs you see zipping around together at the dog park. If your dogs are not working in harmony, it’s probably time to change course.

Keep Your Team Well-Fed

Sometimes it seems that if we divide our attention and support between Giving, Happiness, and Stability, none will reach its full potential. Wrong. It’s only when we take care of all three dogs that Life goes further and takes us forward to a place where we can find even more resources to share.

In the end, people who maintain Happiness, Giving, and Stability will have three healthy dogs that form a balanced team. These people will enjoy Life more than anyone else, and they will see and do amazing things.

So, from one animal lover to another… How are you caring for your three dogs?