This is, in a way, a confession.
Some of us have this really great cycle that happens after a long day at work:
• We pick fights with our partners about stupid stuff when we get home, even though maybe we felt just fine or even energized when we left work.
• We don’t answer the phone when friends or relatives call because we just can’t talk to another person, and at some point, they stop calling entirely unless they have news like “Your cousin Sam had a baby” or “I got married last weekend.”
• We hash out conversations with our employers in our heads and think in despair that we know exactly how they will go.
• And then we get up and go to work the next day and do it all again and maybe it’s a good day and we think we were probably just being overdramatic.
• And suddenly, a decade or two or three might go by, and we have spent that time alternately feeling defeated by a real or imaginary “no” or angry with ourselves for not being able to just be happy doing what we were supposed to be put on this planet to do. I mean, we got into veterinary medicine because we love it, right? Then why are we so stressed out?
Just to be clear, by “we,” I mean “I,” but I’m going to assume I’m not alone.
During the ups and downs of this cycle, which is not something we associates are supposed to talk about – our public image is still of sweet, endlessly selfless individuals who enjoy days full of bouncy puppies and miracle saves, using up barely a drop of our bottomless wells of empathy, patience, time, and personal cash, then go home and relax and forget about work because we don’t have the stress of practice ownership. I have spent varying amounts of time fantasizing about what my life might be like if I got out of veterinary medicine. These daydreams prominently feature mountains, beaches, horses, iced coffee, early morning runs followed by naps, and my pedicured toes propped up on deck furniture.
What they don’t feature, notably, is a hard day’s work, or the self-respect that comes with it.
Anyone on social media lately has probably seen this quote bouncing around, on a variety of beach/pastel/shadow people backgrounds:
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called STRESS. Working hard for something we love is called PASSION.”
My friends, I think that is some straight up bull pucky right there.
It’s part of the illusion so deftly perpetuated by social media influencers and regular folks alike: the world is seemingly full of people who have figured out how to work from home on something they are never tired of and make bank sipping lattes in the middle of the day at Starbucks while they tap away at their laptops with color-coordinated bullet journals open beside them. If you aren’t that person, if you have to get up and commute every day to an office where you work for someone else at a job you don’t hate but that doesn’t keep you from counting down to the weekend, you clearly just haven’t found “Your Best Life.”
I believe with my whole heart that life is short, and we need to seek out happiness and love and passion wherever we can find them. But I also think we sometimes get a bit lofty in our dreams of a life so full of passion that there’s no room for stress. Anyone in a long-term partnership, career, or marriage should be able to honestly tell you that the presence of love does not mean the absence of stress. In fact, sometimes the things and people we love cause us the MOST stress, because we care so much about making those people happy. Sometimes, a career we love might actually stress us half to death – and maybe even make us forget why we loved it in the first place, and question whether we still do.
It’s tempting to think those Instagram people are perfectly happy, but the truth is that they get stressed too, and they might secretly not even really love what they’re doing. They might even also yell at their boyfriends for leaving food out on the counter before they even say hello when they get home. At the end of the day, most of us need to feel like we’ve made a difference, and we got into vet med to do just that. It’s a crappy feeling to think maybe we have to leave it behind in order to be truly happy. I believe there’s a place in clinical practice for everyone who wants to be there, even if they’ve convinced themselves it doesn’t want them.
I want to help all of us break that cycle of angry/defeated/angry by being open to change, feeling empowered, and getting excited about our own capabilities not just as doctors but as humans. And more than anything, I want to tell you that it might not be easy, but it is worth pursuing your own path to happiness in a field you truly love, because while it might still stress you out like crazy sometimes, and it might not involve frequent breezy weekday Instagrammed afternoons at an outdoor café, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a change that keeps you from fantasizing about quitting or from counting down the days until the weekend, vacation, or retirement.
No one is going to set boundaries for you or reach out and hand you what you need to sustain a truly happy life in this field. Taking charge of your own happiness means asking yourself the hard questions. What will you be most glad you did (or didn’t do) when it’s all said and done? (Can you please start writing that down?) What would you want in a one paragraph summary of your life? If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can’t expect to know when you’ve found it.
Once you know what you want, there’s a critical next step: Go out and find it. Trust me – you won’t be walking alone.
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.