Years ago, I felt burned out at my job and so I quit. It was a hard thing for me to do. I’m not really a quitter; I always push harder and do more. I just didn’t feel like I was making a difference no matter what I did. During my last few weeks there, I learned something profound.

My dream was to have all the standard protocols for the whole hospital in written form to help train new employees and to keep current employees on the right path. A full training program complete with checklists, videos, and other training material was one of my goals for my department. I also wanted to contribute to the business side of the hospital. All around I was interested in simplifying the way we worked and being more efficient.

My reality looked a bit different from my dreams. I developed a few new written protocols and revised some old ones. I put out fires in my department (and sometimes in other departments) on a daily basis. I took care of whatever my different managers needed. I filled in when people were out sick. I didn’t get around to creating my training program, and I never got involved in all the business stuff.

I taught the people I supervised as much as I could whenever I was able. I interceded when there were coworker disagreements. I did what I could to help each department understand and work better with each other. I tried to be there for my fellow supervisors when they needed someone to bounce ideas off of or just to vent.

I was doing many things but couldn’t see any of the results that I had envisioned. I got frustrated. I grew weary of trying. I repeated cycle after cycle of trying harder, getting frustrated and becoming tired.

Then I quit.

When people learned of my eventual departure, they congratulated me on my new job. They told me they would miss me. Some of them even cried. Basically, the normal things you expect when a person is leaving.

What I didn’t expect was to hear people say what a difference I had made in their working lives. Some didn’t want me to go because they felt I made work a better place. Others appreciated everything I had done or tried to do. I was blown away by their recognition of things I had tried to do even though those things hadn’t become a reality. Even people who I didn’t think would care at all that I was leaving told me these things.

I had been so focused on protocol and business that I was blind to the people side of it. Yes, I did things for people and worked with them every day. But my focus was not really on them. It was too bad that I couldn’t recognize the impact I was making on the people at the time. If I had been focused on my people, I might have been able to do more for them. I might have also felt better and not burned out.

Maybe it was a lesson I had to learn in the end so that I could go to a new place with new clarity about what making a difference really means. Making a difference isn’t always about a huge notebook full of written protocols and it isn’t only about the hospital increasing its profit margin. Making a real difference is helping your people learn and grow, helping them become all that they can be.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

Terri is a Licensed Veterinary Technician who found herself gravitating towards management after 6 years in the field. She still enjoys placing IV catheters and snuggling puppies and kittens in addition to managing a two-doctor practice in Central Florida. Outside of work, she likes to spend time with her family, read crime fiction and photograph her two fluffy cats.