Think for a moment about the nastiest client you have in your practice. The one who has made you and others in your clinic feel awful in every way possible. What did that person do or say? How long have you remembered it?
Now, think about your favorite pet owner. The one who brightens your day, tells her friends about how great you are, and drops off cookies “just because.” What has that person done for or said to you? Are her kindnesses easier or harder to remember than those of the jerk?
I suspect the nasty memories sprung into your mind like a twisted jack-in-the-box while you had to dig a bit for the memories of kindness and praise. Why is that? Why do we hold onto the crap that gets flung at us, but brush off and discard the beautiful pearls?
For years, wonderful pet owners have tried to thank me for helping them and their families. They’ve told me I’m amazing. They have teared up trying to express their gratitude. I don’t mean to brag; I bet you’ve had the exact same experiences. We all have. Do you know how I handled these encounters? I momentarily brightened and said “thank you so much,” went on with my day, and then never thought about the conversations again.
Have you done that? Why do we make this choice? Why do we blow off these kind encounters and take the one-star Yelp review with us to bed every night?
I think at least part of the reason is because we have been subtly taught that being proud is a personal failing, while beating ourselves up and focusing on our flaws is virtuous. The self-help industry, our bosses, and even our parents — often with good intentions, to help us grow — imply that poring over our failings makes us better. It keeps us humble. It makes us introspective and wise, whereas dwelling on our successes makes us arrogant, boastful, and narcissistic.
Does this seem out of balance to anyone else?
The truth is, self-assessment happens on a spectrum. At one end is intolerable and dangerous narcissism. At the other is intolerable and dangerous self-abuse. I think it’s time we re-evaluate where the healthy place is on that line.
I am certainly not advocating for unchecked arrogance. But most of us could stand to take a more fair and gentle view of how we treat ourselves. We need to start allowing ourselves to take some pride in our own successes while rejecting the puritanical belief that torturing ourselves over our slightest flaw (or over events outside of our control) will bring us redemption. It will not.
We should be proud of ourselves and the good we do. We have earned the right to hold our heads high. We get to pat ourselves on the backs for how we treat people and pets, how we never stop learning and growing, how we listen to our clients and our staff, and how we make sacrifices to reduce suffering in this world and make it a better place. We work damn hard! We should be proud of the relationships we build and the balance we’re able to find in our busy lives, instead of just berating ourselves for the times we can’t do it all. Happiness will never come to us from the outside world. We can only grant it to ourselves.
Looking at ourselves and our behavior critically is okay. That shows self-awareness and wisdom. But putting ourselves under a hyper-critical microscope day-in and day-out without allowing ourselves take pride in our personal successes — that’s masochism.
There are no people on this earth who are kinder and more compassionate than those who work with animals. Every day you do good in this world. Every day you succeed in ways that others would not or could not. Believe that. Own it. Be proud of it. Wear it like a badge of honor and polish it every night. You don’t have to tell a single person about your pride if you don’t want to, but you should never ever forget it. You earned it.
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.