I am a very lucky lady. Believe me I know that. I’m living the dream working in the area I grew up in and doing a job I picked out as a star struck 10 yr old. I have a successful business, a wonderful marriage and I make a comfortable living. It would be easy to say, “I’ve made it!” and settle comfortably into getting on with the business of day to day living.
But that’s not who I am. I am a driven person who has always enjoyed pushing myself to the limits of what I think I can achieve. Learning is a life skill and I am a passionate learner. The only other thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life besides be a veterinarian is be a horseman. So, now that I’ve reached my first goal it’s time to attack my second. I’ve set my goals on the trail of learning as much as I can about the art of horsemanship.
I have a very scientific mind that suits me well as a veterinarian but I also have a bit of an artistic streak. I enjoy many performance arts such as dancing, singing, and (dare I say) yodeling. Horsemanship is a form of performance art, in my opinion. I don’t consider it a sport because the main ingredient, just like for a dancer, is an equal dose of timing and feel. You have to feel the moment, the movement, the rhythm and the energy in order to reach new levels of awareness and timing to communicate with these graceful and talented animals. Like any artistic performance, the secret ingredient is passion beyond the ordinary.
As a full time veterinarian with a busy practice many are surprised that I have the time to pursue my passion like I do. I blame that on the history of my noble profession. Veterinarians are a passionate, dedicated lot. That dedication is one of the things (besides an obvious love of animals) that made me choose this career. But, more and more, instead of letting our profession define us until burnout takes us, we are learning as a group that being a veterinarian is what we do not who we are. I’ve heard that the veterinary schools now spend a bit of time on that very subject preaching balance in all things. I had one professor in my 4 years of veterinary school that preached balance to my class. He was our favorite teacher and taught during our toughest academic year. For most of us we were so buried in academics and chasing those high test scores that I doubt we really heard him. But later, as I started to feel the crushing weight of burnout I heard his voice in my head a lot. We are a hard working group, for sure. There are no illusions about this being a 9-5 job. But burn out and suicide are profession wide problems because of our inability to create balance in our lives. Veterinarians are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than the average person and twice as likely as their human doctor counterparts. I get it. I’m not saying I was ever suicidal, but I definitely was approaching critical burnout after only 10 years. But how do you take control back? How do you become the captain of your life and your dreams?
I think many people can relate to what I’m talking about. I hear over and over again as I travel and teach on my weekends off that they wish they could go to a show, or a clinic, or travel to see an event. If only time would allow. I hear a lot of somedays, and maybe whens and once I’ves. I used to say those things as well. As a solo practitioner for 10 years, days off; not to mention weekends off, were a dream that was far out of my reach. The profession that I had chosen and loved just about did me in in a short span of 10 years of hard work. I didn’t even take the day off to get married. I did a castration on the way to the wedding and a plasma transfusion hours after the ceremony. My clients were incredulous and very grateful but not one of them said, "Good grief, no, don’t come today!"Thank goodness, for my sanity and the well-being of those around me that all changed when I was able to find a partner willing to share the load. I thank my lucky stars every single day for that lovely lady who takes calls two weekends a month so I don’t have to. Finally, I have to opportunity to pursue a life beyond just my career. Maybe it was going to so long without it that made me realize how very important and precious my time is.
Life is a fleeting thing. There are only 24 precious hours in every day and only 7 of those days in every week. It’s up to us to choose how we live those hours. In my early years in practice I used to tell clients that called that I was so busy that I couldn’t possibly do it until after 10 pm that evening. In my naivety, I expected them to hear the exhaustion in my voice and say, “Oh, gosh no. It’s not critical, just come another day.” But, do you know what they usually said instead? “We’ll be up. No problem, just come when you can. We have plans tomorrow so we can't do it then.” Everybody else's time was always way more important to me than my own.
So, for me, my dream is to become an accomplished horseman. I understand that because of my other life choices I am woefully behind on the journey to this life skill. Most true horsemen are pretty well along in their progression by the time they are my age. I could give you a long list of reasons why my dream is unrealistic, unattainable, and out of reach. But that would be counter-productive. Instead, I decided 2 years ago that I was going to chase this dream as hard as I could for one year. If it proved too hard, or too expensive then I would quit. Instead of quitting, I found ways to make it work and for me it meant taking a second job teaching so I could dedicate time and funds strictly to chasing my dreams. So, I’m working just as hard or harder than I was 10 years ago when I was building my practice. The difference is I have balance. I work hard at being a veterinarian and I work hard at being a horseman and I divide my time fairly evenly between the two. It has required sacrifices, for sure, but the rewards have been tremendous.
So to those of you making bucket lists, or talking about the somedays or maybe laters, I urge you not to lose track of that time. Take those small impossible steps to make your life your own. Nobody gets to take it with them when they go. "Keep your face always towards the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you. " Walt Whitman