Are You Being Honest About What You Want?
The 5 Freedoms Revisited – An Epilogue (Part 2): Freedom From Want
By Dr. Amelia Knight Pinkston
The high burnout and suicide rate in the veterinary profession cannot be our norm, and it doesn’t have to be. Dr. Don DeForge’s article “The Veterinary 5 Freedoms” was inspired from a speech designed to rally change for “a world attainable in our own time and generation”. Change is possible starting now – today. As a profession we need to be asking, “what specifically needs to change to foster a sustainable, thriving profession and what is the first smallest step that I can do today to move towards that?” As I read the Five Freedoms article, many thoughts came to mind about how we can use inspiration from the Five Freedoms to create positive change in vet med starting today. Here’s part 2. (This was originally written for the VGI website.)
Freedom From Want
From my perspective, freedom from want means fully embracing and exploring it without shame, self-blame, or judgment. Many of my clients are vets who feel burnt out because they feel stuck and exhausted – I’ve been there, too. They want something different, yet they don't actually allow themselves to fully explore why specifically they want it to be different or how that could be possible. Curiosity opens the door to clarity, opportunity, and a path towards a fulfilling life.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
When I was burnt out, I wanted to leave the profession, but self-blame, shame, and judgment kept me stuck. I blamed myself for all the money and time I had invested in a career that made me unhappy, so despite wanting something different I told myself “too bad, this is what you signed up for”. I worried what peers, friends, and family would think if I did something else, and so I stayed stuck doing what I thought others expected me to do instead of listening to what my heart needed. I judged and found something wrong with every thought I had about what I would do if I wasn’t a vet instead of allowing myself space and time to explore the things I felt drawn to without having to have it all “figured out” right away.
The moment I started ditching judgment and embraced curiosity is when I started my path towards recovery from burnout. Curiosity set me free from a cage I had unknowingly created. WHY did I want to leave the profession specifically? How did I imagine it would make me FEEL? What did I want instead? Why didn’t I think I could have that?
Burnout happens when you’re totally overwhelmed and in survival mode. I thought I wanted to leave the profession, because at the core I wanted to feel safe. In survival mode, my brain had generalized and interpreted the entire profession as unsafe. The moment I allowed myself to feel like I had options, I started to feel safe again. It was like the cage door opened. Once my perspective changed and I wasn’t trapped in the giant category of VET MED, I was able to start noticing specific moments in the profession that were leading to overwhelm and drained energy. When you identify the specific scenarios that feel the opposite of how you want to feel (ex: stressful, draining), then you can get clear on how you want to feel INSTEAD and what needs to happen for them to feel less threatening or challenging.
At the time, I didn’t have the anti-anxiety tools that I know now. Not once in my vet career did someone teach me tools to release stress. That needs to change. At the core of burnout is someone who desperately wants to feel safe again. That’s why anti-anxiety tools that have the power to instantly decrease stress (even in the middle of a surgery) are the first thing I empower my clients with. You can’t think clearly when you’re stuck in a stress response.
My mission is to empower everyone in the veterinary profession with anti-anxiety tools so that using stress-relieving techniques throughout the day becomes as routine as a physical exam. These should be taught in veterinary school. To learn tools you can start putting into practice immediately, watch the “Anti-Anxiety Tools That Actually Work” webinar (link at the end of this article).
Once overwhelmed vets are able to shift out of survival mode, they can start noticing the specific moments in the profession that are leading to overwhelm and drained energy.
Examples of draining scenarios:
- Watching fearful pets being held down by 4 people instead of using fear free techniques when you went into the profession to help animals
- Feeling like your hands are tied when every walk-in is accepted leading to feeling so rushed that you can’t provide quality care, unhappy owners, and a frazzled and defeated team who are more likely to make mistakes
When you identify specific scenarios, then you can get clear on what you want INSTEAD. That almost always relates to establishing boundaries to protect your energy and safety - either with yourself, others, or your environment. In the examples above, establishing a zero tolerance for bullies policy within the hospital would dramatically decrease those scenarios. Listen to the “No More Bullies: Overcoming Toxic Clients and The Negative Thoughts Weighing You Down” webinar for more details on what that looks like and how to implement it. The first step is pausing as soon as you see a stress/trauma response being displayed by a human or animal.
When getting curious about why certain situations are overwhelming or draining, specificity is important in order to identify the appropriate solution. For example, if surgeries feel overwhelming or draining, get curious about why. Have there been recent complications and why specifically did that happen? Is there a lack of mentorship or need for CE? Is your brain used to worrying and making up worst case scenarios despite good outcomes? Are you struggling with imposter syndrome? Are there specific surgeries that are most stressful or draining and are there any you enjoy? Do you thrive on client interaction and prefer appointments? Each of these offers a different path forward, yet all require a foundation of feeling more comfortable and safe.
Being honest and fully exploring “want” is advantageous for the entire veterinary team. For example, I often see vets wanting a raise but they negotiate themselves down from asking for what they truly want because their inner critic tells them they’re being “selfish” or “unreasonable” or “too much”. Yet when they ask for less than what they truly want, getting the raise actually feels disappointing. Afterwards, the vet may wonder if they could have asked for what they really wanted leaving them feeling disappointed in themselves and unsatisfied. The employer unknowingly misses an opportunity to show how much they value their employee, because their employee wasn’t honest about what they actually want or need to feel valued.
Here’s how curiosity can change it: as soon as judgment shows up, get curious. Why is it “unreasonable”? Is that based on facts or is that your imposter syndrome talking? Why do you want a raise? Do you not feel valued in your workplace? Are you stressed about finances? Why specifically? How will it make you feel to have that raise? What else makes you feel that way?
If it would help you to feel appreciated and valued, have you given your employer feedback on the times that you do feel appreciated and valued so that they know how to?
The “How To Create A Workplace Where It’s Convenient To Thrive” webinar outlines ways employers can help their staff feel truly valued and appreciated. What if your employer was willing to watch it and initiated a conversation about the parts of the job that were draining versus boosting your energy? The webinar also provides an opportunity for the entire veterinary team to have a discussion afterward watching sharing which tips and suggestions excited everyone the most.
Freedom from want means not being afraid, ashamed, or weighed down by it. Here are small steps you can take to start getting clear on what you want:
1. Shift out of survival mode to establish a foundation of safety by using the anti-anxiety tools taught in the “Anti-Anxiety Tools That Actually Work” webinar.
2. Start a wish list and allow yourself to write down everything you would love to have (totally unfiltered) to start exercising your want muscle.* Don’t negotiate yourself down or leave it off the list because it’s “unreasonable”. Allow yourself to put down on paper what you really truly want. Then ask why.
- What is it about that thing that makes you want it?
- How would you FEEL if you had it?
- Are there other things that can give you that feeling?
- How would your day-to-day life be different if you had the thing you want compared to your life now?
- What is something you can do today to get even 5% closer to that feeling?
Once you have clarity on what really excites you, start to get curious. How could that be possible in or outside of vet med? For example, before embarking on entrepreneurship and becoming a coach, I started a wellness blog as a creative outlet to share my message and passion with others. That blog brought me a lot of joy and gave me something else to focus on outside of vet med.
3. For more support in exploring how veterinary professionals can protect their energy and get clear on what they need to flourish in vet med, watch the series of webinars in the Beat The Burnout series by signing up at www.lifeboost.today/beatburnout. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or have a hard time speaking up for what you want/need and establishing boundaries, these webinars are a great place to start!
Here are the webinars available:
- Anti-Anxiety Tools That Actually Work
- No More Bullies: Overcoming Toxic Clients and The Negative Thoughts Weighing You Down
- Energy and Boundaries: Thriving In Vet Med and Beyond
- How To Create A Workplace Where It’s Convenient To Thrive
Your opinion and perspective matters! Please share your thoughts in the comments or send me a message at email@example.com.
Dr. Amelia Knight Pinkston is a recovered burnt out vet, integrative health + life coach and change worker, and co-chair of the Veterinary Genesis Initiative.
Other ways to connect:
- Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @lifeboostwithamelia
- LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/lifeboostwithamelia
- Vets and vet students are welcome to join the “Beat The Burnout: Life Boost for Vets” Facebook group for community support
- Visit www.lifeboost.today to learn more about additional resources and programs available
*This exercise was inspired by Kasia Urbaniak’s “Book of Desires” exercise in her book, Unbound.