We’re about one month away from colleges and universities turning new grads loose on the world, a day of joy and, if I recall correctly, complete, abject fear. 2014 is a rough year to graduate vet school. In my day (cue Dana Carvey Grumpy old man voice), back in the middle of the dotcom boom and a perceived ‘veterinary shortage’, the world was at our fingertips, a lush green forest ripe for the plucking.
Now new grads are being forced upon a Dune-like landscape filled with such ominous portents as 3x higher suicide rate than the general population, decreased consumer trust, massive student debt, not enough jobs, colleagues who look suspiciously at your abdomen for signs of possible uterine occupation before deciding whether or not to hire you. Here you are, fresh faced grads. Can we get a sad trombone?
image by photoeverywhere – stockarch.com
Well that’s kind of bleak, isn’t it. Kind of like the veterinary profession itself, these are two snapshots of the same place- in this case, Hawaii- presenting two extremes of what is possible. Most of your time is spent existing somewhere in between. The key to success here is to remember that neither is the land in which you will likely live; do not fear that barren and bleak is forever, and accept those moments of plenty as a gift rather than a life expectation.
You are Bilbo Baggins. You are about to go on an amazing adventure, like it or not, and there will be trolls and spiders as well as angry humans and lots of long recitations of poetry. You will also find good things and good people along the way, and treasure at the end which will probably look nothing like what you envisioned it to be. I asked myself what 5 things I wish someone had said to me when I was spit out of Davis with a new labcoat and no clue, and this is what I came up with:
1. Don’t stress too much about finding the perfect first job.
It’s a starter job, like a starter car and your first apartment. If you get lucky and it’s the job of your dreams and you can see yourself staying there forever, great. If it’s a horrible job with a screaming boss and techs who walk around looking like they could kill you with mind bullets, take heart in the fact that you are still learning: learning what not to do. And you’ll have better party stories (trust me).
2. Accept that you are going to make some mistakes.
One of the smartest people I know quit the profession one year in because she couldn’t handle not being perfect. I get it, we’re perfectionists who like to map out every destination on Google maps complete with images of every turn. However, we live and function in an imperfect world, where it often feels like you’re driving in heavy fog with a linen blindfold and two people who are supposed to be navigating arguing in the backseat. You may drive off the road here and there. That is what being a new grad is like. Hopefully you will have a decent team to help you navigate, but if not- see point 1.
3. Be OK with the fact that a few people are going to hate your guts.
James Herriot ruined us all for this line of work, didn’t he? He taught us that even the grumpiest clients will eventually come around, and he taught clients that the barter system is still alive and well in this field. Neither are true. Some people are going to be nasty and mean and do their best to try and make you cry, quit, or vomit. Stop wasting your energy on trying to make them happy and focus instead on the many wonderful people you are going to come across, who will outnumber the horrible ones.
4. The Golden Rules never, ever go out of style.
Say please and thank you more than you think you need to, even to the grumpy people. Especially to the grumpy people. Don’t complain about work or clients at work. One, walls are thin and clients are often sitting in there with nothing to do. Two, it encourages everyone to go down that toxic drain and eventually the topic is going to be YOU. Third, the person you’re complaining about will most likely have what you said in confidence repeated to them verbatim. Expect it. Awk-ward. Be kind, even when your mind is screaming like Animal. P.S. This goes double for the internet. Repeat after me: There Is No Internet Anonymity. Again, trust your old Auntie V on this one.
5. Be selfish.
You’ve worked a really long time to get where you are, and now the expectations are going to get even more intense. When I say, “make time for yourself,” it’s not a feel-good sort of Oprahish platitude, it’s me grabbing you by the shoulders and saying “I beg of you to find a hobby and insist on indulging in it because you will go insane if you don’t.”
Whatever it is you give, it will never be enough for some people. Draw your own lines, make your own limits, and do not let others do it for you. We are in a profession that takes a lot of emotional energy out of you, and this time is vital to recharge. Travel, if you can. Remove yourself from that place where you feel like the world can’t go on without you to put out every fire because, honestly, it totally can. Human first, vet second.
“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” -Gandalf