Let’s face it… those of us in the veterinary profession often use terms like “perfectionist” and “control freak” to define ourselves. We laugh about it, and we use these terms to justify our personal behavior and our expectations of others. But we don’t recognize it as a problem.
It is a problem.
Here’s what’s really going on…
Our perfectionist efforts are really just our attempt to control outcomes. Our control-freak nature is more of the same; trying to control exactly what other people do in order to then control the outcome.
Deep down, our subconscious recognizes that we really don’t have any control at all. Our brains think that lack of control is a problem. It falsely believes that if we control everything then all the results will be favorable. Seems reasonable, so we believe it, and we live it.
So what happens when results are not positive? When we start from believing maximum control creates positive results, then the only possible conclusion we can draw from an unfavorable outcome is that, obviously, we must have done something wrong, right?
But, this is what our silly brain will tell us right before it labels us an “imposter”. And then from there, it goes to work looking for evidence to prove its label is right.
Have a surgery complication? You must have done something wrong; you’re an imposter.
Have a client react badly? You must have done something wrong; you’re an imposter.
Have a case not respond as anticipated? You must have done something wrong; you’re an imposter.
So, why are we so quick to believe our silly brain when it offers us the “imposter” label? Why do we even entertain the idea that we are not cut out for the profession we worked so hard to join?
It’s a simple lack of self-confidence, and a total misunderstanding about where self-confidence comes from in the first place.
See, confidence and self-confidence are two entirely different things.
Confidence is something built through experience, like tying your shoes, or drawing blood from the jugular of a Labrador. The first time you do it, you aren’t really sure how it will turn out. You try, you fail. You try again, you get closer. You don’t stop. You keep trying until you succeed.
Success is achieved when you do it right… and then you just keep doing it. Eventually, you don’t even think twice about whether or not you can do it, because you are confident in your ability to do that skill. Messing it up at that point would be a total surprise, right?
Our academic pursuits have reinforced this concept; pass the exams, pass the course; pass the courses, earn the degree. If you do it “right”, you achieve success. For circumstances where there is a clear right and wrong way, or clear pass and fail, this approach works.
For everything else, including what is required of you to practice veterinary medicine, this won’t work at all. It doesn’t work because it assumes there is a right and wrong way. It assumes cases get better when you do your job the right way.
That’s not how it works, but “Imposter Syndrome” believes that lie. There is no coming back from Imposter Syndrome and perfectionism unless you change what you believe about what truly measures success in the veterinary profession—and in your whole life.
Self-Confidence is not earned through successful action. It is simply a belief, and it is available to you right now, no matter what is going on in your world.
Self-Confidence accepts that you are worthy simply because you exist.
Self-Confidence remembers you are capable in every situation because you were born equipped with everything you need.
Self-Confidence understands that what other people say and do are merely reflections of themselves, and not reliable measures of you and your abilities.
Self-Confidence knows that when you try to control everything, you impact nothing in a meaningful way.
Self-Confidence knows the real measure of success in the veterinary profession is not whether or not a patient got better or an owner stayed happy, but whether or not you showed up and did the best you could do with the information and resources you had available to you at the time.
Outcomes are never your responsibility because they have never been something you could control. You don’t have that much power, you never did. So when you measure your success as a veterinarian based on patient outcomes and client behavior, you will fail.
When you embrace perfectionism and control as the viable path to success, you will fail. Self-confidence recognizes you don’t have to do any of that—you showed up, you did your very best, you are enough.
Patients won’t always get better. Clients won’t always be happy. Human mistakes will happen.
Your worth is absolute and independent of client actions and patient outcomes. You are right where you are supposed to be. You are a great veterinarian. You are enough.
If you have a hard time believing this and embracing it in the moment, you aren’t alone! Our brains were created to be on the lookout for danger. Every time you feel uncomfortable, your brain believes your life is at risk. It wants to stop that discomfort immediately. Your silly brain then offers up solutions to neutralize the discomfort; solutions like never doing surgery again, quitting your job, leaving the profession—or worse.
It’s all unnecessary. You aren’t in danger, you are just feeling a negative emotion. We erroneously believe that negative emotions mean something has gone wrong. That’s actually not true. Life is 50/50 positive and negative—you know this already—homeostasis is a great example of this necessary balance. Emotions are no different.
Half of the time the emotions you feel will be positive, and half of the time the emotions you feel will be negative. That’s just how it works. Learning to allow the negative emotions, and continuing to move forward in your life in spite of them, teaches your silly brain that negative emotions are not real indicators of danger.
Learning to allow negative emotions builds self-confidence.
You can speed up the process by offering your brain alternative thoughts when it goes into “everything is terribly wrong” mode. Choosing intentional thoughts to focus on will downgrade the impact of the negative emotions without requiring them to go away. Here are a few examples:
- I am enough.
- My worth is absolute and independent of client actions and patient outcomes.
- I am right where I’m supposed to be.
- I am a great veterinarian.
It’s all just part of the human experience. You’re learning. You’re growing. You got this! +