My boss recently asked me, “Tegan, do you know why I hired you?” to which I replied sarcastically, “Because my resume was great?” She giggled and said, “No, it was because you didn’t sell yourself. You didn’t tell me, ‘Look how experienced I am.’ You emailed me and said, ‘I researched your website and saw how many amazing vets you have working with your company and I want to learn from them. I want to increase my knowledge and experience,’ and that’s why I hired you. You showed vulnerability.” This resonated with me.
While doing external activities for mental health is important, vulnerability can be utilized as a proactive mechanism in the workplace to help manage and avoid stressful and draining situations. So, what is vulnerability? For me, vulnerability means putting your fear of rejection or embarrassment aside and putting yourself out there for personal growth. I believe vulnerability is a pathway to success. Vulnerability has traditionally been viewed as a weakness in the workplace. The very thought of exposing your flaws, imperfections, and challenges is utterly terrifying. However, we have the ability to change the stigma surrounding it. I’m talking about the vulnerability that empowers truth, courage, and success in the veterinary profession.
After graduation, I was so excited to dive head-first into work. I decided to go straight into emergency practice, which was a very humbling experience. I started working in a clinic where, as a new graduate, I thought I would have support. However, I didn’t have the help I required and was tossed into the deep end of the pool (without cute floaties to help me stay afloat). I quickly became burnt out, exhausted, and compassion-fatigued. Within 18 months, I didn’t want to be a vet anymore.
During this period, I spent a lot of time reading text books and compiling a folder of all the cases I had seen containing protocols for management and treatment for certain diseases. At first, I was too scared to leave the company as I didn’t know if it was the same in every clinic. I also made friends there and didn’t want to be chucked into an equally deep or even deeper pool. However, I realized without the support I desperately wanted, I was potentially making mistakes I wasn’t even aware of. Was I treating and managing patients effectively? I wouldn’t know, because I had no one to ask or to help.
I decided to be vulnerable. I accepted I was unhappy, exhausted, living with poor mental health, and potentially lacking important knowledge on patient diagnosis, treatment, and management. I was desperate to find somewhere I would be able to thrive and continue building my knowledge, not as an average vet, but as a good one. I took on casual shifts with several emergency centers associated with specialists—professionals I could ask for help with case management and treatment. I have worked with several companies but two and a half years into my veterinary career, I have finally found a place where I get the support I need. My point is: don’t stay somewhere you are unhappy and not thriving because you are fearful of uncertainty. Be vulnerable and have the courage to accept when you are not happy. Don’t stay somewhere because you are waiting for it to eventually change, because it likely won’t. Have the courage to accept you want more, require support to grow as a great vet, and strive for it. The culture of a clinic is important, including the support they provide. Find somewhere that will support you, while also pushing you to do better every single shift.
I’m not one to be afraid to say I know where my limitations lie. I am still considered an infant in the veterinary field and I accept that. I found when I don’t ask for help, I take things home with me. I stress about cases and the patients’ management, which makes me anxious and unable to enjoy life outside of work.
Through this, I have learnt that if I feel like I am out of my depth, instead of continuing and increasing the risk of making a mistake or endangering a patient, I make myself vulnerable and ask for assistance. Let’s say you do something wrong and it has led to irreversible damage. Like any human, you would become distressed, upset, and carry this burden with you. This in turn, affects your mental health. While people need to accept mistakes are inevitable and failures can allow people to grow in their profession, these irreversible errors could be avoided with the simple act of seeking guidance.
It is not showing weakness to say, “I can’t do this and I need help,” it takes courage and an understanding of your individual limitations. Furthermore, when you make a mistake, you shouldn’t be afraid to turn to a colleague to discuss and own up to it, because likely, that person has also made some of their own—maybe even the same one. You won’t learn if you don’t show vulnerability. It is undeniable that everybody will go through blows, but it takes courage to acknowledge, accept, discuss, learn and move onwards and upwards from it.
Vulnerability is terrifying, but it shouldn’t be considered a weakness, it allows personal growth. In the veterinary profession, this can involve letting your team know when you’re feeling overwhelmed with a case or if you are becoming compassion-fatigued and need a break. It might be admitting to your client you don’t know what exactly is happening to their pet. It may be apologizing when you mess up.
So, lets redefine vulnerability. We can change vulnerability from being viewed as a weakness and instead as a strength. To be vulnerable allows you to show people that you can not always be perfect, you make mistakes, and you do not always have a solution. Being vulnerable is not a liability in the workplace, it is the ability to show people that you are human.