I am about to tell you the best piece of advice I have ever received. For context, picture me crying over a video call to my parents. I was stressed out of my mind about an exam I did not feel I was prepared for and that is when my dad calmly said to me, “Another page read is another question answered.”
“How can that be the best advice you have ever received?” You might be asking me. “He is literally just telling you to keep reading, surely that is not all of it.” Well, let me tell you, his simple sentence changed my entire outlook on both my exams and my perspective on life.
I think you will agree it is not surprising for someone in our profession to tell you they are overwhelmed. Whilst studying, there seems to be so many different diseases, techniques, and procedures to remember depending on the animal you are dealing with and the location you live in. It often feels as if there is too much content to get through and know, even just briefly about, that procrastinating seems to be the easiest option. This, of course, leads to a descending spiral of negativity, as you begin to run out of time to cover the content and stress levels rise. Then, once you finally reach clinics or start working, you realize that every day comes with a new challenge because you never know exactly what will walk through your door. For many of us, this is what makes the job so exciting but the unknowing can also be overwhelming. This is when my dad’s simple sentence comes into play.
The overwhelming feeling often sets in when the task at hand appears unachievable. The trick is to break the task down into smaller, more reasonable sections (like the pages of a book) until you have achieved the task at hand (completed the whole book). Focusing on smaller tasks and congratulating yourself once you have achieved them can help you feel on track and on top of things.
At the same time, I want you to realize that it is ok to feel overwhelmed. It is a normal emotion and once you have identified the way you are feeling, you will be able to do something about it. Suppressing the emotion only leads to the task at hand becoming so difficult that it paralyses you and you cannot move forward. Often, it is best to tell a trusted colleague about how you are feeling. They will be able to either help you to break down the task into more simple objectives or they will be able to take on some of your tasks so you can focus on what is really necessary.
A good example of when I broke things down is from my last exam period as a fourth-year student (our course is five years at the University of Queensland). We had five exams in five days and there was so much content had to cover that I just didn’t feel I could get through it all. It felt like an impossible task when I looked at the situation as five days, five exams, with over 500 pages worth of notes to get through. Instead, I sat down and broke my week up into days and then broke the days up into time periods in which I wanted to cover certain topics. That way, instead of looking at the week as a whole, I could focus on one specific hour which felt much less overwhelming. As each hour went by, I was working towards my goal in a much calmer and more productive fashion.
The veterinary profession can be challenging but it can also be very rewarding. How are you going to break your tasks down today to ensure you are not becoming overwhelmed? Don’t forget the magic words: another page read is another question answered!