4 ways to balance life in veterinary practice


Finding the right work and life balance is tricky, and leaning too far either way can lead to a nasty spill.

Whether you're juggling work and studies or struggling to fit in time for family, friends, and hobbies without neglecting your work, maintaining a perfect equilibrium isn't an easy task.

I can't tell you how to put balance into your own life, but I hope by sharing my story—and the stories of other team members who struggle just like you—perhaps you can brainstorm your own solutions to take care of yourself and find the time to do the things you enjoy with the people and pets you love.

A dog's life

For some, working full time, running a household, and keeping up an active social life seems effortless. These people always seem to look good, too. It may be tempting to try to emulate their example, but first ask yourself if theirs is a lifestyle that you could maintain for the long haul. For example, with great effort you could teach a basset hound to run an agility course or train a Jack Russell terrier to lay around the house all day, making himself busy getting into no trouble whatsoever. But do you really think either dog could maintain these activities without going completely bonkers?

Don't try to be an agile basset hound. Find a solution to your life-balance issues that suits you as well as a chewed-up pair of slippers suits a Jack Russell terrier.

It seems that most people have life-balance issues that they either manage or they struggle to manage. However, I've noticed that the people who don't seem to ever struggle often appear to live lives that are out of kilter. That is to say, they spend a disproportionate amount of time doing one thing and one thing only. If you're trying to figure out a way to do everything—and do it well—there's good news and bad news. And then some more good news.

The good news? If you've realized that you're not at your happiest or best when you spend too much time at work or too little time with grown-ups, then you're on the right track. The bad news? No two experts agree on how to balance your work and your life. The other good news? No two people are exactly alike. So it makes sense that there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this puzzle. The answer to finding balance lies within each person.

Your experience might be similar to mine or it might be completely different. In the next pages you'll see other examples of team members' experiences and their challenges as they try to find their own work-life balance. Perhaps you're a single mother or a son caring for aging parents. Maybe you're deeply committed to a charitable organization in your community, pursuing a degree, running a business, or donating your personal time to a no-kill animal shelter. Whatever your experience, remember that making time for a healthier "you" will help you offer more to the career, people, and causes you love.

My so-called mid-life

I began my life as a stay-at-home mom shortly before baby No. 2 came along. And shortly after baby No. 2 came life-balance issue No. 1: Not doing enough outside of the home. I realized that I wanted—no, I needed—to spend more time with people who didn't consider Elmo a close friend.

I accepted a part-time job working for an animal hospital that specialized in exotics near my home. This job seemed perfect. The pay, my co-workers and bosses, and the unique animals were all great. Because I loved everything else about the job so much, it took me weeks to realize that the hours I was working weren't working for my family. As much as I wanted a break from the little ones and domesticity, I missed having dinner with my family because I worked a closing shift or because a sick animal limped, fluttered, or slithered into the office at 10 minutes to 5.

With a heavy heart, I gave notice at the animal clinic and accepted a part-time job teaching high school animal science. I was also able to find a CVT job one day a week that allowed me to get my animal "fix" but didn't require me to work the closing shift or miss any meals with my family.

Life at the new jobs was going so well that I decided I could easily accept another part-time job teaching at a veterinary technician college at night. Even though it seemed that I had a collection of part-time jobs bigger than a Labrador's appetite, I enjoyed teaching adult CVT students. However, I soon realized that I hadn't factored in the time spent commuting or grading papers into the life-balance equation that I had just recently solved. Enter life-balance issue No. 2: taking on too much.

Without realizing it, I had become a basset hound climbing ladders and jumping through hoops. When I spoke with friends and colleagues, I found I wasn't the only one struggling to find a balance. And although everyone had unique problems, the common theme was there simply wasn't enough time in a day to do everything they wanted or needed to do. Although I finally found a good routine and think I've won the life balance battle, I still struggle weekly (OK, daily). Here are a few things that I've found helpful in my battle of the balance.

1. Learn your limits

Though there are times that we're forced to burn the candle at both ends, be realistic about your current schedule. Don't continue to do what you can't maintain indefinitely.

You would never expect your Australian shepherd to help you train for a marathon, mile after mile, without a break for rest and water. You wouldn't expect that of your dog because it's not fair and it's not healthy to demand that kind of effort. So why would you do it to yourself? Ask yourself, "Am I doing too much?" And answer honestly. If the answer is yes, it's time to think about what you want your priorities to be.

However, some of us by chance or by choice may have responsibilities that require us to do what is necessary—and not necessarily fun or relaxing—with our time, either at work or outside of it. After clocking out at work, the responsibilities at home for a single parent, a parent to a mentally or emotionally challenged child, or an adult caring for an elderly parent, for example, can be exhausting. If this is the case for you, know that you are not alone. There's a good chance that there is a local support group or volunteer caregivers who might be able to help you.

2. Set your priorities

Do you want to go out with your partner or spouse, take the dog on walks, or go to the park with your kids more often? Do you want to pursue your education further or train for your first 10k? Think about what was important to you in the past that you may have lost sight of. Ask yourself if that is still important to you today. And if not, what is? Now decide on what you need to change and start with a small, simple goal.

3. Take time for yourself

Make an appointment to do something for yourself each week. It might be simple, like treating yourself to a pedicure or an afternoon movie with a friend. No matter what guilty pleasure you choose, tell yourself that this is non-negotiable, a necessity of sorts. And like other necessities that maintain your health, like brushing your teeth, don't forget to do them because your health (mental health, perhaps) is relying on it!

4. Stop and smell the roses

Or trim them or even stomp them to the ground if that's what makes you happy. The point is, find an activity you like to do either alone or with a friend (furry or otherwise).

The right solution for me took some tried and failed attempts, but I think I may have gotten the right mix of kids, work, and fun just about right. And I have no doubt that I will do something sometime soon to mess all of it up again. However, now I know I have the power to create a more balanced life that I can maintain. Now if I could just find enough time this week to do it .

Susan Logan, BS, CVT, splits her time among her family, Del Lago Veterinary Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., and AAEC High School and Apollo College, where she is a veterinary science instructor. Share your thoughts about this article and your own work-life balance story at dvm360.com/community.

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