AVMA virtual convention keynote: Redefining wealth

September 9, 2020

During the opening keynote at the AVMA Virtual Convention last month, a financial expert discussed the true meaning of wealth and the importance of self-care in achieving success.

Known as America’s Money Maven, Patrice Washington encourages people to chase purpose, not money, to achieve wealth. In her keynote address at the AVMA Virtual Convention last month, Washington shared her personal journey to understanding that true wealth means much more than money and material possessions. In fact, she noted, wealth was once defined as “a state of being well.”

“Even the most passionate people have the potential to burn out when they don’t think about themselves,” Washington said. And in a profession facing a well-being and mental health crisis, her words resonated deeply.

A journey to redefine wealth

In 2008, at age 25, Washington owned a seven-figure business. Then the real estate bubble burst. She was 20 weeks pregnant and hospitalized on bedrest as the economy fell and her business began to suffer. She was told by her doctor that the stress of work could cause her to lose her unborn child.

“I had to decide in that moment what was most important to me,” she said, “and I made the decision to surrender.” For Washington, however, surrendering did not mean giving up. It meant letting go of the things she could not control and focusing on her health and the health of her unborn child.

In the immediate aftermath of the recession, she struggled financially while raising an infant. By 2009, she was living on her brother’s couch. Today she is an award-winning author, speaker, and media personality. Washington got through those tough times and built the career she has today by prioritizing self-care.

“You invited me here today so that we can…dig a little deeper…so you could put yourself first and not succumb to this idea that you have to be relentlessly stressing and striving and going through so much strife,” Washington said. The veterinary profession is filled with passionate people, but even doing work we are passionate about can lead us to work to our own detriment if we are not careful, she said. We must pay attention to key areas of our life, which Washington calls the 6 pillars of wealth: fit, faith, space, work, money, and people. She discussed 3 of those pillars.

The fit pillar

The first pillar Washington discusses was the fit pillar, which focuses on becoming your best self. This goes beyond the education, titles, and achievements you have worked so hard to obtain. “If you have a vision [for your life], it is your responsibility and your duty to protect the only vessel you will get to execute that vision,” she said.

Self-care practices are the foundation of the fit pillar. That looks different to everyone, Washington said, so we must find what will help us recover and renew ourselves.

Veterinary professionals encourage clients to invest in preventive care and have treatment plans for their pets. Washington asked: “How many of you dish out that information but then don’t take it personally for yourself?” Are we taking the time to invest in our own health the way we want our clients to invest in the health of their pets?

While physical health is important, Washington said, self-care encompasses much more. We must care for ourselves by taking time to rest. Many of us got where we are by working hard and constantly pushing toward the next goal, which means we never really took time to learn how to rest and assess how we feel in the moment. Washington says we must take care to not put ourselves below everything on our to-do list.

“I’m here today to remind you to move yourself back up to the top of that list,” she said, “because without you, none of these other things are possible. Without you being at your best, the very thing you say you are so passionate about can become a burden.”

Washington encouraged attendees to think of self-care as a continuous learning process. She considers herself to be in recovery from an achievement addiction. In a profession where we were pushed to excel for so many years, make the grades, and gather the experiences just to make it into vet school, many of us have likely experienced this same addiction, and recovery is an ongoing process. As our careers and lives move forward, we may abandon the self-care skills we developed and need to take time to remind ourselves how important they are.

The final component of self-care is mental fitness. Because past experiences and traumas can limit our future potential, Washington encouraged attendees to enlist the help of a therapist to work through these events. A guest on Washington’s podcast once shared the words of a mentor, “Your business, your career, will only grow to the extent that you are willing to heal.” She encouraged us to take the time to acknowledge where we need healing and work on these areas so that we can succeed and build wealth in a healthy way by building our fit pillar.

The people pillar

The people pillar is built on creating relationships that matter both personally and professionally. To achieve this, we must master the skills of being present and setting boundaries.

When we look at personal relationships, it is not enough for us to be physically present with those we love and care about. “I was so guilty of confusing being present in the space physically with my daughter, with being present, which meant actually listening to her,” Washington said. She knows that when you are passionate about your work, it is easy to be focused on it even when you are with your family. We must learn to be intentional with our presence and focus on our loved ones when we are with them.

Parents often talk about feeling guilty about work or travel because they are not spending time with their kids, but they also feel guilty at home because they are not at work. Washington found that once she realized her power to set her own schedule and boundaries, she was better able to honor the relationships that mattered most. She was also able to be more present at work because she no longer felt guilty about the time she spent away from her family.

Washington challenged us to set up very focused, deliberate family time and see how our perceptions of work and home shift. She stressed that family time does not just apply if you are a parent; it can apply to anyone important in your life—parents, siblings, partner, even friends. By setting boundaries, we can build and maintain these important personal relationships and approach our work with joy and confidence.

The skills to improve our personal relationships can also be used in our professional lives. Many businesses become so focused on attracting new clients and growing that they end up neglecting their existing clientele. She stressed the importance of deepening the relationship with existing clients and putting systems in place to serve them better.

The space pillar

This pillar is about setting your life up to support you. We’ve all heard the phrase “time is money,” and that is true for many people. This led Washington to ask a pointed question: “How many of you waste time every day?” She shared that the average person spends about 76 hours every year looking for things they own but cannot find. By keeping our space clear, we can focus on the things that matter to us. Washington invited participants to find an area of physical clutter in their life and clean it up. “Clutter is the physical manifestation of chaos in your mind,” she said. By taking simple steps and clearing clutter, you are more likely to find clarity and shift the way you are thinking about the things that cause stress.

Chase purpose, not money

While Washington is not a veterinarian, the lessons she shared can be applied to create a successful life in the profession. She challenged us to develop these 3 pillars for ourselves. Washington knows that veterinary professionals are passionate, purpose-driven individuals. Her final piece of advice: “You’ve got to take care of yourself, your relationships, and your space so that you can do the work you were called to do.”

Dr. Kate Boatright, a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is an associate veterinarian and freelance speaker and author in western Pennsylvania. She is actively involved in organized veterinary medicine at the local, state and national levels and is a former national officer of the Veterinary Business Management Association.

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