Bark back at that big life change


Whether planned or completely unexpected, huge life changes throw huge wrench into your system. So, from one veterinary professional to another, here are my top three tips for getting through it better and stronger than before.

No matter how small you feel in the face of change, you have the power to own it (Photo: are a couple ways to think about dealing with starting over.

There is, of course, the daily restart you get when you wake up in the morning and commit to having an open mind for a new day. This kind of change is subtle and simple and consists of intentions to live healthier and be in better balance, maybe be a better parent or spouse, and definitely be a better veterinary professional.

Then there are the big, dramatic life changes.

You get divorced: change.

You get sick or have a life-altering accident: change.

You lose your job: change.

That last one is what happened to me.

Last spring, my boss told me that the hospital had grown enough that they needed more doctor hours from me. If I couldn't provide those hours, they'd need to eliminate my part-time position in lieu of a full-time veterinarian. I had worked part time for three years, all while building a side career of writing and speaking, and the time had come to fish or cut bait. I had to choose between continuing to pursue my scary, pie-in-the-sky dream of being a veterinarian writer and speaker, or I had to choose to slither up into the snail shell of financial security and go back to full-time private practice, something I was loathe to do.

Full of fear, I said no to the full-time position and left the clinic. It was a big leap for me. Like many of you, I'm the primary wage earner in my family and there are a lot of people depending on me. Fortunately, I did eventually find another position that fit my needs. But I spent the first few months feeling completely freaked out, wondering what the f*$% I had done.

I must be crazy, I thought. Nobody does this. I'm insane. I'm going to fail. My children will end up on the street, and it will be all my fault, all because I wanted to pursue my dream.

Fast forward six months, and I have more opportunities than I'd ever dreamed I would have. And, of course, none of it would have been possible if I hadn't taken that initial, terrifying first step. Now, when I look back I think, What was I so afraid of?

If you're experiencing a big life change-either deliberately chosen by you or seemingly foisted upon you-then this article is for you. Here are my best tips on how to successfully navigate a life change. So brace yourself, because:

Tip No. 1: It will be scary

A big life change always involves fear, doubt, worry and heaps of uncertainty. You will be afraid. Remember that so when fear happens, you can point at it and say, “Aha! I knew you'd come! I've been expecting you!”

Rename that fear-whatever it is-and call it “exciting” instead of “scary.”

After all, it is “exciting" to encounter situations that stimulate growth. Remember that life happens outside your comfort zone. (Hey. Stop making that face at me. I know you want to call it scary, but don't. Choose “exciting,” instead. I promise it will make a difference.)

Tip No. 2: You won't know what the hell you're doing

When you're starting out on a new path, it's normal to only see a few steps ahead of where you are. The path is not set in stone-at times it may feel like a moving target. Fortunately, you don't have to know the full journey right now, just the next few steps. Just start heading in the direction you want to go. If it feels right, keep going, even if you're unsure where you'll end up.

Accepting that I didn't know what the hell what I was doing was really hard for me. Historically, I've been a “destination” person, not a “journey” person. I wanted to know where I was going, when I would get there and what it would look like once I arrived. When change hit, I had to let that all go.

What I learned was this: Just because you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't mean it's not there-just remember, it may look nothing like what you expected.

Tip No. 3: The struggle is real-embrace it

My girl Kelly Clarkson said it best: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Just like a new workout program, change hurts the most and is the hardest when you first face it. Just keep going. Even if you don't have confidence in what you're doing or going through, you can still choose to embrace the journey with joy and gratitude. Believe in yourself, don't worry about the future, and don't spend energy regretting the past. You'll need all your energy in the present to intentionally get through this change. While the problems and struggles of change may seem overwhelming at times, they don't have to be your identity. Life may get you down, but it doesn't have to define you.

A word to the wise: If you're really struggling, take time to refuel. Play with your dog. Take a walk. Meditate. Share with a loved one. Do whatever you can to handle the change with less stress and more ease.

There will be hardship and there will be awkward and difficult moments. But if you remember these tips and take care of-and believe in-yourself you'll have a much easier time than if you're exhausted, filled with doubt and worry, and hating every step of the way. (As a resistant, recovering worrier, I know this to be true.)

You never know what inner strength is lying dormant inside you. It helps to remember that life's most challenging moments or big changes can be a catalyst for greatness, if we allow them to be. Keep joy and appreciation as your constant companions, and use change to become your best self yet. I'll be standing on the sidelines, cheering you on.

Dr. Sarah Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, scuba, and participating in triathlons.

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