Have your cake and eat it too


You can balance a career with a personal life-but you've got to embrace change. Here's the one thing you need to know about having it all.

Remember that movie a few years back, city slickers? one of the lead characters, Curly, kept saying: "The secret to life is just one thing." It was a recurring theme throughout the movie. And it was one of those lines you kept thinking about, wondering what the answer could be.

Dr. James E. Guenther, MBA, CVPM

During each scene more pieces to the puzzle were given and you felt you had the answer—until the wily screenwriter threw a change-up pitch that gave you doubts. Sounds a bit like reality. But the secret to life really is "just one thing." Do you know what it is?

The ebb and flow of life

Let's go back to your good old days in veterinary school. This was your birth as a veterinarian. In life you're shaped by the actions and reactions around you. As a neophyte student you learned to talk the language of veterinarians. You learned procedures by watching and then by doing.

Maybe you doubted yourself and your abilities or became territorial in some aspects of your approach to medicine. You might have felt peer pressure. Do you think you learned the one thing you needed to know?

As your skills and knowledge improved over the next four years you also developed a new trait: self-doubt. This trait can sometimes drive people to compensate by doing more to prove they are worthy of the degree of doctor of veterinary medicine. The mindset is to prove you can do it all by being all things to all people all of the time. Was this commitment to do it all the one thing you needed to know?

During these early years you likely met a remarkable person you decided you wanted to be with forrr-everrr. Life was complete. You had your degree, a spouse, maybe a child or two, and a career. You worked a little bit longer to see another patient and felt rewarded by life. The long hours weren't so bad because there was always someone at home to make you feel special. Was this special connection the one thing you needed to know?

As the years passed, more children came—along with more responsibility. By now you were saying, "Oh my goodness, I need to work harder to feed another mouth." The hours were longer and there was less time to go to school plays and dance recitals. You were missing the opportunity to observe those once-in-a-lifetime events, but you said to yourself, "Next year I'll slow down." But you never did. Instead you chose to make your career your life.

Practice ownership became a reality, but someone forgot to tell you that it takes even more time to successfully run your practice—it's easy to slip down this road. Once again, more hours were needed to work on your practice as well as in it. You were home every so often and visited with the spouse and children when you could, but you began to feel some tension. To avoid conflict, you immersed yourself in your work even more, hoping everything would resolve itself. Work was your refuge from life.

So now what?

You finally have it all. You have a degree, and you're a partner in a growing practice, providing high-quality care. You're making money and you have a family. But you don't have a life—you have an addiction. You're a workaholic!

This high-pressure lifestyle is beginning to take a toll on your body. Stress is making you grumpy, angry, depressed, and unhealthy. Your family and clients are worried about you. Your team is wondering whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is going to show up. You feel like the world is imploding and you can't do anything about it. Your life is out of control! This for sure was not the one thing you needed to know.

Well then, what is the one thing you need to know? The answer is, your attitude about what's important in life. It's different for everyone, but this is the common thread that winds its way around all the decisions you make. I'm sure quite a few of you see yourselves in the above scenario and say, "Whoa, I may have goofed up." Others of you vow never to make these mistakes in the future.

What does your attitude have to do with balancing your career and your personal life? Plenty. As an equine veterinarian you're an elite, sophisticated practitioner whom your clients rely on for advice as well as treatment. Because of their feelings about you, you dig a little deeper to spend more effort on them, but you pay a price for this. Your time.

We all want an extra hour or two to get caught up on things, but the reality is we don't have that extra time. You are the only one who can control the balance. You need to decide to be accountable for your time. Make sure you understand the importance of your decisions and commit to change if the balance is not there. Build a strategy to best manage your time. Decide which is more important—family or practice—and then decide how to spend more time on your top priority.

Reality check

I was a practitioner on a mission to save the world until Dec. 23, 1984, when our daughter was born. Now, 22 years later, she's graduating from college with a fine arts degree with honors in musical theater. On that day in 1984, I made a promise that she was going to have a father who would be there for her and would be a big part of her life. It was a 180-degree change from work, work, and work some more, to work and be a part of the life of my family.

It was difficult, but it was well worth the commitment on my part. My clients didn't suffer because I changed the way I did things. My team saw a change in my daily attitude. My stress level decreased, and my attitude about my profession became positive again. It was the total package. That was the one thing I needed to know!

How about you? Can you change to create balance in your career and personal life and have it all? You are the key to this process. You'll need to change your attitude to make it happen. You can do it—if you want to badly enough.

Dr. James E. Guenther, MBA, CVPM, is a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Asheville, N.C. Send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com

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