How to manage the struggle of making life manageable

February 6, 2019
Alane Cahalane, BSc, DVM, MA, DACVS

Dr. Alane Cahalane is a board-certified surgeon and CEO and co-founder of Veterinary Specialty Hospital of Hong Kong. She has advanced animal health care in Asia and beyondinspiring veterinarians, pet owners and animal activists to share their stories about the power of the human-animal bond. See her TEDx Talk here.

Featured speaker for upcoming Fetch dvm360 Baltimore, Alane Cahalane, shares advice on taking chances, chasing joy and learning from others.

Take chances

I was practicing as an environmental engineer when I made the decision to go to vet school, and I knew pretty early on that I wanted to specialize. I wouldn't be me if I hadn't made that decision.

But the single most important career decision I made was moving to Hong Kong. That's not to say that I think every veterinarian in America needs to move to Asia, but everyone should take chances. It's a total cliché, but we only have one life, and some opportunities only whisper in our ear once. If you take a chance, choose the path less traveled. It might be scary sometimes, but I think it's much more common to regret missed opportunities than to regret those we have embarked on. I moved to Hong Kong and, with great partners, started my own specialty hospital. Believe me, it gets stressful. But I feel fortunate to be doing what I love in one of the most awesome cities in the world.

Accept imperfection

Making life manageable is a constant challenge I struggle with. I grow tired of people telling me I should “make time for myself,” because even that feels like a chore sometimes! I'm learning to accept that perfection is an impossibility. A good friend of mine uses the term “recovering perfectionist,” and I think that's a perfect way to phrase it. I try to focus on prioritizing tasks when I know I can't get all of them done. Also, learn to say no.    

Listen and learn

I've been influenced by so many people throughout my life-teachers, mentors, parents, best friends, my partner, my children, my nursing teams and staff, and so many more. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by loads of love and support. I think it's very important, both professionally and personally, to surround yourself with people who complement your skill set or fill in the gaps in your knowledge. You might not be a great surgeon, a great parent, a great business owner, a great partner and a great friend all at once, but you'll have a better chance of success if you listen to experts in other fields.

Learn to cook from your in-laws. Learn to parent by listening to other parents whom you trust. Learn to operate from your mentors and colleagues. Learn compassion from your best clients. Meet with a business coach or a physical trainer and soak in their expertise. The most important people I've met are the team of people I'm working with at the time!

Chase happiness

I sometimes worry that in “doing it all,” and aiming for success, I forget about joy. But first, I figure out what brings me joy. Never miss an opportunity to experience those things that make you truly happy.

Volunteer to work with bears or share your knowledge and skill with an enthusiastic audience. Go out in the evening just to watch the bats have dinner. Sing. Take that trip to Italy. That glass of wine or bag of Doritos might make you happy (and yes, they make me happy too), but true joy comes from the things that feel like magic.

‘Dr. Cahalane, what's something most people don't know about you?'

I'm a diehard sports fan. I love the strategy, the analysis and competition of sports. Many aspects of life are analogous to sports in some way. Maybe if I hadn't become a veterinarian, I'd have been an analyst for the NFL!

Dr. Alane Cahalane is a board-certified surgeon and CEO and co-founder of Veterinary Specialty Hospital of Hong Kong. She has advanced animal health care in Asia and beyond-inspiring veterinarians, pet owners and animal activists to share their stories about the power of the human-animal bond. See her TEDx Talk here.