The myth of self-care

February 1, 2019
Dani McVety, DVM
Dani McVety, DVM

Dr. Dani McVety is owner of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia in Lutz, Florida.

When I found myself in a discouraging work environment, I didnt turn to self-care for solutions, instead I decided to start giving to others.

At my undergrad restaurant job, I was so discouraged by the negative attitudes of my coworkers that I decided to write notes of encouragement to each of them. (taa22/stock.adobe.com)

The idea of self-care has been on my mind for quite some time. Conversations about happiness and satisfaction have permeated our profession in the past few years, no doubt in a good-hearted effort to curb the extremely unfortunate number of dissatisfied veterinarians.

I don't know about you, but to me, it feels like we've missed the mark when it comes to actually doing something about it. I mean, really doing something about it. There are articles, lectures and webinars about how to control your emotions, how to set boundaries and how to not care about what others think about you. Those are all wonderful and useful tools, but there is something huge missing from this idea of self-care, and it has nothing to do with massages or pedicures. It's all about giving.

When I was an undergrad, I worked for over a year at a restaurant. If you've ever worked in the service industry, you know that although many workers put on a happy face for the customers, they aren't always happy behind closed doors. They live paycheck to paycheck or, more appropriately, tips to tips.

One day, I was so discouraged by the level of negativity that instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it. Over the course of a week, and without anyone knowing (they still don't know it was me), I anonymously wrote personalized cards to everyone in the restaurant. I would place the cards in random places and glowed inside as I watched my co-workers pick them up. I had written very simply words of gratitude for their smiles, the way they treated customers and encouragement to keep going.

It wasn't hard to do, but the results were astounding. Attitudes shifted, everyone seemed so much more willing to help each other and there was an excitement that seemed palpable. I loved going to work during those weeks, anticipating my co-workers finding their cards and beaming with pride. And, yes, I made sure to give one to myself so no one would think it was me.

The lesson I learned at that restaurant was that giving to others, regardless of how much you have or don't have, is the only way to truly be happy. Study after study shows that money, fame and even professional success are almost completely uncorrelated to happiness. What is? Giving back. Whether it's a veterinary bill we take care of with our Angel Fund, a pet slated for euthanasia that we rehome or giving our employees their birthday off from work, those things have always brought me more joy than any financial check I'll ever receive.

So, I urge you: If you're feeling the need for self-care, fulfillment or happiness in general, consider giving. Give anything. Give your time to a pre-veterinary student wanting some extra advice. Give some focused time to your spouse. Give uninterrupted moments to your kids. Give old clothes to your local Salvation Army or a $10 Subway gift certificate to a homeless person. Just give, and I promise your heart will be filled.