Theres no such thing as work-life balance

December 14, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Whether its interval training or a search for fun, Fetch dvm360 keynote speakers Drs. Sue Ettinger and Mary Gardner have tips for building your beautiful, imperfect veterinary life.

Drs. Mary Gardner (left) and Sue Ettinger shared tips for finding joy and purpose in the midst of the chaos of a veterinary life.

“The thing we have in common,” says Mary Gardner, DVM, about herself and co-speaker Sue Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM (oncology), “is that we have a very imbalanced balance in life.”

Bring fun into your day

Before Drs. Sue Ettinger and Mary Gardner started their talk, Betsy Charles, DVM, MA, executive director of the Veterinary Leadership Institute, talked to Fetch dvm360 attendees about the unique education at the conference: “It's not just CE. Yes, there is a high level of medical education, but we also believe that can be fun and engaging.”

Then she told the more than 650 people to take out their phones, pick a photo “that brings you joy” and share it with a neighbor. The crowd came to life in conversations all over the room. Less than a minute later, Dr. Charles took to the mic again.

“The energy went up,” she said. “Did you feel that? Because you got your brain in a positive state of mind, I know you will be a more effective learner. You will be significantly more likely to retain and then apply all the information you will get here.”

Steal Dr. Charles' “brain break” idea at your own veterinary team meeting or to reset during a rough day in the hospital. And join us at the next Fetch dvm360 conference to see this unique adult learning strategy in action.

It was a transparent opening to their keynote presentation at a Fetch dvm360 conference, “Under pressure: Surviving work-life IMbalance”

The two veterinarians shared, first, the details of their busy lives-for Dr. Ettinger, long hours in veterinary oncology, constant social media activity as Dr. Sue Cancer Vet, speaking engagements, and dogs and kids. Dr. Gardner works crazy hours as a speaker, writer, co-founder of Lap of Love, and now co-owner of an aquamation crematory in Florida.

First of all, let's be clear-all this work brings them joy.

“I have very stressful days,” Dr. Ettinger said, “but [these pets] are why I love going to work.”

Dr. Gardner, who wrestles with periodic migraines and back pain, pushes back against folks who tell her to work less: “I get told every single day I work too much. My biggest tip when people ask how they can help? ‘Don't tell me I work too much.'”

Like many other veterinary practitioners, attendees were in the audience to find out what a better way might look like. While the elusive “balance” is difficult to find, the duo did share their hacks and tips for maximizing joy in the chaos.

Dr. Ettinger's 80/20 (exercise) rule

No, exercise doesn't fix all your problems, although Dr. Ettinger does recommend it (she works out six to seven days a week as a “hobby”). Rather, her favorite running expert Tommy Rivers Puzey has inspired her to apply the 80/20 running rule to veterinary life.

This means you don't want every day to be a moderate- or high-intensity day. Instead you want 80% moderate-to-low-intensity days punctuated by 20% that claim all-out effort.

“That's how Tommy says runners improve their performance,” Dr. Ettinger says. “Instead, we push ourselves too much; we train too hard. And if we burn out, we injure ourselves. Don't punish yourself day after day.”

On certain days-those high-intensity days-you give it all your motivation and focus, and you train to “get comfortable with the discomfort,” she says. These are the difficult, grueling hours or days or weeks, the high-intensity intervals, and you balance it out with time for recovery. Maybe you only have time for a 15-minute break in the car, or you build rest time into your weekend. The important thing is to ease up so you can make “slow, steady, consistent progress,” Dr. Ettinger says.

Dr. Gardner's F.G.C.

When people talk about so-called work-life balance, Dr. Gardner always wonders, “What are we balancing? Fun? Money? Purpose? If it's time, well, the amount of time I spend at work is something I love.” Hear more from Dr. Gardner in this video:

Dr. Gardner says she makes sure she has fun, growth and compassion in her all aspects of her life.

1. Fun: Enjoy how you spend your time. “I picked my first general practice [to work in] because I knew every single day I'd be working with fun people,” she says. You know fun when you see it and feel it.

Sometimes “fun” means “mind candy that makes my mind just melt,” says Dr. Gardner-for her, that's Bravo TV.

2. Growth: Find purpose and challenge yourself. Growth can be a little harder to pin down, but Dr. Gardner says you need purpose in your work, and that means thinking about your own values and judging everything in your life against it: “Is it worth your time to do these things?”

Sometimes that means you pay a little money for a maid service or food delivery to get time back for the things you love, and sometimes that means drastically rethinking your life-as she did when she turned from software development to veterinary medicine as a career.

3. Compassion: You deserve kindness. Last but not least, Dr. Gardner says you need a little help (and compassion) from your friends: “Surround yourself with good people who get it and don't dwell in the negativity.”

When a friend's not around, turn to your scrapbook or folder of nice comments, cards or notes you've received.

If how you're spending time isn't ever fun, doesn't match your values and finds you working with people who bring you down, Dr. Gardner says, “If you don't love it, get out. The option is staying and trying to be happy. But if you can't be happy there, get out.”

If you need the help of a mentor, a coach or a therapist to help you out, don't hesitate, both speakers emphasize. There's no shame in asking for some backup to get through these moments of self-reflection and change.