5 Reasons Why You Should Know Your ‘Why’
Your original purpose can guide and strengthen your veterinary career
Veterinarians or soon-to-be veterinarians can easily become goal-oriented and hyper-focused—after all, we are rewarded for such behavior in veterinary school and in life, as we move from one milestone, appointment, procedure, or task to the next. But, this narrow focus may feel like positive momentum, when in reality many veterinarians lose their perspective, which can affect their job satisfaction and lead to burnout.
When veterinarians share their struggles, I ask them to remember why they chose a life in veterinary medicine. They will spend a moment recollecting—sometimes they are confused by the question—and then something amazing happens. Their rich memories and emotions come to the surface, clear and detailed as if they had happened yesterday.
Layering that “why” over their current circumstances gives struggling veterinarians renewed perspective on their work, purpose, and place in the world. Here are five reasons why knowing your “why” can strengthen—and potentially save—your veterinary career.
#1: Your ‘why’ motivates you during challenging times
When your professional actions have a well-defined purpose, you can more easily dig in your heels and persevere in difficult times. This is critical during your early career, when you are faced with a steep learning curve, but you lack the veterinary school support system. Use your “why” to stay focused, energized, and progressing toward your goals.
#2: Your ‘why’ connects you to your work
We all know how much we like being cared for by someone—whether a healthcare professional or a restaurant waiter—who is passionate about what they do. Consciously or not, these individuals understand their “why,” which they live through their intentions, actions, and words.
Knowing your “why” influences your work on a deeper level, and you deliver the high-quality care and service, no matter how you define them, that you envisioned. Your dedication, compassion, and determination will be obvious to your patients, clients, and colleagues.
#3: Your ‘why’ helps you measure your growth
Veterinary school provides built-in systems for measuring progress and success, but after graduation, how do you know that you’re still on track toward your goal or vision?
You reflect on your “why.” Think back to when you began your veterinary journey. What would your younger self think about where you are today? What encouragement would they give? Would they marvel at how you have gone from volunteering at an animal shelter or shadowing the family veterinarian to donning your own white coat and stethoscope?
Take a moment and take pride in how your “why” helped you get where you are today. Keep it front and center and it will carry you the rest of the way.
#4: Your ‘why’ helps you stay focused
I always knew that living out my veterinary “why” meant being a general practice veterinarian, but despite my certainty, outsiders met me with a fair amount of opposition and confusion. In their eyes, becoming an outstanding general practitioner was a waste of my talents and abilities.
If I hadn’t clung to my “why”—which you can find in my origin story article—I may have allowed someone else’s vision to supersede my own, left my path, and likely be frustrated or resentful.
Your “why” will be your own, unlike any other, and may not be what others want for you. But, that’s OK! By clearly defining and understanding your “why,” you will avoid common professional pitfalls and distractions, such as living for others, or making inappropriate career decisions that could detour or derail your unique journey, and keep you from its intrinsic rewards.
#5: Your ‘why’ may change
Your “why” at the beginning of your veterinary journey will likely evolve with time and experience. And that’s OK. “Whys” aren’t fixed but fluid, and can shift and grow with your life and career. However, it’s fascinating to note that despite this evolution, “whys” often maintain their original theme. For example, my professional “why” has always centered around connecting with people, but has evolved from its original form (i.e., connecting with clients through their pets) to its present iteration (e.g., connecting with my colleagues through Ready, Vet, Go).
Periodically reviewing your “why” can help you appreciate any changes in your ambitions or your definition of success. Occasionally revisiting your “why,” which can renew your passion for veterinary medicine and help you avoid stagnation or burnout, is equally important. I recommend creating an annual tradition by selecting a memorable date (e.g., veterinary school graduation, your first day as a practicing veterinarian) to reflect on or modify your “why.”
What’s your ‘why?’
If you’ve never intentionally defined your “why,” journaling or drawing can help you organize your memories and emotions to a succinct, actionable statement. Some of you will be able to immediately distill your “why” in a single sentence, but if you initially need a paragraph or page to pinpoint your purpose, that’s OK. Then, once you have honed your “why,” display your own words for easy viewing when you need to renew your motivation, reorient your efforts, or get some much-needed perspective on this wild and wonderful veterinary life.
Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship is a one-of-a-kind learning experience for new and early career veterinary graduates. Unlike technical mentorships, Ready, Vet, Go focuses on equipping veterinarians with the essential soft skills (e.g., time management, client communication, personal wellbeing, financial wellness) to build and enjoy long, healthy, and rewarding careers.
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