For those of who know me, know I am obsessed with the 10,000 hour rule. A theory I learned about from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. To simplify: it states humans require 10,000 hours of exposure or practice to become proficient at anything…proficient meaning within the middle of the bell curve, or in middle school terms; a C average.. Those who know me also know I am fascinated by the far right of the bell curve…the top 2%: The “Outliers”: the Beatles, the Bill Gates, the Phil Jackson...the beyond expert level dots on the graph.
I was not always a super hero vet. In my former life (IE my twenties) I was in entertainment management. Now when I say that, it has no real meaning for most people…but most assume I was an actress, a singer, or a rock star. Far from true. I managed logistics and people for entertainment ventures like plays, Broadway style musicals, operas, Shakespeare shows, rock and roll, country music etc. I worked “behind the scenes”. The job sounds really romantic and fabulous…it was a fun job…but not glamorous or exciting as it sounds. But it was my training grounds. It was the location of my first 10,000 hours.
What I know for sure: I know that it takes 10,000 hours for any of us to begin to become really good at anything…and that When God giveth he can also taketh away. I have had the pleasure of working with some truly gifted and talented artists, directors, producers, and musicians over the years. I have seen firsthand, how when you are truly gifted at one area of your life, there is a good chance you truly struggle in another. For example some of the amazing people I worked with lacked completely in social skills, or self-management, or discipline, or impulse control. They would be defined in my current language as, “Difficult or Challenging Clients”. They were demanding, judgmental, entitled, and emotionally overcharged. This is where I became an outlier when it comes to working with hard clients, or tough coworkers.
I was working a music show for a big name…big venue holding 10,000 ticket buying fans one night when in the middle of the first song the star left the stage and locked themselves in the dressing room. They went on to tell me how disrespectful the audience was and how they were not going to perform. Meanwhile on the cell phone: the producer and the sponsors are advising me I work for them, as does the star, and the star has already been paid for the performance and I had better find a way to get them back to playing nice, and they had better put on a show worthy of the ticket price. No problem, right?
The problem with the audience? Well the bathroom entrances and hallways had been covered with hanging black curtains, that billowed when someone walked through, thus letting the fluorescent light shine into the auditorium. “How dare a human use the restroom during a show…how dare they not realize how important I am”. ….Right….I see how you’re feeling says my mouth as I struggle not to slap someone. Moments later my assistant comes running up to me. “ I quit” he says…The star threw the entire glass vase of 24 long stem roses at him and it hit the wall right next to his head…that kid was done. And I gotta say I can’t blame him…we were on an irrational and emotional nonsense ride.
The end of the story is as non glamorous as any other: After letting the star talk and vent and letting them know I understood and I had compassion and empathy…and redirecting them to remember their priorities, commitments and reputation…off to the stage they went. We blamed it on “technical difficulties” (my all-time favorite excuse). To date I don’t think the audience was upset at all…or even realized drama was unfolding. I was exhausted but proud of myself. I demonstrated my communication skills are pliable, fluid, and solid. I had learned how not to give someone else my sanity, or permission to ruin my mental state.
When people find out I am a 2nd career vet they always ask what my first career was…and then launch backward in shock as they truly think one has nothing to do with the other. But I attest…they are similar in some ways. I am a companion animal DVM…I work primarily with people and their “family pets”. These pets are precious to them. Which means in reality I work with “challenging clients”… a lot. As a matter of fact in my practice we have a saying: “This is a Whiting client”. It doesn’t mean I have a relationship with them, it means others find it hard to communicate with them and therefore I’m the pinch hitter, and I’m up. Usually I do rather well with them, and I come out feeling OK…not angry, not disrespected, not frustrated.
I attribute that to my training. I have learned how to communicate with the overly emotional, the irrational, and the emotional terrorists if you will: With the frightened, the insecure, the misunderstood. I have spent countless hours not only practicing my communication in these situations, but also my internal reaction to it. I have trained my brain not to attribute these struggles to myself. Not to see it has an opportunity to let my imposter syndrome take hold. These events are not about me being an inadequate vet, or person …they are about a client in crisis. They do not reflect on me in any way unless I let them. I have learned not to give these emotional terrorists permission to influence my self-worth or my happiness. I have learned not to judge others for their emotions under stress.
I am now just passed 6 years or so in practice full time: I have just crossed my 10,000 hours in practice, and sure enough I am feeling more and more like a functional, and even good doctor. I have a ways to go…but I am wondering if we all could benefit from 10,000 hours in personal wellness and appreciation?
Abby Whiting, DVM
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.