Abby Whiting, DVM: VLE Epsilon class
I imagine when you’re asked what the best piece of advice you have ever received is…the answer is strikingly different for each of us. For me it instantly transports me back in time to my VLE experience.
The advice I will never forget, that which has changed my life, my outlook, my mission….came from Dr. Rick DeBowes of Washington State university. Dr. DeBowes is a self proclaimed “equine plumber” (aka a brilliant surgeon) but he is also a philosopher, a teacher, a mentor, a coach, and a servant leader.
I was a second year veterinary student, and a second career student at that. To say that I didn’t exactly fit into the class would be an understatement. I was older, I had previously had a career, and I was as far on the introverted scale as the Meyers Briggs is capable of. But: I loved vet medicine and I had a burning in my soul for a greater purpose. At the time I had no idea what Servant Leadership was, or that it would completely re architect my journey.
I was one of 2 vet students at MU chosen to attend VLE Epsilon class. It was held in Idaho at a gorgeous retreat. Like I said before...I was an outcast…a stage 5 introvert who did not belong with the others in the VLE class. I travelled to Idaho with a serious case of the “what am I doing here?” in my head. Upon arrival I hid in my room as most truly gifted introverts do. The next Am I would have to face them: the brilliant, young, social, got their lives figured out superstars I was to be in retreat with…sigh…
I forced a smile and walked myself into the breakfast area, tried to say hello and polished my strongest mask of “I belong here”…but I was terrified. We loaded onto buses for the journey to camp…and I was glad to sit quietly and watch the gorgeous scenery pass. The buss came to a stop and folks disembarked…and then it happened.
I stepped off the bus and ran nearly straight into Dr. Rick DeBowes: Picture it if you will: He was standing in 35’F in a t shirt and shorts with the greatest, warmest smile on his face and he bellowed to me “Choose happy!”. In that moment time stopped…it felt like I was slapped in the face by a 2 x 4. It was a watershed moment…something Oprah fans call the “Ah Ha!”. That moment changed me forever. It wrote on the slate of my soul. I am not exactly proud to tell you that at 37 I had not yet realized or even considered that some aspects of happy are a choice, until that moment. I had never comprehended: that baring a mental or emotional illness that prevents us from engaging in joy…happy is overall partially our choice and therefore under our control.
That one statement changed the course of my journey. I am beyond grateful for his message and for the opportunity to be at VLE and begin my journey into servant leadership. I was meant to be there and meant for my heart to be open to the message.
Now I consider my many blessings each day and I practice joy. Collecting joyful moments and learning to be present in them waters down the hardship and strife. It trains our brains to make more positive neuronal connections and to see more joy…it helps us practice HAPPY. Anyone who reads my stuff knows I am a huge believer in the 10,000 hour rule: ie practice makes perfect. And as far as I can see, practicing joy and happy, makes me more happy.
This transition didn’t happen overnight. Certainly not. I spent a long time as a disengaged, angry, and bitter, down trodden introvert. Only after applying self-discipline, practicing my gratitude exercises and slowing down; to be present in the moment, did I start to feel happy. My burn out and Compassion fatigue went into remission.
Even now when I feel myself slipping into compassion or decision fatigue…and trust me it happens. I go back to basics. I stop and name out loud and in writing 3 things I am grateful for. I look around and name 3 things that are beautiful in that moment and I write a thank you / send a care package to a dear friend who I cherish.
Today I am grateful for : 1). This Community of veterinarians who together are stronger than we are alone. 2). I have the goofiest dog in the world. 3). I just got the best gift, a heated winter coat!
In this moment : 1). The crisp cool fall air. 2). The owl screeching outside my window. 3). The service dog napping at my feet are truly beautiful and fill me with little bits of joy.
I challenge all of us to “Choose Happy” a little each day.
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The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.