7 Myths and 10 Steps to Consider when Making a Career Change
“Trust the Wait. Embrace the Uncertainty. Enjoy the Beauty of Becoming. When Nothing is Certain, Anything is Possible. ”
— MANDY HALE
Being a veterinarian isn’t just about playing with kittens, but when your hospital is always fostering kittens, you have a reason to smile!
I sneak pass the kids that still share my bed and downstairs to feed the dogs and begin the morning of getting ready. My white coat is ironed and my stethoscope is ready to go. I double check everything twice. The trunk of my car has all my notes from my favorite CEs, and I will also admit some of my favorite medicine lectures from vet school (yes, these notes are over 8 years old!). My little cheat sheet of drugs is even ready to go too.
I pull into the parking lot and give myself a few minutes of meditating and setting my intention for the day. “I’m a great veterinarian that provides love and compassion to my animal patients and my clients. I come fully focused to do my best.”
I walk into the hospital and start my first 10 hour clinical vet shift in 9 months.
That was three months ago. Three months back into clinical practice that will help me to supplement my income as I build up my coaching business. Three months of playing with kittens, taking care of wonderful patients, saving lives, and having compassion during difficult conversations with clients. This time even with 9 months out of the hospital setting, I’m even more confident and assured of my abilities.
But it wasn’t always that way. The first time I left practice was only after practicing for 2 ½ years. I was burned out, jaded, disappointed in management, and felt like I wasn’t meant to be a practicing doctor.
Leaving clinical medicine and coming back to it now twice has been the most freeing, eye-opening, and grounded experience I have had as a veterinarian and a person on a journey of discovery her TRUE self.
And before I became another veterinary statistic, leaving clinical practice, becoming a veterinary recruiter, saved my life.
Working as a recruiter, I hired 100s of doctors, visited almost 100 hospitals, worked intimately with so many non-veterinarians, and heard, shared, and cried over so many similar stories of veterinary professionals struggling in their career.
You see — as a community and industry that is struggling with burnout, compassion fatigue, moral fatigue, high debt ratio, long work hours, and suicide, I have had the privilege of gaining a bird’s eye view and taking inventory of what is and isn’t working within the veterinary industry.
For me, those first 2 ½ years of practice were the most isolating years of my life. And that isolation was harmful. And that broader view of the profession is what allowed me to heal from the emotional damage I experienced those first 2 ½ years, find the exact mentors I needed for clinical practice success, and confirm what I struggled to believe, which was “I am a great doctor.”
We as a veterinary profession as well as a society have come along way in the past 8 ½ years since I graduated. However, in terms of creating sustainable work-life careers that include influential and inspiring leaders and employees that have the emotional maturation and resiliency to handle their hard work, we are only just beginning.
Throughout this blog I will be writing about how to better handle our work situations. I will also be writing about how when leaders prioritize their own personal and professional development and learn to take care of their people first, their organization and company will thrive. That essentially, covers many areas of my coaching programs.
But today, I am going to discuss a controversial solution to the problem plaguing so many fields suffering from burnout, moral fatigue, and compassion fatigue.
TAKE A BREAK FROM YOUR CAREER. CUT YOUR HOURS. START A SIDE HUSTLE.
If you’ve been dreading going to work in the morning for months, or you are working and working all the time, then come home so drained that you have lost touch with all the other hobbies that used to make you whole…then keep reading.
Today, I’m going to share the top 7 myths and 10 steps I’ve uncovered on my journey of multiple career changes.
MYTH 1: MY BURNOUT DOESN’T COUNT BECAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE IT WORSE THAN ME.
So often we try to rationalize our own burnout as not being that “bad”. We feel ourselves struggling in our life or our career and try to be stoic. We think what we are going through is not enough to reach out for help and instead, we get comfortable with average. Yes, a lot of days “suck”, however, not all days. We settle and chalk it up to “life is hard, this career is hard.”
However, the cost of ignoring what is causing your burnout can lead to chronic stress and a physiologic increase in your sympathetic nervous system or flight/fight/freeze response. Over time this sympathetic dominance can manifest itself into clinical symptoms of fear/anxiety, irritability, sleep problems, weight problems, poor concentration, procrastination, dread, depression, isolation, blame, and many others.
And the reality is you cannot rationalize burnout. Your body is keeping the score. If you are experiencing some level of burnout and you’ve reached a point of experiencing the effects of these clinical symptoms, stop trying to ignore what your body is telling you.
Stress management, emotional resiliency training, conflict resolution training, learning coping skills to deal with moral fatigue and compassion fatigue are the topics we will be discussing here on the blog and in my workshops and coaching programs. Know that just taking time off and away and not working on developing these skill sets will not resolve the problem long term. BUT know that taking time away or making a career change to a less stressful position or job is OKAY.
STEP 1: BECOME MORE AWARE OF THE SIGNS YOUR BODY IS TELLING YOU.
Today, do a short inventory on how your body has been feeling these past couple months. If you are feeling some of the clinical symptoms listed above and you’ve been stressed more frequently lately, you could be on the path of burnout. If so, even making a small tweak in your job can have tremendous effects.
MYTH 2: YOUR BURNOUT IS ONLY AFFECTING YOU.
I’ve talked to a lot of people that dislike their job or have become apathetic to their job, but are not putting in the work to invest in their own personal and professional development to either learn to handle their work environments or to find the clarity of what kind of job or role would bring them more joy, peace, and satisfaction.
They’re settling in their career because they are comfortable. They’ve adopted the mindset, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”
But I’ll tell you that really is a bleak and dangerous outlook on your work life. And you’re lack of engagement is dragging the culture down.
STEP 2: KEEP A JOURNAL OF YOU CURRENT LEVEL OF JOB SATISFACTION.
How are you feeling throughout the day. What aspects of your job do you currently like? What do you dislike? If you are having more bad days than good, ask yourself are you ready to step outside your comfort zone to explore why?
MYTH 3: YOU’RE TOO MUCH OF AN EXPERT IN YOUR FIELD OR YOU’VE BEEN DOING SOMETHING SO LONG, THEREFORE, IT WOULD BE CRAZY TO START OVER.
IF YOUR FEELING UNFULFILLED, BURNED OUT, OR EVEN JUST BORED IN YOUR JOB, YOU MUST MAKE A DRASTIC CHANGE TO FIND FULFILLMENT OR HAPPINESS AGAIN.
So many people would come up to me while I was working a conference booth and then once they learned I was a veterinarian, they would ask me,
“How did you get this job?” They would talk to me about how much they disliked clinical practice and wanted to get out. I would then ask them, “What else would you want to do?”
And you know what, so many had no clue. They had been practicing so long, that they didn’t have any idea what they would want to do and they thought the solution of leaving practice would be the only way to find enjoyment and fulfillment in their work again.
STEP 3: TAKE TIME AND INVENTORY OF WHAT YOUR TRUE INTEREST, VALUES, SKILL SETS, AND CURRENT PASSIONS ARE AT THIS TIME.
Review past roles, volunteer work experience, and any extra projects.
STEP 4: ASK YOURSELF AND EVALUATE, DO YOU REALLY NEED/WANT TO MAKE A DRASTIC CAREER CHANGE OR COULD A DIFFERENT ROLE WITHIN YOUR INDUSTRY OF EVEN CURRENT JOB BE JUST THE THING YOU NEED?
Changing careers doesn’t have to mean you change everything in your job. Sometimes, just small little changes can take you from burned out to re-lit up.
STEP 5: GET CURIOUS.
Why you are feeling the way you are feeling? Clarity comes from taking massive action. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.
MYTH 4: YOU CAN’T APPLY FOR THE NEW JOB BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE ALL THE SKILL SETS IN THE JOB DESCRIPTION.
There’s a statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
What’s even more interesting about this statistic is that women are not, not applying for the job because they don’t have the confidence they could perform the job, but that they don’t want to waste time applying for a job if what they have on paper doesn’t match all the qualifications in the job description. Meaning — as women we have been conditioned to follow rules.
As a gender that has grown up being taught to play nice and follow the rules, women often read the job description for what it is needed. They are more selective and hesitant when applying for a role. Many women are taking the job description as the end all be all and are not applying for a position if their background doesn’t 100% match.
When I applied for the Recruiting and Professional Directors role for VCA, I literally matched 3 qualifications: being a vet, willing to travel, experience in organizing events. That’s it. I had ZERO recruiting experience. ZERO. But I knew I had what it would take to learn the role and do it well.
I applied for the job. I took the risk. I spent the 5 + hours updating my resume even though I thought it was a long shot.
STEP 6: STOP FOLLOWING THE RULES AND JUST APPLY FOR THE JOB.
Even if you don’t have all the qualifications, if you are interested in changing careers or trying something new, evaluate your transferable skills. Create a log of skills you are good, even if that means they are completely different than what you are using in your current role. Look for jobs that would excite and challenge you to grow. Take the chance. Just apply for the job.
MYTH 5: IF YOU LEAVE YOUR PROFESSION IT WILL BE TOO HARD TO COME BACK. YOU WILL LOSE TOO MANY SKILL SETS.
The first time I left practice, I stopped practicing for 2 ½ years. So many of the comments I received were “don’t you miss practicing?” or “don’t you think it will be hard to go back?”
It’s easy to let the fear and belief of others get in our heads.
But that’s just it — so often another person’s concern for what you are doing is in reality their own fears or concerns. Their beliefs. And actually those comments could be about their own fears around taking a daring risk. It’d be too scary or embarrassing for them to change their minds later and come back.
You need to do what’s right for you. Nothing is absolute. If you want to take time off, try a different career, know that nothing is forever.
You can always come back. Even if it has been a decade since you took a break, you can come back.
Coming back into clinical practice is easier than you think but does require a certain set of vulnerability as your get used to those rusty skills. You have to be willing to ask lots of questions.
STEP 7: KEEP UP WITH CE, COURSES, AND OTHER INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS DURING YOUR BREAK. IF YOU DO DECIDE TO GO BACK INTO WHATEVER YOU WERE DOING, MAKE SURE YOU FIND A SUPPORTIVE AND COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENT. AND REMEMBER IT TRULY IS JUST LIKE RIDING A BIKE.
MYTH 6: IF YOU LEAVE YOUR PROFESSION OR POSITION AND DECIDE TO COME BACK, YOU WILL BE TAKING A STEP DOWNWARD AND WILL HAVE TO WORK YOUR WAY BACK UP TO THE TOP AGAIN.
When I left my recruiting and professional relations director position at VCA, I was so nervous I was making a mistake. I was excited to go back into practice and work less to be home with my little babies, but I also loved so much about that role. I was afraid that I’d never have another opportunity like that again. Flash forward a few years later, and in complete transparency, I was able to get a role similar, this time a leadership role, for the same pay.
Yes, it is a valid concern that the longer you stay out of a position, especially a leadership role, you may have to climb the ladder again. Ageism is a real thing. We can’t predict the economy will be as awesome as it is now.
However, as the feminist movement continues, and the push to have more women become leaders and get into executive roles, we hear “lean in more.” But the reality is that some women are better at “doing it all” than others. Some want to do it all. And some want a slower pace in life.
It’s okay to have the big career dreams of rising to the top. It’s okay to also PACE those dreams out.
We need to stop comparing what other women are doing, what others tell us to be doing, and choose what feels right and do what is best in our own lives.
We can’t let the fear that a position will no longer be there to stop us from taking time off for the kids, going on that sabbatical to travel the world or hike the Appalachian trail.
STEP 8: DON’T LET THE FEAR OF UNCERTAINTY WITH JOB SECURITY HOLD YOU BACK FROM LIVING YOUR LIFE NOW.
Sure we may face another recession, making jobs more scarce. Or as you age, it will be harder to reenter the workforce. But living your life, having that adventure, will bring more fulfillment than any job will.
And you may even be shocked at the changing landscape of opportunities in your field when you come back. I may have lost my chance of coming back to VCA in a similar role, but in the time I was gone from recruiting at VCA, many small and growing corporate groups had been forming, providing opportunity to come back into a recruiting role for a different company.
STEP 9: DON’T TRY TO PREDICT THE FUTURE. AND KEEP CLOSE TIES WITH YOUR OLD NETWORK. IT COULD BE THE KEY YOU NEED TO COME BACK.
MYTH 7: I’M NOT A VETERINARIAN ANY MORE. I’M A QUITTER OR FAILURE BECAUSE I TOOK A BREAK AND CHANGED CAREERS.
You worked so hard to get to where you are at. The years of schooling. The years in practice or working your way up the corporate ladder. Just the thought of leaving of starting something new feels like a defeat. A failure. A weakness.
Except you’ve lost passion for what you’re currently doing. The work no longer fulfills you. You’re actually multi passionate, but because you are an expert in your field, you gave so much of yourself away to get to that status.
Conferences and walking around exhibit halls is one of things I loved most about being a Veterinary Recruiter.
Even in my recruiting role, when someone would ask me what I do, the first thing I would say was, “I’m a veterinarian.” I’m proud to be a veterinarian. It’s an honor to have committed to dedicating my life to care and advocate for our pets.
But I am multi passionate. I’m also a very high right brain thinker, so clinical work only fills part of my bucket.
Yet, at times, I actually felt shameful and like a failure because I wasn’t practicing.
So many people thought that they wanted to be vets since they were little kids, and then become disappointed when they realized they are not living up the James Herriot version of what a veterinarian should be. Part of me knows now that even though there are so many other passions I want to explore, I will always need to be seeing patients in some form or another. And that for me means, I’m never going to be the amazing ER doctor saving lives, or the surgeon doing difficult, complex surgeries. And that’s okay. I am still a veterinarian.
And what’s even more important, is the reality that you are more than just your profession. You’re more than the small animal veterinarian. The large animal veterinarian. The equine veterinarian. The vet tech. The physician. The senior executive. The operations manager. The food scientist. The teacher. The engineer.
Your worth is not defined by your profession and if you choose to leave or take a break, you are still the same person.
This world truly is filled with abundance and although you may have reached expert status in one area, it is okay to start over and try something new.
STEP 10: LOOK OUTSIDE IT IS THAT YOU DO, AND SET AN INTENTION TO DEFINE YOUR WORTH BY WHO YOU ARE AS AN INDIVIDUAL, NOT WHAT YOU DO AS YOUR PROFESSION.