Vet students are generally a group of overachievers. We have long academic track records of excellence, are involved in more clubs and extracurricular activities than we can remember at times, and most of us have held leadership roles during our undergraduate careers.
Senior year in my own undergraduate program, the vet students were pretty well-known across campus. I was in half a dozen honors societies, president of multiple clubs, was the equestrian team president, managed 4 different jobs, was a teaching assistant for 2 different classes, and was in the middle of writing a research thesis, among other things.
When I came to vet school and moved out of state for the first time in my life, the phrase “little fish in a big pond” comes to mind. I went from being a leading, overachieving, perfectionist “big fish” to…another vet student. I didn’t know anyone; the recognition I’d had in undegrad was a moot point – I had a totally blank slate.
I tried to get involved in a variety of clubs and ran for a variety of leadership roles within those clubs and the vet school. But as a more introverted, soft-spoken individual, the student leadership positions that needed to be filled towards the beginning of the year went to some of my amazing, charismatic, and more extroverted peers.
I kept trying, though. I really wanted to have a larger role in my school and organizations I was involved with. Nearly every opportunity that popped up, I applied for. And each time, I was passed over. When you are in a class full of people who are just as accomplished (and in many cases, much more accomplished) than you, the competition can be pretty intense.
When it came time for student representative positions for some of the outside companies, I was ready to put my best foot forward; I just had a feeling, I had a break coming. I thoughtfully put together applications and kept my fingers crossed.
The first rejection was not unexpected, but it still stung. A little emotional, I replied to the rejection letter, asking what I needed to be doing differently. I was given some constructive criticism and told to continue to try, that it was just a really competitive application pool and that the drive to continue to apply myself and put myself out there would bring me to the places I was meant to be and wanted most. “It’s served me well to remember that with any setback, as it isn’t about what happens, but how you respond after.”
A little bolstered by these words, I approached the next application with a little more gusto. This time, I made it to the final round of interviews – I was ecstatic. I had a really wonderful interview, and I felt very positive about the whole ordeal.
And when the emails were sent out with the final decision…another rejection letter.
Again, I emailed back asking what I needed to improve upon. I was pretty discouraged by this point. I was told that, honestly, there wasn’t anything specific I really needed to be working on. After reading that, I was only more discouraged. If I was already doing everything I could, and there wasn’t anything, in particular, I could improve upon, then how could I ever manage to successfully attain these student leadership roles? I felt like I was being told that plain and simple, everyone else was just better than I was, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
But I kept reading the email, and got to this bit – it changed my outlook and remains some of the best advice I’ve received.
“My best advice to you would be to keep up what you are doing. Always strive to learn from every new experience. But also remember to give yourself grace. No one can do everything perfectly all the time.”
Give yourself grace. Stop beating yourself up about it. It’s okay to not be perfect. Things I don’t hear often enough and need to take to heart a little more.
The path to veterinary school often demands a level of perfectionism that is hard to maintain once you are actually in vet school. And here was someone telling me that was okay – and not only that but not to change.
So I’ve tried to take that advice to heart. And since then, I’ve been able to take on a few leadership roles, received a few job offers, and was able to land my dream externship and an awesome research project for this summer.
So my advice to others – listen when someone in this industry gives you words of wisdom, even if they don’t make sense at that moment. They will someday, and they might just give you a whole new perspective.