I emerge from a double appointment, half-heartedly brushing off fur clumps from some over-enthusiastic German Shepherds. My eyes are heavy with fatigue from a poor night’s sleep, I have a stack of charts yet to be checked over, and I should have been home over two hours ago. My stress level has been on the rise throughout the day, and it only increases when I start catching some of the mistakes I’ve made throughout the day as I reread my charts. During the 9:00 appointment I forgot to enter the tabby’s vital signs… oh, and there I forgot to charge a biohazard fee for properly disposing of needle tips used to vaccinate a new puppy. Oh no, the medication for that Springer Spaniel’s itchy ears didn’t make it from the pharmacy to the client! It’s practically a universal law that mistakes will happen and things will fall through the cracks, but that doesn’t make it feel any better when you happen to be the one responsible for it.
Not only am I embarrassed, but I feel guilty for pulling aside coworkers to ask for their help in fixing an invoice or finding the correct computer code. This is only my fifth or sixth time working in the treatment area and running appointments at this large veterinary practice, and I have a lot to learn about protocols, products, and the computer system. Unfortunately, having a type A personality means I hold the unreasonable expectations of perfection, which means my self-confidence is taking a hit. Luckily all of my coworkers have been very gracious about the extra assistance, but as I’m sure many of you know, we are our harshest critics. Easing the sting from self-criticisms has taken me a long time to learn, but being able to analyze my actions and decisions without being bogged down by negative emotions has helped lower my stress in a very tangible way.
As I continue flipping through the charts, names jump off the pages and I get distracted for a moment. That handsome tuxedo kitty with off-and-on lameness? He’s been scheduled for orthopedic surgery to fix his luxating patella, and the tough-as-nails dairy farmer couldn’t be happier to get his best mouser back to fighting condition. And that rescued Greyhound? After suturing closed the dog bite lacerations, we proceeded to extract some broken and infected teeth, so she can now eat pain-free.
Although it was a hectic, stressful day, it was so gratifying to realize that both people and animals had benefited directly from my actions. Not only did I help physically relieve pain, but I helped alleviate the emotional suffering of concerned owners; that fact is a solid, comforting presence in the face of daily stress. But managing my stress has always meant managing my emotions to some degree. I can’t control the grumpy cats or difficult clients I may face today, but I can control how I feel and how much I let those emotions affect me. It’s not a matter of distancing myself from what I’m feeling; rather, it’s the simple act of recognizing my emotions, accepting the good and the bad as they happen. Letting myself be okay with the fact that I’m not in complete control, and perhaps never will be, frees me from the crushing expectations and the debilitating stress that comes with it.
So take strength from the things you have done well, from skills you are perfecting, from the life lessons you are learning. Don’t confuse low self-confidence with incompetency. And although we all must examine our mistakes to learn from them, don’t dwell on the embarrassment, guilt, and anger; let them be ephemeral and transient, as they were meant to be.