I wanted to be a vet my whole life. I recall the day in the UK when I realised I had at last achieved my life-long goal. I was only 25 years old and felt, ‘Now what?’ I was completely lost. I had no plan and found myself feeling unsettled, with no goal or direction for what happened after graduation.
A lack of a sense of direction is common among newly qualified vets (and in other professions) because we have been striving to achieve one thing for so long, we’ve barely considered what happens once that goal is achieved.
Over the years, I have learned three things that have made an enormous positive difference to my career:
1. Always have a plan
It is difficult to make decisions in life when you don’t know where you are going. Having a plan and a sense of direction helps you to know whether opportunities are taking you closer or further away from where you want to be.
I liken a plan to using a GPS. If you know where you are going, you simply punch in the destination and find the path that is shortest and quickest. Compare this with having no clear idea of your destination; you drive around for ages, take the wrong road, have to back track and ask directions – and eventually you get there. But it takes you so much longer.
Having a clear plan for what comes after graduation makes a huge difference. It’s OK to change your direction at any time. You just punch the new destination into your personal ‘GPS’ and reroute. Plans for the future don’t have to be fixed, but you need to have some sort of plan.
2. Invest in yourself
My first job was working on the Isle of Wight as a mixed-practice vet. The practice paid for a proportion of our continuing education (CE), for which I was so grateful. I was amazed at how some of the other vets expected everything to be paid for. They would find a CE course that they really wanted to do, and if it was declined by the practice manager, they didn’t do it.
I have the opinion that it’s not your employer’s responsibility to invest in you. They have a lot to lose by paying for your courses, since you may leave at any time and their investment will be lost. So don’t leave the decision up to your employer. Decide what you want to study further, and do it!
Honestly, we can’t afford to leave our level of knowledge and our future in someone else’s hands. Take responsibility and control of your own learning and your own education. Knowledge is what sets us apart from others in our field. If you want to reach a leadership level in your profession, you have to have more knowledge and experience than the average vet rehab therapist.
So don’t become complacent. Have a #neverstoplearning attitude. If you want to do a CE course, then save up and do it. You had to pay every month to go to university and learn; in the same way you need to budget every month for continued education. It’s your choice to be average or brilliant. I strive towards brilliance every day.
Being employed gives you the security and the comfort of knowing that someone else has your back. The buck stops with your employer and that’s the reality of the situation. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back and hide behind your practice.
3. Establish your own brand
We cannot underestimate the power of personal branding in today’s world of social media and the internet. People like to follow people. When you grow your own personal brand you become valuable to the practice where you work. When you are valuable, you earn a higher income and create a safety net around yourself. You become known in veterinary and veterinary rehabilitation circles. Because you have connections, transitioning to another job or opening up your own practice becomes so much easier.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to have your own personal brand. You can lecture, write articles for magazines, speak at events, volunteer in your personal capacity, or start your own social media platforms and gain a following. It all helps build the brand of the professional ‘you’.
When we’re young and enthusiastic, we all dream of excellence – of one day making a real difference in people’s lives. That early enthusiasm can be slowly whittled away, especially when we dive straight into a job without a plan.
Spend some time thinking about ‘the big picture’ of your career. Set goals for yourself, and renew them regularly. Consider education your most important asset and invest in it. And work at your professional brand. Observing these three tips may make the difference between being average and being truly on top of your game.