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October 01, 2020

Putting yourself first can help you, others professionally

Speakers make arguments for self-compassion, compassionate leadership
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Speakers at the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 pushed attendees to consider their mental and emotional health to be as important as their physical health and to understand that putting themselves first—whether that means setting boundaries or taking a break—is necessary to do the work they were called to do. The speakers also encouraged everyone to think outside the box and said the most meaningful way to succeed is by helping other people succeed.

Patrice Washington
Patrice Washington asked attendees to dig deeper so they can put themselves first and not succumb to the idea that someone has to be relentlessly stressing and striving to build their practice or be the best. (Photos by John Funteas)

Digging deeper

Patrice Washington is an author, speaker, media personality, and host of the “Redefining Wealth” podcast, through which she teaches people how to chase purpose, not money.

“I know you are all in on what you feel your purpose is. But what I also know is even the most passionate people have the potential to burn out when they don’t think about themselves or put themselves first,” she said during her keynote speech on Aug. 20, sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Her wakeup call came when she was in the hospital a year after a miscarriage. This time, she was 20 weeks pregnant and in premature labor. It was the beginning of the Great Recession, and she was watching banks she worked with every day closing down one after the other.

Her doctor told her, “I don’t know what you’re stressing about, but if you don’t stop, you’re going to leave two years in a row without a baby.”

“I had to make a decision in that moment about what was most important to me,” Washington said. “I decided to surrender, which was not give up, but it was to let go of control that I thought I had in that situation.”

She went on to deliver her daughter at 30 weeks but incurred substantial medical debts because her insurance company dropped her while she was in the hospital. She struggled for a few years to get back on her feet, even getting an eviction notice and having her power shut off at one point.

“When I talk about being a money maven, it’s important I tell the truth about my experience. It doesn’t do me or anyone any good to say that someone who is on a mountain top couldn’t go through a valley,” Washington said.

Washington asked attendees to dig deeper so they can put themselves first and not succumb to the idea that someone has to be relentlessly stressing and striving to build their practice or be the best. She said she orders her life on the basis of the six pillars she teaches on her podcast. She referenced the first three pillars in her talk:

  • Fitness, which is about becoming your best self by taking care of yourself.
  • People, which is about creating relationships that matter.
  • Space, which is about setting up your life to support you.

“It’s not all about the things on the outside—degrees, education—but so much of our ability to grow and to do this thing with peace and ease and grace is going to come from you doing some of these unconventional things,” Washington said. “Maybe it’s you not adding more clients but serving less clients so you can better take care of yourself so you can protect your physical and mental health. Maybe it’s taking a therapy session so you can show up and be your best self, and everything you put in this profession is pleasing to you and not that you have anything to prove to anyone else. It may come from putting the phone down at dinner and giving loved ones undivided attention. It may come from setting boundaries that don’t take calls at certain times or partnering with someone else. Maybe setting certain parameters so you can serve you and your family first. Or clearing something up so you can get clarity to move forward with power.

“This profession needs you and the magic only you have. You got to take care of yourself, your relationships, and your space so you can do the work you were called to do.”

Karamo Brown (left) and  Patrice Washington (right)
Karamo Brown, the culture expert on “Queer Eye,” says people often think changing their community or culture requires changing someone or something outside of themselves, but instead, when a person changes their attitude and values, that can change their culture.

Moving ahead with purpose

Karamo Brown of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot is a gay Black man who has used his identity to build success. Growing up, having that identity wasn’t always easy as he encountered people who were not always “getting” him or who were trying to put him in a box. But instead of letting others define or limit him, he says, those moments gave him greater clarity.

“If I could find the courage to love myself from those messages and push through, then anybody else can do it,” Brown said during his keynote speech on Aug. 21, sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “My whole thing is: I can’t be afraid of walking slowly, I can only be afraid of standing still. They may not want you, but take another step. If you stand still, they’ve won. But if you keep going forward, you’re winning.”

Part of what keeps him going is a clear purpose in life.

“When you wake up with no purpose, you wake up with no intention in the first or second step you take that day,” Brown said. “It could be one or 10 things, but if you did one thing and you feel closer to your purpose, it’s you being closer to yourself.”

The fifth season of “Queer Eye” debuted this past June. The show had shot the first episode of the sixth season when production shut down because of the pandemic. Brown says the show will return when it’s safe to do so.

As the culture expert on “Queer Eye” and as a social worker, Brown considers culture to mean shared values and attitudes. And people often think changing their community or culture requires changing someone or something outside of themselves.

“When you change your attitude and values, it starts to ripple. You see the change in your culture,” he said. “I need people to understand that when you’re focusing on physical and mental health, that’s where you see change in your life and community. … Change your attitude and values as well. Use that as guiding light to help change the world.”

Brown tells everyone to treat their mental health like physical health. For example, people who are on a fitness journey might tell their friends but may not be willing to do so when seeking mental help.

“It’s OK to tell friends you’re journaling and checking in with yourself and taking walks to calm anxiety. You start to normalize it. The same way my body would be affected, my body and emotions are affected. And you create a community of people who are willing to support you,” he said.

Matthew J. Salois, PhD (left) and  Adam Grant, PhD (right)
Adam Grant, PhD, (right) said leadership is one of the most powerful variables in how successful a company is in terms of profitability and growth rate during his closing session talk on Aug. 22.

Clear and compassionate leadership

Adam Grant, PhD, is an author and a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania specializing in organizational psychology. His research is all about trying to make jobs more meaningful and work cultures more collaborative.

One topic he discussed on Aug. 22, in a talk sponsored by CareCredit, was the importance of being exposed to different hobbies or information. He cited data that showed Nobel prize–winning scientists, compared with their technically skilled but less creative peers, were twice as likely to play a musical instrument, seven times as likely to draw or paint, 12 times as likely to write creatively, and 22 times as likely to perform as actors, dancers, or magicians.

“The time you spend engaged in arts can make you a more creative scientist,” Grant said.

Alternatively, it helps for entrepreneurs to think like scientists. He discussed a case in Italy of business owners who were taught to do just that. They were to consider their business plan a hypothesis, and they were encouraged to collect data from stakeholders and the market to see whether experiments were confirming or disputing their hypothesis. This way of thinking dramatically increased their businesses’ revenue—and more quickly, too. The main reason was because they were twice as likely to pivot when something wasn’t doing well, Grant said.

“Escalation of commitment to a losing course of action means you test a service, you’re not getting the feedback you hope for, so you double down instead of saying this is a learning opportunity, and I should try something new,” Grant said.

Leadership is one of the most powerful variables in how successful a company is in terms of profitability and growth rate, he said, particularly with leaders who are committed to regular feedback, involve people in decision-making, and establish clear goals.

Those who are micromanagers, however, can make employees feel as though they are not trusted and constantly monitored, which hurts loyalty.

“We need more macromanagment,” Grant said. “People rarely need to be told how to solve problems. (A macromanager’s) job is to reconsider our mission of our organization, and once we’re clear about that, let’s use the full range of skills to offer not just what we always have, but something else. They help us take a step back, zoom out, and ask, ‘What are the problems we could be solving?’ and making sure we don’t miss anything under our nose.”

Finally, Grant contested the idea of compassion fatigue, saying this would be expected among “givers,” but the biggest givers tend to be less likely to burn out than their peers. Instead, he points to “empathetic distress” fatigue.

“Caring doesn’t hurt, but caring and being unable to help does. Feeling like you can’t help all the animals and people you’re trying to serve, that creates exhaustion,” he said.

There are only three ways to prevent empathetic distress fatigue: control, demand, and support.

“Maybe I can’t help every animal or employee in a tough spot, but I can have tasks in my job where I do feel like I make an impact. I want to feel like my job helps co-workers,” he said.

Employers can also reduce demands as well as take the pulse of their teams and redistribute responsibilities or set boundaries, such as employees not having to answer calls or emails at all hours.

“The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed,” Grant said. “If I can make other people successful, they will be part of a rising tide that will lift all boats.”


AVMA convention a virtual success

This year, the AVMA’s annual gathering took place fully online for the first time ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. From Aug. 20-22, the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 offered over 150 hours of continuing education, including sessions focused on cannabis and the impact of the pandemic; 40 virtual exhibitors; and special events such as a lip sync battle during Live Life, Love All, as well as alumni receptions, Vet Tech Trivia Night, and the AVMA Battle of the Bands II. In addition, the meeting had the Power Up Virtual 5K walk-run and charity fundraiser. Participants received a medal and T-shirt for going on a 3.1-mile run or walk around their neighborhood and, at the same time, supported the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s COVID-19 Disaster Relief Support fund (see story). Visit "Plugged in and connected" to see an online photo gallery showing highlights from this year’s convention.

Registered attendees can view all sessions on demand through the end of December. Those who missed the live event can still register to get access to CE sessions, visit exhibitor booths, and view special events and activities. The cost is $250 for AVMA member veterinarians, veterinary technicians, practice staff members, and executive directors of state VMAs and AVMA-allied organization; $50 for veterinary and veterinary technology students; and $350 for nonmember veterinarians. Visit the AVMA Virtual Convention website for more information.

Next year, the AVMA intends to return to its in-person convention, which is planned for July 30-Aug. 3, 2021, in Minneapolis.