Reflection is an important part of growth and development – looking back at an experience to consider it with a fresh perspective and a better understanding of our motivations and behaviours, and to see what we can learn for the future. Effective reflection can help us challenge our assumptions about ourselves, examine different aspects of our performance and come up with future strategies.
With this in mind, I asked our Veterinary Woman role models to reflect on what advice would have supported them during their career journeys, and could help others in a similar position now.
What advice would you have given to your younger self that you would now give to others wanting to follow your path?
Jade Statt, co-founder, clinical director and brand ambassador of StreetVet, says: “Please don’t be blinkered; your options are boundless. If you believe in something passionately, stick with it. It will not always be easy and there will be times where you question your choices but if in doubt, reach out to the veterinary community because they are a truly incredible resource of knowledge and support.”
Petra Agthe, European specialist in diagnostic imaging, continues along this vein of embracing adversity. “Life means continuous change and struggle, but life also means connection and many beautiful moments. Living a ‘good’ life means staying open to all experiences and developing the skills to embrace it all – the struggles and the beauty.
“Mindfulness and self-compassion are really helpful here, as they help in finding the balance between work and life, between your own needs and those of others, between acceptance and committed action. Also, real success is not achieving any particular goal or status. Real success is knowing who you are, staying true to your values and purposeful living even when experiencing setbacks.”
Have a little faith
“I’d say: have faith in yourself. Sometimes as women, it is implied that our decisions are based on emotion rather than logic,” says Susan McKay, director of Companion Consultancy and founder of Veterinary Woman. “That simple thought can get you all tied up when you try to make a decision because you start to wonder if you are being objective enough. However, it’s also been shown that those niggly feelings you get when something just doesn’t seem right are usually based on tacit knowledge – that’s the knowledge that’s so deeply embedded that you can’t even explain it to someone else: you just know. So, I try to listen to that voice as often as I can and give it a little credit that it’s telling me something useful.”
Remi Onabolu, RVN, veterinary student and co-founder of Scrub Mentors, says: “I’d start off by saying to believe in myself. We know a lot more than we think we do, so put some trust in yourself. Sometimes, just waiting until you are ‘ready’ will mean that you’ll never be ‘ready’. So, take the plunge and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
We get too wrapped up in wondering how we’ll achieve the ‘next best thing’, but never take a second to realise we’ve already achieved a lot
“I’d also suggest taking time out and appreciating how far you’ve come. We get too wrapped up in wondering how we’ll achieve the ‘next best thing’, but never take a second to realise we’ve already achieved a lot.”
Take the time to reflect
“I used to hate the word at university when we had to do essays on the topic… but ‘reflection’ is a great exercise,” says Helen Harrison, veterinary advisor for TVM Animal Health UK Ltd. “I find this comes most naturally to me when I’m out walking the dog and as such it doesn’t feel like a big task that I’ve had to take time out of my day for. I think it’s very easy to just trundle along without really pinning down what motivates you, what excites you and where you want to be going. Without recognising this and drilling down into the details, it’s hard to dream about where you would like your career to take you in the future.”
Quitting is OK
Although Alexia Yiannouli, junior communications officer at CERN, says she doesn’t feel particularly qualified to be giving advice to herself let alone anyone else, she says: “If I did have to give some advice, it would be that you can’t really know if you’re going to like something before you do it. I’d also say that it’s completely OK to stop doing something if stopping it is the best decision for you. In general, I think that society can have such a negative perspective of ‘quitting’ things, but honestly, sometimes that’s far braver than sticking something out just for the sake of it.”
Marie Holowaychuk, veterinary specialist and mental health and well-being advocate for veterinary professionals, continues: “Becoming a veterinarian does not necessarily limit a person to a career as a practitioner. A degree in veterinary medicine affords so many opportunities in government, industry, practice ownership and academia and as an entrepreneur. The opportunities are limitless and it’s important to keep an open mind. But also remember that establishing yourself does not happen overnight. Try to limit comparisons with others who have been working for a decade more than you and know that everyone has their own unique journey.”
Never have regrets
Séverine Tasker, the chief medical officer at Linnaeus, says: “Ask for feedback and show humility! Use a growth mindset and understand that every failure is an opportunity to learn, and that failures are part of successes. Focus continually on doing the right thing.”
Meanwhile Andrea Jeffrey, the chief nursing officer at Linneaus, suggests: “Never have regrets! Learn from the mistakes you make and help guide others when they appear to need a bit of extra support. And say, ‘Thank you!’ It means so much to feel appreciated.”