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You are Only Confined by the Walls You Build Yourself

I have mixed emotions when I think about attending Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE), hosted by the Veterinary Leadership Institute, again.

As a first-year DVM student at the University of Sydney, I was lucky enough to be selected to attend VLE 2016. I had no idea what to expect from this week-long camp, which helps people “learn the skills necessary to be healthy and resilient so they can become people of positive influence”, but I do know that it was life changing, in the ‘how do I even put that into words’ kind of way. There are some things in life that we don’t know how much we need them until we find them – that’s exactly how I felt about VLE 2016.

I’d given up a 13-year professional career to return to university and pursue my life-long dream of being a veterinarian but I didn’t realize just how much I’d literally been holding on as the first semester flew by. My life had been turned upside down – I was learning to study again, very financially insecure, juggling work and study, sharing a house, trying to stay optimistic and still be the smiley person I was, whilst everything I’d known, my security, literally disappeared overnight. I was just ‘swimming and not drowning’ if you like, and VLE made me stop and reassess where I was at, what I was coping with (or not!) and what was really important to me. It changed the way I think and my perceptions, and I found I listened and communicated differently. It made me more self-aware, more thoughtful of our individual nuances and even gave me a sense of belonging. The veterinary profession is such a wonderful vocation to be part of – because of the people in it, all of whom are dedicated to animal welfare, and also, maybe somewhat surprisingly, each other. With my wonderful group, Team Running Ducks, I suddenly remembered it was ok to be me, normal to struggle, and enjoyable to trust and sometimes be led by those around us. Returning home, I realized it was acceptable to not have answers, ok to laugh in the face of adversity and to re-evaluate, redirect and somehow keep surviving, even if against the odds.

One year on and I’m still here, still finding my feet at university and in the DVM – things are far from perfect or even easy, but in my heart, I know I’m where I belong (I can’t wait to be a vet!!!). I also know that I’m ready once again for the kind of personal growth that VLE initiates. I understand how important it is to know yourself (yep, even the bits you really don’t like) and I’m ready to grow again and improve so I can be a better person for myself and others, and maybe one day, a servant leader for my profession and in life. Once again, I don’t understand exactly where and how this learning is required but I don’t doubt that attending VLE will help me realize this! This year will also be a little different given I’m going to be a student facilitator. I’m feeling a lot of excitement, mixed with a bit of nervousness and trepidation at the thought of the unknown but I’m hoping I can start to be the person of positive influence that I would like to be. I just have to keep reminding myself that life begins at the end of my comfort zone.

Some tips and tricks for those of you attending VLE2017!

  • Carry a small notebook and pen – I often wanted to jot things down to think about them later and could never find a pen!
  • Comfy clothes are essential for climbing walls and contortionist positions (I promise it’s really fun)
  • Bring binoculars to spot Justin Timberlake (apparently, he attends most years)
  • Eat all the biscuits! I tried molasses biscuits for the first time – the home-cooked food at VLE is amazing
  • Bring layers as despite the sunny days the nights are sometimes cool
  • Don’t forget your swimmers if you fancy a dip in the river
  • Comfortable shoes are a great idea for the 20-min trek to the pub!
  • Bring your smile and an open heart
Emma Johnson

About Emma Johnson

Originally from the UK, Emma moved to Sydney, Australia, to focus on pain research and medical writing, before deciding to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. She also likes dancing, smiles a lot and is an avid collector of 60s vinyl!

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