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