Reflection Through Creativity

Life has ground to a halt for some of us and has started moving at the speed of light for others. We continue to grapple with the challenges while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. We would like you to consider doing an art project with us in order to better understand some of the feelings and emotions you may be experiencing or remember who you are, your true identity, and how you can best bring your full self to your life today.

Supplies you will need…

  1. A piece of cardstock or paper.
  2. Scissors
  3. Glue or tape
  4. Old magazines you can cut up
  5. Stickers, ribbon, scrapbook embellishments (if you have that sort of thing)
  6. Colored paper
  7. Markers, colored pens or pencils
  8. The creative parts of your brain

Here’s all you need to do. Give yourself permission to create something, anything. Give yourself permission to sit down for an hour and make a collage or picture or drawing that answers one or two of the following questions. Or maybe think up a question of your own to answer.

  1. Who am I and what do I care about?
  2. How can I represent, on this piece of paper, how I feel about our current global pandemic situation?
  3. What brings me joy?
  4. What am I dreaming about?

When you are done, share your creation with us on our social media channels (FaceBook or Instagram). It is amazing what happens when we see each other, really see each other. In order to do that, to really see each other, we must be brave and put ourselves out there. This project gives you the opportunity to do that even just in your own eyes at first. For those who have been to the Veterinary Leadership Experience, you know that creativity in community is what gives us the power to change the world for the positive. And we need that kind of power in ourselves, our families, our communities and the world right now.

A Word of Encouragement

We are living in a time of chaos and uncertainty. Life as we know it has changed dramatically and so many in the world I trying to find peace and hope is what threatens to take our families and communities down. It is important to understand that this time is giving all of us an opportunity to really understand what it means to navigate the tension between the good and the terrible. We must acknowledge that there is terrible. We must feel it and understand it. We must not pretend it does not exist. And then we must refocus on all that is good. Navigating this tension between good and terrible is likely something we will do on a daily basis, probably several times a day. And that is ok. But…

As VLI Leaders, we need to remember and fully embrace that we are exactly what the world needs at this moment in history. We are well trained to manage an infectious disease outbreak AND we have a skill set that will allow us to lead well in this time of uncertainty and chaos. Let this video encourage you to remember exactly who you are- all kinds of awesome.

Why Mr. Rogers is my hero!

We are living in challenging times as COVID-19 is turning life as we know it upside down. During times of uncertainty and fear, it is important to remember the things that matter, that we are incredibly creative problem solvers and that we know how to handle herd health. Finding Fred, a podcast about Mr. Rogers, is full of so many great things to think about during the upheaval our society is facing. VLI Executive Director, Betsy Charles, sat down with Dr. Shannon Reed, an equine surgeon at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and veteran VLE Facilitator, to discuss the first episode of the podcast- A Genius of Empathy- and why Mr. Rogers is one of Dr. Reed’s heroes. Click here to watch the interview!!

Reflective Journey Day 6- Acknowledge the space.

Congratulations!!! You made it to the last day. Hopefully, these last few days have given you a small glimpse into what it takes to develop the skill of self-awareness. You have examined what it feels like to sit in the uncomfortable as you look in the mirror. You might feel a little lighter because you are learning how to take off your armor. You have dipped your toe into the waters of vulnerability. You have considered what trust within the team might look like, especially if you are willing to delegate. And, you have, perhaps, put up some fences around the things that matter to you. We are really, really proud of you and the hard work you have done to become self-aware. Take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back. You definitely deserve it!!

On this final day of our journey, we are going to use one of my favorite quotes of all time to give us a framework upon which we can hang some of the skills we have been working on together this week.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

-Victor Frankl

This quote beautifully outlines what it looks like to manage yourself, another key skill associated with effective influence, not only in your professional life, but in your personal life as well. As we go through the day, we are confronted with all kinds of stimuli. Some are big, some are small, but all elicit a response. You forgot to set your alarm so you are now running late. You look at the radiographs of your favorite client’s golden retriever and see an irregularly shaped spleen that takes up half his abdomen. Someone cuts you off in traffic. Your five year old refuses to put on her shoes as you are getting ready to head out the door for school. You get a past-due notice in the mail. Your lead technician just gave her 2-week notice. You feel a lump in your breast.

Today, we want you to take some time to think about what you do in the space, the space between stimulus and response.

  1. Think about the last few days. Identify a specific stressful scenario where you were absolutely clueless that there is a space between stimulus and response and your response caused damage. Often these are situations that trigger our fight or flight response. We are reactive instead of proactive about our emotions. What is it about the situation that caused you to react? What are the emotions associated with the situation? What might you do to prevent a similar reaction in the future?
  2. Now think about a stressful scenario where you were 100% aware of the space between stimulus and response and your response was positive. By positive, I mean your response was clear and kind. What makes this situation different? Why were you proactive instead of reactive? What skill sets allowed you to allow for the space. How did you decide to respond the way you did?

As with many of the previous blogs in this journey, learning how to manage your responses is a multi-faceted skill that takes time to practice. However, when we start at the very beginning- acknowledging the space between stimulus and response- we can begin to add layers to our self-management skill set that give us control over our responses. After acknowledgement of the space, the next best thing to master is tactical breathing. Breathing well will make you a self-management ninja in 2020.

Reflective Journey Day 5- No is a complete sentence.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others. Brene Brown

Veterinarians are really, really good at setting boundaries. Said no one, ever. Well, I might be exaggerating a little bit, but we definitely could use some work on setting boundaries. I know this because when I first started presenting on this topic about 5 years ago, in almost every presentation I rarely got passed my second slide, the one that read, “How do you define a personal or professional boundary?” I would then spend the rest of the presentation discussing the definition of boundaries and what they might look like in veterinary medicine, often after we had watched this short video.

The thought of learning how to set boundaries is a daunting one, especially in a digital world that is trying to convince us that we need to be available to all the people in our lives 24-7. It requires a deep understanding of yourself and what is important to you. It requires practice and patience, not only with others, but also with yourself. It necessitates numerous skills sets, including communication, problem solving, self-management and the ability to prioritize, just to name a few. The goal of this blog is not to turn you into a ninja level boundary setter. Rather, we want you to spend a few minutes thinking about how boundaries might help you be more successful by completing the exercise below.

Answer the following question:

If you could say no to someone or something, knowing there would be absolutely no hard feelings or negative consequences, who or what would you say no to?

Follow-up Questions:

  1. What (be as specific as possible) is keeping you from saying no to this person or situation? Think about the why behind what is holding you back.
  2. Where have you been successful setting boundaries before?
  3. What, specifically, has allowed you to say no in previous scenarios?
  4. How can you apply what has worked before to new situations?
  5. How do you feel when other people set boundaries that include you?
  6. What is one simple boundary you could set that would allow you to practice the skill of boundary setting?

We are confident that you can learn the skill of boundary setting. Start small and simple. Engage your community to help and hold you accountable. And, remember, no is a complete sentence.

Reflective Journey Day 4- Are you afraid to delegate?

One of the things we absolutely love about the people who work in veterinary medicine is their unbelievable work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done. We are a profession full of rugged individuals. When it comes to collaboration and effectiveness of our veterinary teams, however, this rugged individualism can become our worst enemy by eroding trust within the team.

Consider what we have learned during our programs aimed at veterinary technicians and support staff. We often ask this question of our participants: what is the most frustrating part of your job? Overwhelmingly, the answer we hear the most is this: I don’t get to do what I was trained to do in my job. At first glance, this answer might seem to indicate a communication issue or perhaps an initiative problem. However, when we ask a few follow up questions and dig a little deeper, we often find that this frustration stems from a lack of trust because the veterinarian will not delegate work to the team.

If you are a veterinary technician or other support staff member and you just read that last sentence, you are probably vigorously nodding your head in agreement and might have a bit of an “I knew it- difficult veterinarians,” attitude. If you are a veterinarian and you just read that last sentence, our guess is you are amassing a list of reasons to defend why you can’t possibly delegate to the team.

Before we get to the reflection questions for you to think about, STOP. Take a second to think about what you are feeling. What is happening in your body? Are you frustrated with me, the writer of this blog, because I threw you under the bus? Are you happy with me because I have validated your experience? Just take a few moments to think about your initial reaction to that last paragraph and write down your thoughts as much can be learned from that response.

Here are a handful of reflection questions to stimulate your thinking regarding your awareness about delegation and trust within your teams, whether you are a veterinarian, a veterinary technician or other member of the veterinary team.

  1. What tasks are solely the responsibilities of a veterinarian and what tasks can be performed by other members of the team?
  2. Are you hesitant to delegate to other team members? If yes, why? If no, why?
  3. What are the qualities in a team member that make it easy to delegate to them? How can you develop those qualities in yourself?
  4. If you feel frustrated because you are not doing what you were trained to do in your job, how do you communicate that frustration within your team?
  5. Identify 2 things you can do within your practice environment that could build trust.

Rugged individualism often serves us well in veterinary medicine because it is hard work and requires incredible problem solving skills. However, it sometimes keeps us from trusting the team. We then end up with team members who are frustrated because they don’t get to work in their strengths and veterinarians who are overworked. Let’s make 2020 the year of trust and delegation!

Reflective Journey Day 3- Take off your armor.

To be the person who we long to be- we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen. Brene Brown

Shame… Vulnerability… Perfectionism… I don’t know about you, but these are not generally words I use when I want to start a conversation with my friend or colleague. I tend to run from these words in conversation, as do most people, or at least hide from them. Actually, that’s not totally true. I think it’s more accurate to say I used to run away and hide from those words. I definitely preferred to avoid anything that challenged my meticulously constructed super woman mask. I was a runner, that is, until I happened upon a Ted talk by a little know social worker whose research focused on the concept of shame. Dr. Brene Brown rocked my perfectly curated world and opened my eyes to the beauty of vulnerability, even vulnerability in veterinary medicine. And then life happened in a pretty dramatic way that allowed me comfort rather than discomfort with these ideas, but that is a story for another time.

As many of you know, we LOVE Brene Brown’s work at the VLI. Diving in to her research and all she has to offer us is beyond the scope of this blog. However, today’s quote offers us numerous options for reflection and consideration, especially if we want to thrive in a profession where vulnerability is usually seen as weakness, wearing masks is common and it is often terrifying to live in to who we truly are. When we begin to understand how we “armor up,” what kinds of weapons we use/why we use them and what keeps us from showing up in our true identity, we can then take more intentional steps toward living a meaningful life.

It may seem like these ideas are a bit overkill from an organization dedicated to leadership development in the veterinary profession, but nothing could be farther from the truth. If we are going to shift the needle toward positive in our jobs, we have to answer the hard questions and debunk the myths about what it takes to be successful as a veterinary professional. Here are some questions to consider. If you would like, you can use our worksheet to capture your answers.

  1. What types of “armor” do you wear? List 2 examples that illustrate how you use that armor to protect yourself and in what situations you pull it on. What do you feel like you need to be protected from? What would it look like if you stopped wearing your armor?
  2. What weapons do you use on a regular basis to protect yourself? Why do you use them? Where did you learn how to use them? What happens in your relationships when you pull out your weapons? What could you use instead of a weapon to resolve issues?
  3. What does “showing up” look like for you? In what situations, either personally or professionally, are you afraid to show up? In what situations are you not afraid to show up? What is the difference between these two things (i.e. why can you show up in some situations and not others)? What strategies might be helpful in allowing you to show up consistently, regardless of the situation?
  4. What does it mean to “be seen?” What emotions come up for you when you think about being seen personally? professionally?

As we, the VLI community, continue to work on the skill of reflection together, may 2020 be a year where we are brave and try difficult things. Instead of running or hiding from vulnerability, let us embrace it together for what it truly is… STRENGTH. Veterinary medicine will be the better for it.

Reflective Journey Day 2- Your reflection in the mirror.

I am going to put this right out there for your consideration even though I can already hear many of you preparing your arguments to let me know that I can’t possibly understand just how challenging all the difficult people in your life might be. I mean, I am preparing those arguments even as I type. If you are anything like me, you will immediately bristle as you read the quote below and have a million reasons why it can’t possibly be true.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Carl Jung

Can I be real for a second? It is more comfortable for me to point out all the flaws in other people than reflect on the ways in which I might be annoying. It is much easier to blame others for all the struggles I face in my own life. And if I am really being honest, it makes me feel better about myself when I comment on the sad state of those around me. At best, this approach to life buys us some temporary relief, but leaves us stuck in place and unlikely to learn and grow. At worst, failing to look in the mirror every once in a while will lend itself to a continuation of patterns that potentially cause harm to others and ourselves.

I fully recognize that what I am going to ask you to do in this reflection will be hard and potentially scary. It may lead to uncomfortable feelings and perhaps some stress. Thankfully, you are in control of how deep you go and how intensely and specifically you look at yourself. Our experience at the Veterinary Leadership Institute is that this type of self-reflection, though challenging, has the potential to help you find fulfillment in veterinary medicine because it shifts the locus of control from external to internal ( we are going to lead well and thrive in veterinary medicine, we must do the hard work of peeling back our layers. Our feelings about others are a great way to do that. I am hopeful that the questions below will help you better understand yourself.

  1. Think about a person who you find irritating.
  2. Identify, as specifically as possible, all the traits and/or behaviors of this person that are irritating to you.
  3. As you are thinking about this person, be aware of what is happening in your body. Are your shoulders tensing up? Is your heart rate becoming elevated? Have you furrowed your brow? How is your breathing? Has your posture changed? Make notes about your physiological response to thinking about this person and their behaviors.
  4. Take a few moments to do some tactical breathing. Tactical breathing is a strategy used by the military, first responders and athletes in order to calm down, reduce stress, focus, manage stress and reduce worry and nervousness.

  1. As soon as you are relaxed and feel in control of your thoughts, answer the following questions: Do I see anything in myself that is similar to the person I have been thinking about and the things about that person that I find irritating? If yes, what are the similarities? What do I gain by being annoyed with someone else instead of working on my own issues? What specific steps can I take to better understand this issue within myself? If no, what specific strategies can I employ to manage my irritation with this person (keeping in mind that the only person I can change is me)?

Using this exercise in my own life has resulted in a profound positive change in my overall well-being as well as significant improvement in both my personal and professional relationships. And although I am not sure EVERYTHING that irritates us about others will lead us to better understanding of ourselves, the research suggests that it is often true. Looking in the mirror and taking time to reflect on what we see can be difficult. But it is like any other skill. It takes practice and support from trusted members of our community. The VLI community is here to travel this road with you. Here’s to doing the hard work together in 2020.


Reflective Journey Day 1- Let’s start at the very beginning…

As Maria famously sang in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with a…b…c… When you sing you begin with do…re…mi.” Leadership is not really that different. Maria might have sang, “When you lead you, you begin with me…me…me.” For us at the Veterinary Leadership Institute, leading well is all about self-awareness, so this first day of reflection (and all the rest of them, actually) will start at the very beginning- learning how to better understand yourself.

Since it is the start of a new year, many of us are thinking about our new year’s resolutions and all the things we are hoping to accomplish in 2020. Perhaps you want to implement new habits that will lead to better physical health, like eating more vegies or exercising regularly. Or, maybe you are thinking about changing jobs or starting a new hobby. It’s possible that you haven’t even thought about a single new year’s resolution (that’s ok, too). We wonder, though, if the start of the year might be a great time to dig a little deeper than just traditional new year goal setting. After all, that’s how we roll at the Veterinary Leadership Institute. We love to get below the surface of our busy lives in order to give ourselves the opportunity to do the hard work that will help us thrive. (Hint: remember our holiday story– “It begins with reflection and a community of friends. It’s an incredible skill set that transforms and transcends.”)

It is easy to write down some goals so we can check the new year self-improvement box and get on with our busy vet med life. However, if we want to know ourselves better so we can lead well in the new year, we have to take at least a few minutes to step off the treadmill and think about who we are and what we bring to the table. In order to practice that skill of reflection, let’s consider 2019 and what went well so we can use that knowledge to help us be successful in 2020.

-Find a quiet place where you can be alone with your thoughts and one of these handy worksheets.

-Spend at least 5 minutes thinking about the past year and recall as many positive situations you were a part of as possible. Write them down. Give yourself the freedom to write down anything that causes you to feel positively, no matter how big or small. Depending on how the year has gone, you might have lots of things to write down or not so many so be kind to yourself as you think about the positive.

-Choose one of the scenarios you have written down and write it in the bubble and then answer the following questions about that scenario…

  1. What strengths do I notice in myself as a result of this situation?
  2. What role did I play in allowing this situation to come to pass?
  3. What role did others play in allowing this situation to come to pass?
  4. What was challenging about this situation and how did I overcome those challenges?
  5. Identify the thoughts and actions that led to this positive situation.
  6. Identify the thoughts and actions that made arriving at a positive outcome more difficult.

-Write a summary sentence or two about what you learned about yourself in remembering this positive situation and how you can use that knowledge to help you be successful in any new year’s resolutions you have for 2020.

The research tells us that one of the best ways for us to improve on future performance is to reflect on and better understand how we handled situations in the past so we can continue the things that helped us and modify or eliminate the behaviors that were detrimental to our success. The exercise you just completed was a way for you to begin to develop the skill of doing just that- great job!! The more you practice this skill set, the easier it becomes, but it starts with you understanding you. Take what you just learned about yourself and apply it to your goals and dreams for 2020. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow as we give you another opportunity to reflect and learn.

VLE Alumni Reunion at AVMA Convention 2016

The stars at night are big and bright……..deep in the heart of Texas!

Everything’s bigger and better in Texas…so they say!
So, join a Texas-sized bunch of fun at the 2016 AVMA VLE Alumni Reunion!
Put on your boots and mosey on down to enjoy some good eats and conversation with your fellow VLE alumni! Let us know what you’ve been up to and where your boots are taking you next!

When: Monday, August 8 from 6-9 pm
Guadalajara Grill
301 S. Alamo
San Antonio, TX 78205
(210) 222-1992

There will be a cash bar and hors d’oeuvres.