Feeling Good About Being Bad

Recently, I’ve changed jobs and moved into a different area of practice in veterinary medicine. It has been a tough transition for me and I’ve gone from being secure in the knowledge that I was really good at what I was doing to being consumed by self doubt and second guesses. I’m struggling with handling my cases, making decisions and being sure I’m doing everything the way I should be. And that is exactly what I was looking for. I won’t go as far as to say that I’m enjoying the experience but I’m getting exactly what I wanted out of it so far.

Over the past 18 months, I found myself still learning new things but it was often on my terms and only in areas I was interested in. While a person could still improve their skill set using this approach, inevitably the subconscious is going to ignore a person’s weaknesses while developing their strengths. No one likes to focus on the things they aren’t good at. While it may be perfectly reasonable to become and stay good at what you do using this method, it is impossible to become great. Anyone performing a skilled task should be aiming to become great. Even if that means going through a period that tries your self confidence and leaves you feeling terrible about your skills.

Pick a skill in your skill set that you’re particularly proud of right now. Something you do better than almost anyone else you know. Now try to remember back to when you were just learning that skill. You were likely terrible at it, if you were immediately really good at your most prized skill you should probably rethink your skill set. Most likely however, you were terrible at it in the beginning, so terrible in fact that you might have even thought about giving up. But you stuck it out. Sometimes maybe you saw how much you would enjoy being good at something, maybe you saw glimpses of how good you might be at it or maybe you just wanted to be good that badly. So you kept your chin up, your eyes forward and your mind focused. You chipped away little by little at this skill and you got a little better every time you practiced. Eventually it became something you could brag about at dinner parties or even better, something people came to you for help with. That skill you were terrible at in the beginning became something you could use to make other’s lives a little better.

That’s the only way to get there. Hard work and keeping at it even when you and maybe even others think you’re terrible. It also means holding yourself accountable, taking in feedback that stings your ego and making the adjustments you know you need to make when you look at the situation objectively. Sometimes for me, that means looking myself in the mirror and saying out loud, “Yes, you are no good right now, but you want to get better, you know what it takes to get better and you can’t quit. Suck it up and keep at it.” A motivational speaker I am not.

Then it will happen. Whether you are trying to make yourself into a better veterinarian or a better knitter, something is going to go horribly sideways on you. Sideways so bad you can’t bring it back. And when you look at the situation objectively, you’ll see all the things you could have done better and it will hit you like a hammer. This is when your decision maker needs to be powered by optimism. It’s easy to quit after you ruin a sweater or have a patient die on you but if you’re going to be great, you’re going to have to recognize that this is the price. To change the metaphor a little bit, sometimes you’re going to find yourself in over your head and the water is going to be rough. Beat you down and hold you under rough. You’ll take on some water, sputter, cough and gag and you’ll struggle to shore. But you’ll make it through and find a way to learn from the experience and eventually the waves that once seemed insurmountable don’t even break your focus.

And that’s where you’d find me tonight. It’s Halloween night and it’s a Saturday or maybe it’s Sunday morning but I’m up, working the overnight, wondering what’s coming through the front door and wondering if I’ll be able to handle it. It’s easier tonight than it was a few weeks ago when I started but I’m still struggling, still am exposed to areas I need to improve on daily. And when that changes, when I don’t leave work feeling like it took everything out of me. When I get comfortable. It will be time to start the new chapter on this adventure. Comfortable is for retirement and retirement is still a few years away. Hopefully for you too.

Thanks for reading.

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The oral health article

Roughly 80% of dogs and cats over the age of three are going to have some level of periodontal disease. It is the most common disease we face in veterinary medicine. That fact is the main reason I have devoted a huge part of my professional development towards veterinary dentistry. It is the best way to help the most pets have healthy and pain free lives. I think veterinary dentistry is incredibly important.

Veterinary dentistry is also incredibly expensive. When things are expensive in any service industry, you can be sure that it is expensive to provide as well as to purchase. Dentistry in the veterinary world is no exception. I would love to tell you that dentistry is an elective issue and not something every pet really needs. But if I told you that having a healthy mouth was an elective issue and not something every pet really needs, would that sound reasonable? No. Your dog or cat doesn’t brush his/her teeth twice a day. Think about how your mouth feels if you fall asleep without brushing for one night. Multiply that by seven and you’ve got the typical week in the life of an average dog or cat. Here is the point where we need to understand that the disease process that causes periodontal disease in dogs and cats is not significantly different than it is in humans.

I wish I could share trade secrets about how to save money on veterinary dentistry with you. Unfortunately, there are none. What I can share with you is how you can effectively do the heavy lifting so that we have to do less when your pet does need dental work. I’ll warn you however that if you consider Mike Rowe to be a bit overbearing with the work ethic shtick, you should probably just get used to writing checks for veterinary dental care.

Brushing is the absolute king of the heap when it comes to preventing periodontal disease in dogs and cats. In order to be effective brushing needs to happen a minimum of five times weekly and is really best if it can happen twice daily. I understand, all too well that this is typically a Sisyphean task. I recommend attempting to acclimate your dog or cat to daily brushing. If it works out and is an enjoyable process for both of you, great. If not then the following methods will help some.

The kibble in dental diets have been designed to “brush” the tooth while your pet chews on the food. While these diets aren’t going to work as well as brushing does they do work very well at keeping the teeth clean. There are two different ways that you can use a dental diet:

  1. Dental diets have been formulated to meet the needs of a healthy canine with no specific dietary requirements. As a result, you can transition your pet into using the dental diet exclusively.
  2. You can add just a small amount, I usually shoot for about 1/4 of the diet coming from the dental diet. This allows your pet to continue eating the food they like while still achieving some benefit from the dental diet.

There are several dental chews on the market that have been shown to effectively reduce plaque and tartar and promote healthy stimulation of the gingiva or gum tissue. Recently a good number of options have been added to the market, so I’m not going to list them here. I will say that anything that has approval by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is going to be acceptable and there are a few out there that are equally good even if they don’t have that approval.

Finally, there are water additives that seem to help quite a bit. While there are plenty that I might be comfortable with my clients using, the only one I feel entirely comfortable recommending in writing via the internet would be Healthy Mouth it is a little bit more expensive than some of the other formulas out there but it has solid science backing it up and has agreat track record in clinical use.

Keep in mind, that even if you were to employ all 4 of these oral heath tactics successfully, your dog or cat may still need a fair amount of dental work over the course of their lives. Just like people, some dogs were just born with difficult mouths. At least with dogs we know which breeds are going to be more at risk than others.

Thanks for reading.

Heart of Bixi

Recently, my wife and I took a weekend trip to Montreal. Sans les enfants, if you will. It was a quick two night trip to compartmentalize the stress of moving across New England, changing jobs and starting our three girls at a new preschool all at the same time. It worked. We also discovered our new second favorite business idea ever. Called Bixi, it’s a mixture of bicycle rental and taxi service. You can pay as you go or buy a pass for the day, a few days or even a season. The bicycles are available from April until November. We were only going to need them for Saturday so we opted for the $5 24 hours pass. The fun catch of the system is you only get the bicycle for 30 minutes, otherwise it starts charging more. As a result, you have to get from station to station in 30 minutes or less. With over 450 stations, this isn’t really difficult but it does lend a sort of competitive nature to the adventure.

I’m not saying bicycle is the best way to see Montreal. I’m saying that it’s probably the only way to see Montreal. You could try walking but the city is large and you’ll want to save some energy for all the stairs at Chalet du Mont-Royal or the Jardin Botanique de Montreal. Taking a car is fine but you miss so much by driving from point A to point B. The bicycle allows you to really see the area while maintaining a decent level of transportation.

Our plan for Saturday was simple enough. We wanted to see the botanical garden first. Then we were going to go down to the Promenade du Vieux-Port to see some tourist attractions. We would ride back in the afternoon and climb to the Chalet du Mont-Royal and finally shower and go out to dinner near the pavilions on or around St. Catherine.

We charted out where our Bixi adventure would start and where we would make our first bike transfer. The rule was we had to stop and wait two minutes for the system to reset before we could take our new bikes. We pedaled from the street next to where we were staying to a park with a lovely fountain system and small pond. We docked our bicycles and walked around the fountain to kill the mandatory two minutes. From there it was a straight shot to the botanical gardens. We docked our bicycles and made our way around a beautiful collection of gardens. Much of our trip around the garden was spent lamenting how little time we have to actually garden. Before getting back on our bikes to go down to the old city we had a quick snack at the restaurant in the garden.

The second leg of the trip was a longer time pedaling. it took us through the industrial area as well as some of the seedier less touristy type sections of the city. Personally, I feel like it’s important to see that side of any place you visit to remind yourself that real life happens everywhere. We cut it pretty close finding a dock at the half-way point between the garden and the promenade. This led to just a tiny amount of bickering between the Drs. McNutt but we found a station just in the nick of time. There were few bicycles there while we waited for our two minutes to elapse. We became a little nervous when a family of seven came over to rent bicycles. It turned out there was the exact number of bicycles needed for everyone to be outfitted and we all went our separate ways. The next leg of our trip was only a few minutes and we docked out bicycles and walked around the promenade scoping out what tourist attraction appealed the most to us. First we had to hydrate. The adventure to finding a convenience store led to us completely changing our plans. The restaurants and people watching in Old Montreal were too good to pass up. We spent a little over an hour exploring an indoor maze called SOS Labyrinthe before settling into a delicious meal with perfect street side seats in an outdoor restaurant that left me wondering, “What do they do when it snows?”

We cycled back to our bed and breakfast, docking our bicycles and walking the last two blocks just as the sun was setting. We decided to do the hike up to the Chalet du Mont-Royal in the morning and toyed with idea of going out for drinks and maybe dessert after a shower.

Once we were cleaned up and relaxed, however, we decided not to be too hard on ourselves for going to bed around 10pm.

We did wake up the next morning and climb the hundreds of beautifully crafted stairs that lead through the forest to the stone patio of the chalet.

An inexpensive and easy to use bicycle rental system combined with a very bicycle friendly city made our trip to Montreal one of the most memorable quick weekend trips we’ve taken in what is very close to being a decade long adventure between my wife and I.

Thanks for reading.

Optimism

I’ve written about optimism more than once. Personally, I think it is so important to keep a positive outlook that writing about it everyday wouldn’t be too much. No, I’m not going to turn this into a blog of cheesy life affirmations but I am completely serious when I type that I think an optimistic perspective is the most important thing a person can have.

I read somewhere that because we have to filter every experience through our minds in order to actually experience anything, our perspective is the key ingredient in each of our life experiences. Yes, I am saying everything you experience is in your mind. No, I’m not saying we live in a fantasy world where smiles and quotes on coffee mugs are going to ward off all the bad things that happen to people. But how you perceive and deal with these things, that’s totally up to you.

I’m not saying that keeping a positive outlook is going to make you happy. Frankly, I think that having happiness as a life goal is a great way to miss the point. To me happiness is a product of living a certain way, not a goal to be worked towards. I’ll write more about happiness later.

The key to obtaining and keeping a positive outlook is understanding that it is a skill and not something you were born with or have because you are a naturally cheery person. Like any skill, optimism can be developed, refined and improved on over the course of your life. The following are some of the ways I’ve been able to develop a flexible optimism muscle over the past decade. Hopefully you find them helpful as well.

Be able to make an “I’m awesome” list. Occasionally (several times a day) there is a little voice in the back of my head that reminds me; I often have little to no idea what I’m doing, people depend on me and that I’m far more likely to fail than I am to succeed. I shut this self doubt monster down by stopping and either mentally or physically listing 10 times I’ve surprised myself. The list might be simple things like dealing with 3 daughters throwing tantrums without losing my temper or it might contain successfully managing a penetrating chest wound in a frantic young hunting dog. The list serves as a good reminder that you are not a bumbling idiot in over your head as much as you are a skilled individual trying to stretch your comfort zone.

Set a few small goals and knock them out of the park. Make your bed in the morning, tidy up your car or desk. Little things like that can get you in the mindset that you are already being productive and that you are in fact good at doing things. This almost always gets me fired up to accomplish something else which in turn leads me to view my abilities, myself and the world in a more positive light.

Encourage others. I also call this “mining your friends.” Write, email or text a friend you have who is doing something awesome and productive or is going through something trying and difficult. I am assuming you are a decent person and want your friends to succeed and overcome their trials. Tell them how impressed you are with what they have accomplished and who they are as a person and be genuine. Don’t say stuff you don’t mean, ever. When your friend responds, save what they write, it’s almost always appreciative and kind and is helpful to remind yourself that when you put positive things out there, the world responds positively. Maybe I’m fortunate to have so many accomplished and successful friends or maybe my friends are fortunate to have someone who sees them that way. Either way, we all win.

Recognize you’re making a choice. Whether you decide to be positive or negative about an experience and how you choose to respond to an experience is entirely up to you. One of my favorite and most embarrassing attitude lessons in my recent past involved a very busy day; I had an appointment waiting, a client waiting in the lobby to speak to me, a client on hold on the telephone waiting to speak to me and a very fractious small dog with sutures near his eye that needed removing in front of me. It all became a little too much and I should have set the suture scissors down and walked away. Instead I sort of thrust the scissors onto a coworker and went to storm off, catching the pocket of my white coat on a door knob and tearing the coat. I took the coat off, threw it on the floor and walked off. I later apologized to the staff and one of my coworker’s looked at me and said, “It’s ok, I support your decision to lose your temper.” That statement is likely to stay with me for the rest of my life and serves as a good reminder that I had made a decision, and not a decision I am proud of. It also led to a Lonely Island song being played at work a lot over the next few weeks.

Raise your heart rate. Exercise is a great way to get yourself into a positive mindset. It makes you instantly feel better, accomplished and like you are taking good care of yourself. The long term results of regular exercise include better health, better self image and feeling like you can conquer lots of difficult tasks. Bonus points if you get your exercise outdoors, double bonus points if it’s through hiking, running or biking in the forest or swimming in a lake or the ocean. It’s pretty hard to be a pessimist after running through the forest or enjoying a swim in the ocean.

Cheat. When all else fails, guided meditation is a great way to let someone else do the heavy lifting. There are all kinds of guided meditations on youtube and while some of it is a little out there and cheesy, they are typically only 10 to 20 minutes long and do leave you feeling relaxed and better about the state of the world and your role in it. If you just can’t seem to shake your negative thoughts, a 20 minute break full of positive thoughts will always help. Pro-tip: listen to a guided meditation while running or walking through a natural park.

If you asked me to nail down the most important part of this list for me, it would have to be recognizing that I am making a choice in how I view and respond to the world. Each of these tricks have been very helpful to me during times when I needed to get a better perspective and maintain a positive outlook if I was going to get myself where I needed to be.

Thanks for reading.