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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