Most of us embrace guilt like it's in the Veterinarian's Oath. If we didn't pursue an internship, we feel guilty. If we pursued
advanced education that took us away from spouses and children, we feel guilty. We feel guilty if we work part-time, because
we're not developing as quickly as we should. We feel guilty if we work full-time because our kids are "only young once."
We beat ourselves up relentlessly about angry clients, disappointed clients and clients who look pregnant but aren't (I still
feel bad about that one).
The guilt associated with lost patients is difficult to escape, and maybe it's good in that it drives us to be better doctors.
The rest of the "veterinary guilt" is overly abundant, unnecessary and obstructive to our pursuit of happiness. This guilt
is an enormous hurdle to appreciating balance in life.
Here are a few strategies to keep in mind to counter veterinary guilt.
Remember your priorities
Priorities are deeply personal, and you are the only one who can fully assess what is important in your own life. Be strong
in your convictions and remember what is meaningful to you in both the short and long term. Don't be afraid to prioritize
family, finances, hobbies and health in addition to your career.
Conflict doesn't mean you're getting it wrong. Sometimes the priorities of others — clients, other doctors, staff members
or practice owners — will appear to be in direct conflict with your own.
Sure, life balance would be easy if everyone just accepted your priorities as their own, but that's not realistic. Neither
is the idea that you should accept the priorities of others as indisputable commands. Often, the best we can do is to understand
others' priorities so we can establish mutually beneficial solutions. It's important to be creative and sincere in working
with others while we pursue what is most important to ourselves. If we've done that, we shouldn't feel guilty about the paths
we choose, even if others disagree with it.
Carpe diem (seriously!)
I know "seize the day" sounds cliché, but it's the key to escaping guilt. When you see cases at work, engage them with your
complete attention. When you go home, be fully at home in body, mind and spirit. I struggle to live this philosophy as much
as anyone, but on my best days, when I get it right, I feel neither guilt nor regret.
We must learn to forgive ourselves for following our own priorities. If we want "life balance," we have to not only make the
hard choices but also embrace the experiences we create, guilt-free.
Dr. Roark is an associate veterinarian in Leesburg, Va.