Here we are, ending the first quarter of what was a new year. Remember how you felt at the end of last year? "Next year is going to be a new beginning." Or, "Next year I resolve to (fill in the blank)."
Now, if you got that far, you've taken a big step because not too many people even do that much. According to research published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55 percent of people are so pleased with themselves that they can't think of anything worth resolving to improve. Of those who do bother to consider improving, fewer than one in four report any significant success and just one in 12 say they succeeded. So 8 percent of 45 percent—that's a success rate of 3.6 percent reporting long-term change.
That means of the countless smokers who resolve to quit, of the staggering number of people who are overweight, of the disorganized masses who can't even find their list of resolutions, only a few will change.
Why is a word like "resolution" so powerless and empty when the rubber meets the road? Sure, there's no question that making a decision is better than staying in denial. But part of the problem is that a resolution focuses on what we will do rather than the result we seek. Making a resolution is like making a promise—it's a good intention. And we all know what paves the road to hell. Without follow-through or a commitment to our result, it's a good bet that we will be making a similar resolution next year.
So don't resolve to go to the gym, eat healthier, stop smoking or control your temper. Instead, commit to the result you want to achieve. Be healthier. Be more kind. Be a better employee or employer, spouse, friend or parent. Tell people about your commitment. Enlist their help in a sort of DIY intervention. Visualize your result. Celebrate small steps. Unlike a resolution, a real commitment to a goal is ongoing and renewable. A slip doesn't mark a failure but a new opportunity to start again.
Commit to financial health
Now, speaking of commitment, the recently released VPI-Veterinary Economics Financial Health Study points to a critical need for us to commit to our personal success and security as veterinarians. Our profession is waking up and realizing the financial nightmare that lies ahead. Young professionals are heavily indebted with not much likelihood of improvement. Why?
Juggling a chainsaw
Because although we have resolved to find an answer, and in spite of a clearly downward financial future, we are content to talk without taking action. We are making a resolution about what we want to do but are not committed to a different result. We remain stuck in an educational model that's not working. The cost of veterinary education goes up, the supply of veterinarians increases and the salary scale stagnates. So what is our financial reality? Don't ask. It isn't pretty.
One of the shocking findings of the recent study was that one in four veterinarians felt they had no understanding of finances or investments. I know when I've addressed students or new graduates about the cost of their education relative to their earning potential or their debt load, I've often been greeted with an expression that seemed to say, "It will be fine in the end." The results of this study indicate it is not fine—it's abysmal. And I don't want us to wait until the end for it to get better.
As a profession, we're passionate—often excessively so—about what we do. That's something hardwired into all of us from the time we were children and heard the siren's call. We're passionate about the role we play in animal and human health. Unfortunately, that passion doesn't mean that we will be successful or even financially solvent. To combat this, we need to instill in our profession a passion and a commitment to be personally solvent and focused on tomorrow for the sake of our families, our profession and ourselves.
Now, I'm not saying we should be driven by financial goals, but as this study illustrates, while money won't make you happy, the absence of money will make you miserable. There is no reason why we should not be rewarded for our work and sacrifice. There is no reason why following a dream means we should be ignorant of reality.
So don't resolve to improve the bottom line. Don't resolve to become fiscally responsible or informed about finances. Remember, a resolution is like an undeposited check. Instead, commit to attending financial seminars. Commit to reading at least one financial magazine monthly. Find a personal financial or investment advisor. Commit to being knowledgeable about and involved in your own finances and investments. Commit to being responsible for your future results. Your security and the security of your family are too crucial to entrust to a resolution. Commit and recommit and hold yourself to the renewal of this commitment every day.
Dr. Michael Paul, @mikepauldvm on Twitter, has 40 years' experience in companion animal practice, organized and corporate veterinary medicine, and nonprofit leadership. He is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.