You ever have one of those moments where you immediately wish you could go back in time two minutes and grab your iPhone? I just had one of those this weekend.
I am really good at listing all my faults (sound familiar?) so I decided to turn them into a series of talks because misery loves company and we are definitely a group who tends towards the hyper-critical. I was talking to a group of veterinary hospice professionals at the IAAHPC annual meeting about the seven bad habits we keep kicking ourselves in the butt with, over and over and over. One of those habits, one with which I am unfortunately all too familiar, is fear. We are human, and fear is a survival instinct, but it should not be a default state of mind. Yet here we are – we fear a lot of things:
- Obvious ones, of course, death and pain. This is reasonable, right? No one wants pain and death is generally frowned upon.
- Yelp reviews
- Disappointing people
- Failure (Oh, I could go on about this one for a long time too! Seriously, we are so hard on ourselves)
Let’s focus on that last one for now. Fear of change is real and it’s paralyzing. There is a well known phenomenon in human psychology called “status quo bias”. In a nutshell, it means we are hardwired to prefer what we have right in front of us over making a change, even if it’s likely to benefit us, because we fear it just might be worse than what we have now. It’s why we don’t try the new restaurant down the road, why we stick with the same brand of car forever (my Dad’s a Toyota guy), and in our case, why we stick in horrible jobs that suck the life out of us. We know Option A is bad, but Option B might be bad, and at least with Option A I know what to expect.
I read this type of thing all the time, as do you, I’m sure:
“Help! Not sure if I should leave my job or not. I was hired in a five doctor practice and then three of them left so it’s just me and the boss. Every morning he chains me to the surgery table and plays death metal if I’m not working fast enough. This continues until I’m done, usually 22 hours later. As I leave, he hands me a list of all the ways I annoyed him over the course of the day and for reasons unknown insists on calling me Dr. Dopeyhead. I go home and cry for two hours and then come back in. Am I being whiny?”
And you think to yourself, “RUN GIRL – OMG – RUN FAR AND FAST!” because from the outside, this is clearly a terrible, terrible work environment. But the person hesitates:
“I don’t know, yeah, he’s terrible and abusive but I have so many student loans, and I’m worried I won’t be able to find another job, and that one might be just as bad, and I don’t know he does occasionally buy us stale bagels so maybe I should wait it out….”
That, my friends, is fear talking. Status quo bias in action. The fear of what might be, in our heads, is riskier than the nightmare reality right in front of us so we just stay where we are, miserable.
I remember leaving my last full time clinic job. It wasn’t abusive, I just needed to make some changes for my own personal health. I felt terrible. I remember crying, feeling like I was going to vomit, thinking I was going to doom my kids to the poorhouse. Above all I remember feeling selfish– as in, how dare I make a decision about my own well being rather than that of my family? Won’t my boss be disappointed I’m leaving them high and dry? (She was totally supportive, by the way.) But I did it anyway, and I am so, so glad I did because lots of good things happened. I don’t regret it one bit.
So back to the conference. I look out into the room, and I asked, “Has anyone here ever left a toxic work environment?” I expected maybe half the room to raise their hands. It was closer to 90%. Hand after hand, a sea of arms in the air.
Then I said, “Have any of you looked back and thought to yourself, man, I regret leaving?”
Not a single one.
I stood there floored by what I just witnessed, and then immediately got mad I didn’t have my camera because it was so striking to see that contrast, and no one else in the room got to see it from my vantage point because they were sitting in the middle of it. Here, let me recreate it for you:
YES! I TOO HAD A TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT!
And no, I would never in a million years choose to go back.
Isn’t that the way of the world? You can’t see it, when you’re in the middle of the turmoil and the anxiety, that life can and does get better for those who choose to leave. That no job is worth existing in a constant state of panic and dread. We allow the our fear of what might happen keep us from escaping what is happening right around us, every day.
It’s hard to get over that hump, and by hard I mean “excruciating.” I get it. But if you’re trying, and keep running into that seemingly insurmountable level of fear that you can’t seem to overcome yourself, I want you to conjure up that image I couldn’t provide for you because I didn’t know it was coming. Because this is the truth:
The entire collective experience of veterinary medicine will tell you that the change is well worth the chance.
When she’s not busy watching debates and reading fact check sites, Editorial Director Jessica Vogelsang is a San Diego veterinarian with Paws into Grace and the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com. Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as dvm360, Vetstreet, and petmd. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit drjessicavogelsang.com.