Whose career is it anyway?

Stop waiting for your boss to notice you quietly toiling away, longing for more responsibility or a promotion. It's your career, so what are you going to do with it?
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May 01, 2008

Ever wonder why some people are so successful and others never seem to get ahead? Great skills and a great attitude help, but the defining measure may be whether you take charge of your career. Ask yourself this: Do you look for ways to improve your practice? Or do you sit back and think of all the reasons these ideas won't work? Perhaps you've even muttered one of these phrases: "My boss is set in her ways." "The team won't like the idea." Or, "Someone already does that."

Don't worry, you're not alone. Sometimes it's hard to see a career path without a little help from peers and mentors. But when you decide to blaze your own trail, you might discover opportunities you've never thought were possible. To make this step a little easier for team members at our practice, I've made a promise to my team at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wa. I won't allow any team members to leave the practice without challenging them, providing direction, and encouraging their professional growth. And I work hard each week to make sure they're happy with their positions at our clinic.

Still, our team members realize the responsibility for their personal and professional growth and success falls on their shoulders. While managers can create career maps, open doors, and provide education, support, and guidance, they can't accept opportunities on behalf of team members. Let's see how three team members responded to opportunities and where their choices led them.

First, face your fear

A team member we'll call Beth worked at our practice for more than five years. She cross-trained in several departments and demonstrated excellent client service, attention to detail, and leadership.

She asked for further development and we felt she could play a larger role with our management or treatment and surgical teams. Beth just needed to decide which role she wanted to pursue. We outlined each opportunity and the training she needed for her new role. We met with her several times during the next six months to offer guidance and support. Each meeting was positive and promising, but Beth never pursued either option. And sadly, Beth left our practice not long afterward.

So why did Beth hesitate? I believe she was afraid to fail. When we hear the words "new" and "change," we may think "vulnerable" and "chance." These feelings often make us ask, "Why am I trying this?" We prefer the comfort of constants and routines. And we feel vulnerable when we try something new and risk failure and embarrassment. But to push past our fear, we must be humble, admit and learn from our mistakes, and move on.

Admitting failure is never easy, but it's necessary for professional growth. Unfortunately, Beth's fear of failure stunted her growth and ultimately led her to a more familiar position somewhere else.

Take an unplanned leap

Our clinic participates in a weekly live radio show where we feature a local pet available for adoption and educate our community about companion animal care. Recently, our usual hosts couldn't participate and I asked one of our exam room assistants, Amy, if she'd like to step in. Amy blushed and laughed nervously, but she agreed. After the broadcast, we discussed how she turned those butterflies into professional growth when she accepted the challenge to try something new. Confronting those butterflies is never easy, but it can be rewarding.

Her experience on the radio show increased Amy's confidence. Since then, Amy has embraced more challenges, including facilitating a program that organizes pet visits to patients at community hospitals. She's also collaborated with the local chapter of the American Red Cross to host a pet first aid and CPR seminar for pet owners.

Accept an invitation

When our boarding supervisor position opened up, Hannah, a part-time boarding assistant, approached me. She expressed concerns about the lack of direction and supervision in the boarding department. I challenged her to create a plan and a new role for a boarding supervisor that would address her concerns.

Two days later, Hannah presented a revised job description and a plan. She applied for the position, and her enthusiasm made the hiring decision easy for our management team. Hannah excels in her new position. We regularly discuss the challenges the position offers, and she and her team offer solutions for every challenge they face. Hannah saw an opportunity and took responsibility to improve her life and the lives of the pets she cares for.

Too often, team members believe it's not possible to improve the problems in their clinic, and they point fingers. Instead, take ownership and realize your clinic's problems are like those in many other clinics. The details change, but the roots of the problems are the same. You can choose to be a voice for change like Hannah did, or you can ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Tools for change

First, recognize you must assume risk to maximize your opportunities. And don't let fear hinder your growth. Approach your life thinking you don't know what tomorrow will bring and do your best for today. Ready to change the trajectory of your life? Start with a cohesive plan:

  • Correlate your idea with your practice's philosophy and values. When a team member approached me with an idea for a weight management program, we considered how the program would help us carry out our mission: to create an exceptional experience for pet owners, work as a team to enhance the health of each pet, and strengthen the human-animal bond. We decided we'd create a program to encourage pets and owners to exercise together and enhance pets' health.
  • Create a plan that includes a time line and a budget. Also identify potential roadblocks and solutions.
  • Prepare for critiques and criticisms so you can validate each one and explain the benefits of your suggestions. And don't let past failures stop you from trying again. If an idea didn't work the first time, it doesn't mean it won't work ever. When ATMs initially emerged, the lifeless, impersonal machines were considered a bust. But 10 years later, their popularity took off, and the rest is history at $2 to $3 per transaction.

Remember, you're the boss of your career, so take charge of your success. Look for opportunities to grow and avoid falling prey to a fear of failure. Your managers want you to be happy and challenged, but they can't do it for you. Take responsibility for your growth as you continue down a path with limitless possibilities.

Brian Conrad, CVPM, is the practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash. Please send questions or comments to