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How ‘dropping the ball’ can be a good thing for veterinarians

  • July 5, 2018 8:33 PM EDT

    I attended the Art of Leadership for Women conference last week and had the pleasure of listening to Tiffany Dufu speak.  Tiffany is the founder of a peer coaching company for women and an advocate for the advancement of female professionals.  She is also the author of Drop the Ball, a manifesto and memoir about adjusting expectations and enlisting the support of others to live a more meaningful and engaged life. 

    Tiffany was my favorite speaker of the day thanks to her authentic delivery, humorous anecdotes, and practical examples of how to let go of unnecessary tasks and recruit help from others.  Throughout the session, she shared what she referred to as “Tiffany’s epiphanies” and I felt so inspired by these wise words that I have decided to write some of them in this blog.

    Tiffany believes that life-changing events such as the birth of a child, a promotion at work, or a life-altering diagnosis can lead to what she refers to as “ball-dropping”.  To “drop the ball” means to “make a mistake, especially by failing to take timely, effective, or proper action”.  We’ve all been there.  Even those of us who have never had a child, been promoted, or had a life-altering diagnosis.  In my case, I hit the wall and felt utterly and completely burnt out.  I was no longer able to meet deadlines, adequately prepare for meetings, or reply to social requests in a timely fashion.  I was dropping the ball. 

    When this happens, Tiffany advises the following:

    1)     Let go of expectations

    2)     Get clear about what matters

    3)     Engage another person’s help

    So, let’s break each one of these down further. 

    The first is about letting go of expectations about who we are supposed to be: whether it’s the perfect veterinarian, sole practitioner, independent practice owner, tenured faculty member, or hardest working associate.  And those are just the professional roles.  Many of us also have high expectations when it comes to our personal roles: being a perfect mother, supportive friend, responsible daughter, attentive sibling, fun aunt, and the list goes on…  Tiffany urges women to reflect on what it means to be a good (fill in the blank role) and where those expectations come from (i.e., TV, advertising, upbringing, peer pressure).  The important distinction is not what others think is important, but what you feel is most important to fulfill that role.  She even suggests writing a “new job description” for who you want to be in that role. 

    For example, I recognize that being a perfect veterinarian who knows everything about emergency and critical care is not possible.  Instead, my role in practicing veterinary medicine is to connect with my clients and colleagues in an authentic and meaningful manner and to practice emergency and critical care to the best of my ability.   

    The second part of dropping the ball is about getting clear on what matters.  Rather than thinking about what women are supposed to do, Tiffany urges women to get clear on what the best use of their time is.  She uses the example that when a request is received to do something months from now, to consider the following: if you could do it tomorrow, would you want to?  When I speak to veterinarians about the power of saying no, I often say: if it’s not a heck yes, then it’s a no.  So, when you think about how you want to show up in your life and what is most important to you, feel empowered to say no to the things that do not resonate. 

    For example, I am often asked to work emergency shifts, which I can do, but do not align with my passion for clinical teaching and critical care.  Therefore, while it can be difficult to say no, I am reminded that if I say yes, I will likely end up regretting giving up my time that could have been spent on something else that is more meaningful to me

    Finally, the last part of “dropping the ball” is about soliciting help.  As veterinary care providers, we are so used to helping others, that we often resist or do not recognize when we would benefit from receiving help.  There is a certain vulnerability in admitting help is needed and sometimes the ego can be bruised when we realize that we can’t do it all.  However, Tiffany argues that delegation can be life-saving and can free up time for the most important things in our lives. 

    For example, as an entrepreneur I started my business thinking I could do my marketing, web design, accounting, etc. all on my own.  Not surprisingly, this led to a tremendous amount of stress and unhappiness when I realized that these were not strengths of mine, nor anything I wanted to spend time on.   So, in recent years I have been able to delegate these duties to other (much more qualified) professionals and it has brought me a tremendous amount of relief and happiness in knowing I can focus my time on the parts of my work I am most passionate about. 

    As veterinarians, I encourage you to identify what is most important to you in the roles that you fulfill, what the best use of your time is in order to focus on what you are most passionate about, and how you might delegate some of the less important tasks to others in your life, so that you can drop the ball directly into the hands of someone just as capable.  

    Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher with an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals.  She facilitates wellness workshops, boot camps, and retreats for veterinarians, technicians, students, and other veterinary team members.  To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here.  More information can be found at