I owe it to my professor. A simple extra credit assignment I’ve referenced so many times since veterinary school. The assignment in school was this: “Begin with the end in mind.” – Stephen Covey. Write a career postscript imagining you are at retirement age reflecting on your career.

When re-reading my response during my first year out as a veterinarian, I honestly wondered how I was so naive. What an enamored perspective. If this was where I was supposed to be, why was it so difficult? Animals that cannot talk to you to tell you what is wrong. Financial restraints. Best educated guesses. The first time treating something is on a live patient while reading the textbook. I was supposed to have answers for unlimited questions and every body system—experience- the best and most painful teacher.

Starting any career is difficult. Just as at some point, every kid stops getting gold stars on their homework, their accomplishments stop being graded, and what they were once abundantly praised for becomes an expectation. At work, what is an accomplishment? In medicine, what is success?

I know I’m not alone in saying that work hasn’t always been quite what I had imagined. Sometimes it feels more like sitting in front of a firehose than fulfilling a lifelong dream. Somedays, all you learn is how much you don’t know, and some days, you wonder if it’s worth it, you’ve worked hard and sacrificed so much to be here, but there’s always more to do, to learn, to accomplish.

Even though I have not always had the end in mind, as I’ve begun my career, my response to this assignment written six years ago is becoming more true. This is my response:

“The older I become, the more aware I am of how fleeting this mist of life is. Since this life is so temporary, I don’t want to miss what matters.

Looking back over my career, my greatest satisfaction (achievement, contribution, etc.) as a veterinarian was having an impact on people’s lives. I became a veterinarian because of my passion for people. Some people enter this profession because “they hate people and love animals.” I love them both, but I especially love the people.

There were so many roles I was able to play throughout my career. I am so thankful to have taken part in this dynamic profession in which I wore many different hats and no two days were the same. I was a surgeon, a pharmacist, a nephrologist, a gastroenterologist, a nutritionist, a pathologist, a cardiologist, and a behavior specialist. But more importantly, I was a counselor when people suffered the loss of their pets. I was a friend and a listener when people trusted me enough to share personal struggles unrelated to their animals. I was a mystery solver who didn’t always get it right but was able to take scattered puzzle pieces and make sense of them. I was a teacher with the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge of complex medical information with the general public. I was a healer who used her God-given brain and abilities and the gift of modern medicine to bring animals from near death to health. I was a role model to people who desired to one-day become a veterinarian. I was a learner who was humble enough to continue to learn. I learned something from every boss I worked for, from every technician and staff member who worked for me, from every client who walked through the door. I was an advocate for the good stewardship of animals. “

While written unaware of the challenges yet to come, this still is my greatest accomplishment. Here is my living and working on purpose. And the gift of “now” is that it isn’t the end. Tomorrow I will hopefully accomplish this better than I did today…