"Intellectual humility"

Let me preface this by saying: I still love vet school. Three years in, and I'm still grateful to be here. More so than ever, I'm interested in what I'm learning and it's exhilarating to think that I'm on the cusp of clinical experience. But, three years in, I'm also feeling that vet school is wearing on me.

It seems inevitable, when you think about it. From hundreds of applicants, you select the highest achieving, most ambitious students. Suddenly, the cream of the undergrad crop find themselves surrounded - six, seven, sometimes eight hours a day, five days a week - by a hundred other exceptionally exceptional individuals. Add the natural clash of personalities and the stress of weekly exams, and it's not a surprise that you can create a less-than-nurturing environment.

This is a public blog post, likely read by no one but technically accessible to anyone, so that's all I'm going to say for now about my issues with the vet school environment. I'm not out to accuse my peers or make myself up to be some kind of victim. I'm pretty sure that most of us struggle, some more quietly than others, with the double-edged sword of a highly driven personality, both as the individual wielding the sword and the individual surrounded by them. Drive becomes competitiveness. Attention to detail becomes pedantry. Independence becomes selfishness.

This morning, I read an article in The New York Times titled "How to Get a Job at Google". (I read it because I'm always daydreaming that Google or Apple will decide to add "on-site veterinarian" to their suite of enviable staff perks. Don't laugh; if they'll freeze your eggs, it's not long before they'll vaccinate your dog, right?)

This part really resonated with me:

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. ... What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

"Intellectual humility". It bounced around in my head all morning, appropriating whatever little brain matter was still trying to make notes for hemolymphatic pathology (spoiler alert - not a lot). I couldn't stop thinking about it. For weeks I've been trying to intentionally re-wire the harmful aspects of my highly driven personality into a kinder, less reactive, more compassionate... more intellectually humble personality. It just clicked; it's the perfect descriptor for how I feel about what I want to be and what I feel is lacking from my vet school experience. And the best part is that someone else said it, someone else gets it. It's not my highly sensitive brain in overdrive - it's a senior VP of Google.

A few weeks ago, I was really unhappy. I was in this place where I could tell that I was letting the environment get to me, and instead of responding in a positive way, I was multiplying all the negativity back tenfold, perpetuating the environment. I couldn't decide what felt worse - the problem, or being part of the problem. Since then, I've been trying to approach all the microabrasions of day to day life more intentionally. Things feel a lot better. I can't do anything about how other people act and react, but I can be self-aware of my own actions and reactions and choose to be different - to be intellectually humble.

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