In recent months, I’ve started to focus on being happy. After years of planning and working, I’ve secured a seat at my top choice of veterinary schools. I’m no longer chasing after something seemingly unattainable with every ounce of energy I can muster. I achieved the highest goal I set for myself, and now I’m free to devote more energy to the areas of personal development that I’ve neglected while making it happen. This is the focus that will bring me genuine happiness.

The biggest of these areas has, unfortunately, been personal relationships. I’ve been working on me for a long time, because it was the right time to do it. I still possess the youthful flexibility and persistence necessary to achieve what is damned difficult to achieve. And I take great satisfaction in the fact that I’ve achieved so much with a decent brain and my own two hands. Now that I’m no longer fixated on a single goal, however, I realize that I’ve cultivated a lonely sort of existence.

I’ve cast aside too many opportunities to form mutually beneficial relationships just because I felt that I didn’t need them. And I’ve neglected many existing relationships by becoming so focused on myself, overlooking the benefits I’ve enjoyed because of them. It’s time to recognize the people that stuck by my side, and are still here to celebrate my achievements with me. I have a lot of relationship debt to repay.

Last week, during my Spring break, I made time to visit friends. I don’t mean meeting up with my college friends for a drink—who am I kidding? I never put forth any effort to make college friends—I mean visiting longtime friends who have been there through it all. These people are family members, friends, colleagues and mentors. As much as I take pride in my independent achievements, I have to acknowledge that I wouldn’t have achieved anything without their support.

First on my list was a visit to my veterinary family. I often return to the fold without announcing my intentions, because I take childlike, selfish pleasure in their surprise and delight when I walk through the door. I’m one of them, and professionally, I’m the product of their influence. They held my hand while I cautiously entered the veterinary field. I sheepishly observed their work, assisting in small ways when I was able to overcome my fears. They exposed me to everything in order to test me, and to teach me how to think on my feet.

When I had accumulated the minimum skill set to become employed as a veterinary assistant, they took on the challenge of my employment. They completely enveloped me in their supportive network, and helped me to further develop my abilities. It is because of their influence that I became a viable professional candidate for admission to veterinary school. For this reason, my success is a shared victory. They deserve much more than any thanks I can give.

The foundation of my success goes much deeper than professional development, however. Before I developed professionally, I developed the personal traits and skills that make me a good fit for the veterinary profession. Many friends and family members have played a huge role in this process, and I thank them constantly for what they do. I humbly acknowledge my debt to them, and hope that any success I enjoy for the remainder of my life will only help me to repay them better.

One outstanding individual to whom I owe a great deal is my childhood riding instructor. I’ve known her since I was five years old, and started taking horseback riding lessons with her when I was eight. With skills put to great use elsewhere as an elementary school teacher, she created an encouraging and supportive environment that fostered personal growth. Where natural ability was lacking, she helped me to offset the deficit through practice. Self awareness was key.

As I grew up, she took a great interest in my development. Perhaps we’re sort of kindred spirits. Despite apparent differences, and a five decade difference in age, I think we understood each other from the start. When I visit her, we chat endlessly about superficial things, full of humor and good cheer. Conversation slips effortlessly into serious matters, and the necessary emotions flow freely from us both. In brief silences, and underpinning all of our interactions, there is an acknowledgement that no words expressed can pay proper tribute to the strange demands of living a good, full life.

For her understanding and whole-hearted support of my endeavors, I owe a great deal. She’s been there through many of the best and worst times in my life. I rarely express my gratitude with those two simple words, but it’s time to say a proper “thank you.”

I’d also like to thank Taylor at Beasts Unburdened for encouraging future veterinarians everywhere to prioritize their own wellbeing. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that it takes a village, and that the village deserves our demonstrative thanks.

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