My mind was whirling. I was feeling a combination of enlightenment and horror that presented itself as the single statement that popped out of my mouth, “holy crap!!!” The realization I had just made was that I had come to a place in my life where I was using my work to fill all of my needs. Every. Single. One.
Just to anchor in the 6 human needs and how I was using my work to fill them, here is the breakdown:
Certainty: I needed to go to work every day. This was a necessity and it never changed. Plus the drive to work, the people that worked there and the security of my relationships with them were other ways that I filled my certainty needs.
Uncertainty: Do I even need to explain how our chosen profession provided me with uncertainty? Animals and their reactions to me, their reactions to my treatments and the amazing and varied ailments that they present with are endless. Pair this along with the added element of client reactions and emotions and at times the uncertainty could get to be too much!
Significance: I found a lot of significance at work by just being a doctor with an established clientele. If I didn’t show up to work it would be a big deal and my significance need knew it.
Love and connection: Constant contact with animals, my clients, and my co-workers all filled my love and connection needs.
Contribution: The very definition of our profession is contribution. We help. We help animals, we help people and we help each other. I also enjoy teaching which is another mainstay of our profession. We teach our clients and often, we teach our staff. Between helping and teaching I had no problem filling my contribution needs.
Growth: Growth is always happening at work with the ever growing amounts of knowledge being discovered, new techniques that need to be mastered, and new protocols that are being developed. Veterinary medicine is not a stagnant field and if you aren’t growing, then you are falling behind. Growth in our field is a requirement and filled my needs completely.
See what I mean? All of my needs were being met at work. How was this affecting my family? How was this affecting my health? How was this affecting my husband and my marriage?
Hint: none of those answers was good. The issue with having all of my needs met at work was that it really did affect all areas of my life. As Stacey Martino* had taught me, anything that meets 4 or more of my needs at a high level was very close to being an addiction. It may be consciously or subconsciously an addiction but nevertheless an addiction. This is why so many people are workaholics. They unknowingly let their work fill all of their needs and then before you know it, they are working all the time. They can be happy or unhappy at work but either way they will hold work as a priority over other things.
In retrospect I don’t think I was consciously doing this. I stayed late because I “had to”. I stayed late because my patients “needed me”. When in reality I stayed late making phone calls that I had procrastinated on all day long. I stayed late accepting phone calls
from clients even though my scheduled day was done. I stayed late seeing “my” patients that were there on emergency even though the ER doctor was already in. I stayed late answering staff questions even though there were 2 other doctors in the building. I stayed late writing records that I could have written during my down time between appointments. The problem was, that instead of using that time to write my notes I was staying occupied chatting with co-workers or helping them do things that didn’t require a DVM to do. I wasn’t prioritizing my time. I was prioritizing my needs being filled. By prioritizing my needs being filled I became an inefficient worker. Sure I got my work done and I did it well but it took a lot longer than it needed to because I was so busy filling my needs.
The kicker is this, my work was filling my needs so completely that not only had I failed to figure out a way to fill my needs without work, but I was also not “allowing” my husband to fill my needs either. And this “not allowing” him to fill my needs in turn was robbing him of any ability to fill his needs with me. So he then sought out other ways (not other people, thank goodness) to fill his own needs. It was a vicious cycle that we were trapped in. A hidden dynamic that was slowly destroying my marriage one day at a time.
I get that this can be a difficult concept to grasp so here’s another breakdown. My needs were being met by work. I know this because if you asked my husband “what do you feel is the thing that you have to compete with for your wife’s time, energy and attention?” He would have answered with “her work” before you could blink. Since work was taking up so much of my time, energy and attention I had little left to give to him. There was little love and connection happening, he didn’t seem to come first in my world which really hurt his significance, our relationship wasn’t feeling very good and so the certainty that I wasn’t about to pack up my stuff and leave wasn’t really there, and forget about growth and contribution. He really couldn’t do anything “right” in my eyes so any contribution he made was not met with appreciation which basically left that need empty even if he tried to fill it with me. Since I was pretty much ignoring his needs he filled them elsewhere. At the time if you had asked me “what do you feel you have to compete against for your husbands time, energy and attention?” I would have said surfing, clash of clans, and fantasy surf league. These things allowed him to fill all of his needs and left me feeling ignored and alone.
Coming to this realization was one of many breakthroughs and perspective shifts that I had under Stacey’s* mentorship. It was humbling and left me feeling shaken. It showed me exactly where my personal responsibility for the state of our relationship lay. You see, so many times we want to point the finger and blame someone else for all of our problems when really, we should look no further than ourselves. This introspection however is difficult and can be downright painful at times but it is important to do if you want to be happy.
So now what? I sat there in my state of enlightenment and horror and my perspective shifted. It feels like the world moving a little bit. As though in that moment you can actually feel the earth shift under your feet. I said to myself “no more”. I committed to continuing my work with Stacey. I committed to learn more about my own needs and how best to fill them to make a happy life. And I committed to figuring out a way, little by little, to fill my husbands needs.
Do you feel it? The shift? The realization, the mild sense of holy crap? Does this resonate with you too? Maybe for you it isn’t your work, maybe it’s your kids, or your pets, or your Facebook habits. If so then there is more work to be done. This is my journey that I’m bringing you along on in hopes that it will inspire you along yours. There is so much more to come so please, hang in there as I share it with you, piece by piece.
This is life changing work we do.
You got this.