Updated: Nov 18
After teaching at veterinary conferences for 8 years and meeting tens of thousands of us…
After creating and selling out 5 editions of a ridiculous veterinary card game for us to help us laugh and connect…
But at the same time watching us collectively get progressively angrier, sadder, sicker, and more burnt out…
...I and a few other awesome folks decided to do what we could to help.
Before I get ahead of myself…let’s rewind to September 2021.
I was teaching virtual continuing education, mostly on client communication and leadership, when I noticed I was repeatedly being asked to deliver ‘Mindful Management’ - a lecture on how to deal with reactive humans. Clients who hired me said that since the pandemic, their folks were really struggling with well being and problems with angry clients and coworkers were escalating. People were feeling disconnected, burnt out, disillusioned, frustrated, etc. and it was manifesting as poor client and coworker relationships, employee absenteeism, and scathing online reviews.
Oh dang. I better take this story even further back. Rewind to 2017.
Caitlin DeWilde and I were sitting on a zoom call (back before they were cool) with Karen Bradley,
trying to come up with creative ways to teach leadership concepts for the WVLDI talks at Fetch. I blurted out, ‘What if we make a card game? You know…like that dirty card game in the black box for bad people…but for veterinary professionals?’
Fast forward a couple of drafts and a trip to Kinko’s, and we had our first Vets Against Insanity game. After using the game to teach a couple of lectures, DVM360 thought the game was great, published it, and Caitlin and I found ourselves owners of a slightly scandalous card game that veterinary professionals have been buying and playing ever since.
The game morphed throughout the years (I admit the 2021 and 2022 versions were pretty spicy - I was going through my villain era) but the purpose of the game has always stayed the same: to help veterinary professionals connect with others while they laugh so hard they almost pee.
Laughter heals because it originates through viewing a small context from a larger and more inclusive one, which removes the person laughing from a victim posture. Gallows humor (which is our speciality) is based upon the juxtaposition of the opposites of a paradox and grants relief through laughter. This idea inspired one of our slogans ‘Sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry’.
But enough about the game. Fast forward back to September 2021.
I had been feeling very disconnected from my colleagues, still knee deep in social distancing, and was anxious to reconnect and ‘get back to normal’. But I also realized 2020 had given mankind a moment to pause and reevaluate everything, including veterinary education.
I wondered, should we keep doing the same old thing? Was it working?
To answer this question I have to rewind to 2019. Time travel is FUN.
I was actively speaking on the veterinary circuit that year, but in actuality I spent that year watching us (us being vet peeps): listening to us talk, hearing our pain points, basically just getting to know ‘us’ better.
I noticed us wandering around impersonal conference halls, shuffling dutifully from cold dark lecture room to the next, not really connecting or talking to each other.
We looked tired.
I noticed other things about us as well. As a collective, we weren’t physically healthy. Many of us were too heavy for our frames and/or suffering from chronic disease and pain. I saw that our used-to-be-fresh, eager, and well rested faces were now lined with worry, too much work, and too much caring for others and not enough for ourselves. It seemed like we had forgotten how to rest and play.
Everyone was so SERIOUS.
It was like someone had taught us all that a serious and hardworking attitude was valuable and play and rest were not, and then we all just unconsciously acted that belief system out for the rest of our m-fing lives, all the while wondering why we were so unhappy.
Our IQs were high, but our EQs were not.
Lastly, I noticed that we weren’t yet willing to take personal responsibility for our collective state of being, and instead, chose to project the fault onto others: pet parents, coworkers, management, spouses, politicians, white men, the economy, etc. etc. etc.
I know as well as the next person that it’s easy to keep blaming others and think that will solve the problem.
Blaming others feels safe and good in the moment, is often validated by our peers, so we keep doing it over and over again….…but insanity (which we are definitely against!) is the definition of doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.
Vetmed was stuck in an insanity loop of blame…and round and round we went.
We also weren’t really interested in improving our wellbeing. Oh sure - we gave it good lip service, but in reality, medical lectures were packed while wellbeing lectures were delivered to mostly empty rooms. You could lead a horse to water they said…but if the horse has not been taught to invest in their most important asset (themself!) then they ain’t gonna drink.
The truth is the brilliant, lovable people of our profession (including me!) struggle with the very human problems of competition, comparison, fear of failure, guilt, anxiety, anger, closed minds, gossip, a harsh inner critic, defensive mindsets, behaviors that stem from unrecognized and often unresolved trauma, victimhood, ego attachments to outcomes, and a host of other self sabotaging and damaging behaviors that are derive from a deep sense of unworthiness and are masked by the drive to succeed and a ‘need’ to be right. (because in our world, it often isn't safe to be wrong)
As a result of our driven, unhealed type A perfectionistic belief systems and lifestyles, we suffer deteriorating physical and mental health, obesity, cancer, inflammation, endocrine disorders, mood disorders, and suicide. We try to help by making all sorts of programs, directives, initiatives, etc. and we do studies and hire wellbeing coordinators to deal with the symptoms, but at the end of the day we don’t address the root of the problem, which is this:
We’ve all been part of a misaligned system that has resulted in systemic unhappiness that is slowly killing us.
Believe me, there is nothing easy about admitting that we are our own biggest problem, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can not heal and evolve until we take a long, hard, courageous look at ourselves, identify the root problems with compassionate awareness, and correct them. If not for ourselves, then for the future…all those bright eyed, energetic, idealistic baby vets that are coming after us - we could do this for them.
Well dang I stood on that soap box for a minute.
Now back to September 2021…when we decided to do something.
I knew we had a game that helped veterinary professionals connect and laugh, and even though we were all supposed to stay 6 feet apart, every game created was sold out. Something about Vets Against Insanity resonated with people, and as I watched us suffer, something inside of me wondered if the game had more to give to the veterinary industry….something that would help us heal.
I knew people need CE…
…so why not use the game to create an event where people could:
Feel genuinely welcomed from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave
Suspend negative thoughts, complaining, and focusing on problems for a couple of days, and instead give themselves a dang break
connect with like-minded fun people
renew their dedication to themselves, and set intentions and goals for the next year
find personal and professional clarity
laugh their asses off
participate in wacky adventures
AND get awesome CE?
We thought it was allllll possible. And thus, Vets Against Insanity CON was born.
At Vets Against Insanity CON, we hold these truths to be self evident:
Here you matter. If you don’t feel like you matter, then we aren’t doing our job because you are damn valuable, you gorgeous beast, you.
Here you can unmask and be yourself. We all come as we are, and we hold space for each other’s stories and celebrate our diversity of human expression. We are weird, we are unique, and we love it.
We believe laughter is the best medicine. You will learn better, remember better, boost your feel good chemicals, get inspired, and fill your cup. Also you will exercise your abs and your face muscles, and your butt might look better.
We believe knowledge is useless if not applied. We take aligned action with what we learn to improve ourselves as veterinary professionals and as people, for the good of ourselves, our coworkers, our loved ones, and the pets and people we care for.
We are personally responsible for our own happiness and wellbeing. We consistently engage in behaviors that support well being and avoid self-sabotaging behaviors. When we make a mistake, choose poorly or get caught in the blame game, we hold compassion and forgiveness for ourselves, and try again.
And that, my friends, is why the CON was born. For you. For me. For all of us.
For the weirdos and the misfits and the normies that just want to laugh and have a good time while they learn.
For those that have something to share and for those of us that need our cup filled.
For the people who come after us.
For the profession, and the people and pets that rely upon us, but mostly for ourselves, we choose to laugh, to learn, to take personal responsibility for our wellbeing, to heal, and to evolve.
That's our why, and we are stickin' to it.
Thanks for taking the time to read the whole thing. You are a rockstar. Keep unfolding the gorgeous journey that is your life...oh...and I hope to see you at the CON.
From our slightly scandalous hearts to yours….
Sarah J. Wooten, DVM, CVJ (and the CON crew)