PetsApp Podcast - Episode 8: Veterinary Imposter Syndrome... with Katie Ford

Thom Jenkins (00:09): Hello and welcome to the PetsApp podcast. Delighted to be joined today by Katie Ford. We're going to be talking primarily about imposter syndrome. Katie, can you start off by just telling us a bit about yourself and, and how your career has taken to you to here today to be with us today?

Katie Ford (00:28): Of course thank you so much for having me here on the podcast. So a little bit about me. I graduated as a veterinary surgeon in 2012 from the university of Liverpool. I gained my internal medicine certificate in 2016 slash 2017. And now I work as a locum veterinary surgeon, but alongside that in the background is the stuff that people don't really talk about. And when I first graduated, I was fairly forgiving to myself as a new graduate until slowly. I felt like I almost had this inner critic that was saying to me, you didn't need to ask about that one. You should have figured that out yourself. And I slowly started finding more and more places to look for advice and help, which might've been ringing the lab, looking in a textbook or calling in and speaking to a different colleague. But every success I had, I felt like I couldn't own.

Katie Ford (01:22): I decided I changed job. I'd go to a different practice, which was wildly different from my first clinic. The first one being open surgeries, 20, sorry, 10 minute consults at walk-ins absolutely manic busy versus the next clinic, 20 minute consults and showed clients a completely different landscape. But this inner critic stayed with me and I felt like I could never own a good case outcome. And no matter how good I got as a vet, I always felt like there was a reason why I didn't deserve it, why I could have done it better. And this escalated for me to turn into staying at work longer and longer hours and almost driving myself to despair with that. This just snowballed effectively with my own journey, with that, which I went through a CBT coach and mentor, and a lot of self-development I learned about imposter syndrome because at the time I didn't even know that it existed.

Katie Ford (02:21): I used to sit and get so upset about the fact that I didn't understand why I couldn't ever let myself be happy with my results. Despite externally things looking good. Slowly I started sharing this message then on social media and saying, you know what? I look like I was hugely successful from the outside, but I have my own set of doubts. I had imposter syndrome. People started coming to me saying, Oh my goodness I thought I was the only one that ever felt like this. So I started just opening the conversations up, which led to me ultimately training to be a coach. I learned a lot more and got some qualifications in cognitive behavior therapy as well, not to train as a therapist, but just to understand our thought processes more. And the last year or two years has really been phenomenal. And the number of conversations that have been opened up and I've diversified more into imposter syndrome than ever the internal medicine route that I thought I go down.

Thom Jenkins (03:17): Yeah. I think lots of that story, Katie is going to resonate with with many of us. Do you think imposter syndrome is a particular problem for veterinary professionals? Is there anything about the veterinary professions that makes this more of a problem

Katie Ford (03:36): In reality, imposter syndrome affects all professions, all industries, but I think when we look at the vet profession in general, we've got a lot of high achievers. We've also got a lot of people that, that care about their outcomes because we care about our patients as well. And we've been through school maybe as the people that do get the good grades. And there's a lot of comparison as well, because we know that we can't streamline success in veterinary practice to make everyone look the same as it were. So I think it is likely that the high-achieving aspect that makes us more prone to it, but it does come to all professions

Thom Jenkins (04:12): Could be anyone. Anyone could be impacted by it. Before we get too much further, just wondering, is there sort of a formal definition of imposter syndrome? I think you described it incredibly well through anecdote, but is that for those trying to identify it in themselves or, or maybe even others are there particular signs?

Katie Ford (04:34): Absolutely. In terms of formal definition, there are a lot of them that are out there, but if we put it as a persistent, internalized fear that we're going to get exposed as a fraud, and this might manifest itself in terms of not being able to accept compliments or feeling like somebody might email you and say, you know, those results that you got actually there's been a mistake and you didn't earn them potentially. We've got other things as well, like stay in an overworking, perhaps some perfectionist type traits as well. But from anecdotes, I find that the easiest way to connect with people on it. But that's, that's the best way that I can find to describe it. That persistent, internalized fear that you'll get found out as a fraud, despite external achievements.

Thom Jenkins (05:20): Yeah. And you mentioned, you mentioned perfectionism a couple of times now. I think within that practice, there's not many opportunities for perfectionism and there's not many opportunities even to be wildly successful to, to go above and beyond in terms of expectations. If, if an owner brings you their pet broken, they expect it back fixed. If, if you're going to take blood from an animal, they expect you to get it right. First time, if you're going to give a vaccine, they expect the dog not to yell when you give the injection. So how can we reframe failure as, or if you can even call it that, but our approach to the perception of failure as a perfectionist.

Katie Ford (06:06): I think a really good way to look at this is the work of Carol Dweck from Stanford university riches, the growth mindset versus fixed mindset and realizing that actually when we have failures, that's where our, our growth is. And also realizing that having a failure doesn't make us a failure. It's just a stepping stone on the way where we want to go. Like there's the, the anagram of S a I L is first attempt in learning. And it's, it's amazing when you think of it that way, isn't it. It's not that you've ever stopped being able to succeed. It's just that you've learned something along the way. And when you start looking at failures and that way, then you can realize, you know what, I can actually learn something from this. And there's, there's two things that we can do with a failure. The first one is that we can sit and we can be beaten up by that inner critic with it. And we can stagnate and never go and step out of our comfort zones again. Or we can use it as a stepping stone and say, you know, what, what can I actually take from that? We're not going to pretend it never happened. We're going to say, how can I action this moving forward and use it versus how can I sit crushed under all these failures and think that they, they define me, which they don't.

Thom Jenkins (07:18): That makes a lot of sense. And thinking about failure, reframing it as this, this learning opportunity as this process of sort of continuous development, continuous improvement. I think that sets sets you up for success, but it sounds like from what you're saying, that we have this tendency to internalize our failures, but we don't have the same tendency to internalize our successes. Why do you think that is? And how can we change that?

Katie Ford (07:47): I think a lot of this comes down to belief systems that we formed over the years. So if you imagine one more bond where essentially a blank slate aside from a little bit of genetic influence as well, but as we go through life, we start learning certain things. And that might be with regard to what we regard success is some people feel like success is when you do something with speed and with ease. Other people think that success is just doing it solo, or the people think that success is something that you plan out and it has to be done checking the boxes and the exact way that you feel that it should be. And then we've got this almost. I think of it as these like post-it notes that are stuck onto us and people that have seen me talk will,usee me do this demonstration.

Katie Ford (08:32): But for example, we've got these beliefs on success. We get an exam that we've passed and we put it through these belief systems. Well, actually, yeah, you passed it, but you didn't get full marks or you passed it, but you had to work quite hard for it. And success should be quick and it should be easy. Or maybe you have a belief about yourself that you need to compare other people, which is so common to us because we're taught that in school, we're always taught to compare. You might have a success and then you go, Oh, well, that's nice. And I did it, but they did it better. So I wasn't a success anymore, if that makes sense. So we end up with this definition of what we think our success actually is, which then means that the success that we've got in front of us on paper, sometimes we can't internalize it.

Katie Ford (09:21): Whereas you take a failure and we've learned like failure is bad. Failure is scary. We're not good enough. And we put that through our system and go, yeah, we earned that. We're not good in a failure's bad. I must feel bad. Versus if we actually tweak our beliefs on success and say, look, the success, first of all, we're all successful here. But secondly, maybe success is fine for the people to have helped us. Maybe success is just that the journey, as well as the end product and actually keeping train and persistent and enjoying it as much as thinking, Oh, well I passed the exam, but how much higher is that bar going to be raised? You know, okay. When I started out, I wanted to get 80%, but then you gets it and it's like, Oh, well it could have been 90%. So it's not actually a success. So I really believe that a lot of it comes down to our beliefs around success, self value, celebrating those wins versus automatically discredit in everything because we've got these beliefs that we never chose. And we might not have been aware of of why something is a success. If that makes sense.

Thom Jenkins (10:28): Makes perfect sense. I've always believed that being able to ask for and accept to receive help is a key component of anyone's success. So that, that for sure makes sense. I'm interested just to pick up on what you talked about with people comparing their success, their relative success to that of others. And clearly that's not a new phenomenon nor is imposter syndrome something new. I'm sure it's been going on for, for, for many centuries, if not millennia, but we now have social media and the ability to compare and compare yourself against an idealized version of someone else's life is, is those opportunities are are more prevalent than ever. How, how do you think that impacts things and how can we escape that temptation to constantly be contextualizing our relative success in light of how others are doing?

Katie Ford (11:25): Absolutely. I think this is a huge issue in this day and age. You, you, right, when you look about how long imposter syndrome has been around, it was documented in the seventies, but we know that it will have access to it for thousands of years before then we've got to normalize and realize that Eleanor Roosevelt was right. When she said comparison is the thief of joy. Social media is just a highlights reel. And we have to continually remind ourselves of that because we see a small of people's lives. And one of the things I do when I talk about imposter syndrome is a highlight to people that I've coached people that have PhDs and diplomas and still feel this way. It's not about what you do. It's about our belief systems about ourselves, looking at how we deal with failure as well. So I'd say one thing is to try and embrace is our individuality and our uniqueness.

Katie Ford (12:18): And when you look at someone else's post and be like, you know what, they're doing a brilliant job of being them on their journey, from what I can see from that small snippet, the one minute of that 24 hour day that I've seen on social media, but I'm on a completely different journey. And there's a huge difference between comparison and inspiration, like comparison in a negative connotation. Never makes us feel good. They're doing better. They're doing better, but there's so many things that we could potentially compare on that to compare really as to despair, because you might see that somebody on social media, so on their first creation surgery, but they might be terrified of Clem path, which your brilliance are. And then at the same time, you see someone else that posts and said, they've done their first cesarean area, but maybe you've done your first endoscopy.

Katie Ford (13:04): But that immediate first thought is, Oh my goodness, look, how much more are they doing? So just step back, realize that yeah, when I'm comparing it, doesn't do me good to use it as inspiration. The whole story of Roger Bannister, for example, where with the four minute mile, when nobody thought it was ever possible, and then they saw him do it and it inspired them and made them realize, yeah, be inspired as maybe new graduates. Oh my goodness. It's possible to do a cruciate two months out. That's amazing. But at the same time say, well done them, but I'm not seeing the rest of their day. Let me focus on my game and I can celebrate with them, but just be aware that that can happen

Thom Jenkins (13:43): A hundred percent. And I guess one, one problem for people, you know, high potential individuals that have so many doors open to them. Cause I think there's, there's almost two problems in the, in the venting profession. One is some people so tightly identify themselves with, uh erinary profession that they don't see that they have these transferable skills and, and that there is life outside and beyond the profession as, as wonderful as the profession isn't and can't be, but th the other side of it is, um h, you know, the sort of success at school and with the transferable skills that the, uh eran profession gives you, you have so many options available to you, but you can only do one or two of those potential things. So sometimes I think high potential individuals can get into this trap of comparing the one or two things that they're actually doing to the sum of all the alternative things that they could be doing. Uh, it'sst an unrealistic, uh, becrk, because there's no, there's no alternate reality in which you would be able to do the sum of all those things.

Katie Ford (14:48): Absolutely. There's the quote that says you can anything, but you can't do everything. And I think that really rings true in these circumstances because yes, we, we realize that other people are doing all these amazing things and that takes our attention from what we're doing, but maybe we wouldn't be able to do what we're doing so well if we were trying to do what they were doing as well. And like you say, sometimes it's stepping back out of the vet profession as well. And seeing the bigger picture, which is something that I haven't gone into so much depth on my story, but my whole value as a human being was put on my vet identity at that point. And that was to, to a fault and to a very dark place for me at those times, too.

Thom Jenkins (15:31): Yeah. I was going to ask you how your identity as a vet has informed your thinking on all of this. So I don't know if that's something you want to expand on

Katie Ford (15:41): Identity, such a huge topic, and there's a lot of work behind it and essentially our identity. I, our IRM is a driver behind so many of our beliefs, our behaviors, things in our environment as well. My personal experience with identity was that I was able to get bean Yvette into my identity, but I was so vulnerable to the outside of if something was going badly with a case. And then that reflected on my abilities as a vet, because I didn't frame failures in a good way. I didn't know that there was a different way to look at them. I just thought a failure was a personal fault. If a case went badly, I was about to fail. And therefore I had to feel bad when I learned a lot of the personal development things that I did. And I stepped back and was like, you know what?

Katie Ford (16:27): Being a vet is a brilliant part of me, but it's that, it's a part of me. And I started to discover who I was beyond being a vet. And that actually gave me a lot of armory as well, because when I was solid in who I was, and it wasn't just tied to my profession, it gave me a lot more resilience too, because I thought, you know what? There's so many different areas of my life that deserve my attention as much as my career. And that's not mean neglecting the job that I was doing that was actually putting me in a better place to be a better clinician, because I could go home and recharge and switch off from work.

Thom Jenkins (17:00): Yeah. Becoming a more sort of rounded whole person. And then being able to bring that person to every part of your life. I think I can see exactly how that would make you a better, that has as one sort of a consequence. UI think as a profession, we have a lot to be grateful for, Hey,unot to, not to downplay any issues people might be going through, but a lot of us have had this lifelong dream of being a vet. We've become a vet and we've we've achieved,uachieved that. And that's something that a lot of people don't have the privilege of achieving. So there's, there are opportunities for gratitude. And I know you've talked about previously, the importance of gratitude. How does that tie in here?

Katie Ford (17:43): Absolutely gratitude is phenomenally important. And one thing that you said that time, which was brilliant, was so many of us forget how well we've done to actually have got to this point in our careers. I know certainly when I applied for vet school, that will be what, 13, 14 years ago. Now there were 12 people to every space. And I have no doubt that now there's even more than that. So gratitude sometimes as us just switching our focus onto what we've got and what's going well, the science behind this, when I first heard of gratitude years ago, that inner critic very much was like, Oh, this is all a little bit. We were in a bit kumbaya and,ulet's write a gratitude list. This is rubbish. But the more that I looked into, the science of it, I was astounded because it's not only got effects on things like serotonin release and actual physical effects on our brain.

Katie Ford (18:36): It can improve things like relationships, reduce, perceived stress reduce depressive scores, improved, sleep, improve relationships. There's so much work both on a social science level and on a neuroscience level about gratitude. And it's quite grounding in the fact that you can just sit and say, what am I actually grateful for today? Quite often when we wake up in the morning, the first thing that our brain wants to do is worry about all the things that are going to go on. And when you sit there and see, you know, what, right? No hand back on the situation of where we are now, I've got a roof over my head, I've got food and water, look, all these things I've done to get me to my point in my career. Now, all that hard work. It wasn't a fluke back to the imposter syndrome thing again. And just looking at the little ways to instigate gratitude, because it's got huge benefits, not only for individuals, but also in teams as well. And they start looking at the working in a workplace level too. Thom Jenkins (19:36): Can you think of I, I listened to another podcast where the interviewer asked every single guest. What one thing has someone done for you that you are most grateful for? Do you have that moment?

Katie Ford (19:52): That moment for me would be when I was in practice and I was really struggling the most with my mental health, which was a knock-on of imposter syndrome. We know imposter syndrome is not a mental health condition. It's almost a reaction to a set of stimuli, but it can progress. My boss came and spoke to me and she said, I'm really worried about you need to go and find some help. I just don't know what else I can do to help you. And she was a brilliant boss. She tried everything she could to try and help me. And it wasn't that at that point, I'll be honest. I even didn't do it for me at that point. I think I did it more for her cause I could see how worried she was about me. So I say my main gratitude moment, really just off the cuff, thinking of it now would be her coming and having that honest conversation with me from a point of caring and that made me set the ball rolling of starting CBT, which then started the whole path of what I'm doing now back five years ago.

Thom Jenkins (20:51): That's amazing. I think, you know, I did put you on the spot, they're asking for you for that moment, but I think that's a great answer and it just shows just gives encouragement to all of us to, if we're worried about someone to reach out and, and have the conversation. And is this come on the podcast before? Is that just because you start that conversation doesn't mean you need to have all the answers, but just giving the person the opportunity to, to talk through it and explore it for themselves. I think can, can be powerful. You talked earlier about reframing the sort of social media landscape from comparing yourself to others, to being grateful for the inspiration that they provide. And I know one person that has inspired you on social media and he's very active on there. That's for sure is a Gary V Gary Vaynerchuk. Ucan you, can you, for those of us that don't know who Gary V is, can you, can you tell us why,uhe's a particular inspiration for you?

Katie Ford (21:54): Absolutely. My boyfriend tells me that I live in a bubble where nobody knows who Gary V is. So I'm going to explain to you all, this is an honor. So Gary Vaynerchuk came from Russia to the U S and he came with nothing, but his family built a liquor store basically. And he spent a lot of time learning about marketing and posting in the work. And he grew that, that business to a very large size, but now he does a lot of campaigning on social media about gratitude, about empathy, about kindness, and about finding what makes you happy. Now, years back, he used to be very much in the media for talking about the hustle and the grind. And he even says, now that he regrets talking so much about that, and now he's kind of shifted focus more to be like, what makes you happy?

Katie Ford (22:43): Being kinder to yourself, actually going out there and doing it. His example is, you know, what, if you love football and you were in a corporate job, then if you need to take a slight pay cut for example, and go and be the manager of like a junior football team, then if that makes you happier do that because our life is shot. And he talks so much about building people up, building each other up gratitude for what we've got and knowing that we move forward when we're grateful for where we are to not beating ourselves up and actually focusing on, on what we want and that, that happiness being, being our North star without being disillusioned the same, we have to be happy 24 seven. But knowing that we can't, we can decide what, what do I actually want to do? And I think a lot of that comes to, to our vet career as well. And in the way that the brilliant Ebony Escalona from vet stable, I diversify talks about, she says, it's our, that passport. And we've got to make our career work for us.

Thom Jenkins (23:46): Yeah, definitely. I think it's great to hear from you about someone that has inspired you because you've definitely inspired a lot of people within our profession. We had Hannah on the podcast a few episodes ago now, and, and she cited you as someone that has certainly inspired her an Ebony again what an inspiration, but w w KTU offer coaching services. Right? And I have sat on various boards and, and had an advisory roles for various companies. But that's not the same as coaching. How does sort of advising and consulting compared to coaching what's, what's the difference?

Katie Ford (24:30): With coaching? We're looking to get the answers out of people. So we regard them almost as, as the experts and we can try and delve deep and find the beliefs and try and find like who they're identifying with being by asking the right questions and getting them to the answers and the solutions too. So you'll see a lot of words out there banded around in terms of different terms. You've said already, you've got advisors, we've got consultants, we've got mentors, we've got coaches, we've got therapists, we've got counselors. And they all have a slightly different role. And at the same time, they've all got a different role in imposter syndrome, for example. So coaching yet, I try and get the answers out of people. I provide them with little bits of information, but I don't give them the answers. And I don't advise them on what to do. Sometimes I'll share bits of my story because stories connectors with people. But it's mainly about asking questions and getting that confidence out of them with the right questions.

Thom Jenkins (25:32): Yeah. There's a certain Socratic method to it where you're, you're asking the right questions to help them get to the answers that they need for themselves. And do you find that a lot of it is helping people get out of their own way because you are dealing with high potential individuals who, who, you know, who probably can achieve anything they put their mind to? Are we our own worst enemy in that regard

Katie Ford (25:54): We can be. And I've come to a few times in this conversation talking about that negative inner critic that we have, which I think is the summation of all those beliefs that we never chose, which then makes us think that we're one type of person when the actual person that we are is so much bigger than the person that vice would have as believe that we are. So when we talk to people and we start to own earth, some of these beliefs and make them think, you know what, maybe I don't have to believe every thoughts and maybe it was wrong about that. So it could be wrong about this as well. We can tap into that potential because I talk about in a lot of my talks that they did a study in 2011, it has been as are, I think it was at Harvard.

Katie Ford (26:36): And they found that the odds of us being born were one in 400 trillion without even taken into any account of anyone behind. And you completely unique. You're the only one of you on this earth. You can't get being the real you wrong. You know, we're taught to compare so much, but you've got this incredible journey that could be in front of you. And unfortunately, at some point in our head, we've had put in a belief that you're only successful if you do it on your own. And the reality is when you look through history, one great example that comes out of Carol Dweck's book is actually Thomas Edison. When you say to people, think of Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and they say, Oh, we're thinking this wizard old man, that's in his shed at the bottom of his garden. And he's got his 10,000 discarded experiments and he's there and the light bulb.

Katie Ford (27:23): And then he has his little Eureka moment. And the reality is that Thomas Edison had a whole team around him and they were all working on this and that just dispel some of those beliefs, like what can we actually do in practice on our own fully, without any, any other help, whether that's from another fat, from a nurse, from a reception, from an Ana, from a vet student it's limited. And I think that's one of the things that we've got to realize, you know, sometimes to move forward and we want to go further. We've got to go together.

Thom Jenkins (27:54): I think that's, that's, that's a great note to end on Katie very, very inspiring. Just one last question though, for you, where can people find out more, more online? Where, where, where, where are you hiding online and how can people reach out if they do want to sort of seek your help, whether that's coaching or whatever else

Katie Ford (28:14): They'll find me. I've got a website which is Katie Ford, vet.com. You'll find me on Instagram. That's where I'm most active. And I just love putting inspiration out there. I spend far more time making free content than I do any paid content, to be honest, just because I want to help people not feel how I did. And that's at Katie Ford fats. You'll find me on Facebook as imposter busting, but with Katie Fahd. And if anyone does want to reach out, you'll find my email address on the website. They can drop me a message. I do have an array of online courses. There's free one hour CPD lectures that I've linked to, that I've done. There's a free talk on my web page as well. So I just put as much information out there as I can. And then the final final thing I'd add in there too, is if you are at a point where imposter syndrome is having a significant negative effects on your life, it might not be that you're at the point where you need a coach.

Katie Ford (29:09): You might actually need a therapist like I did right in the beginning, or you might need to talk it through with a medical professional. And that's not a fault it's just to try and get you aligned on those thoughts and feelings a little bit in the beginning, which then gives you that powerful foundation to them build further down the line too. So always remember, we've got the amazing vet life speak with the GP. There's no shame in doing any of these things. I've talked about my story so much over the years now that I've kind of become immune to, to saying anything about it. I just want to use it to inspire, but just remember that those are the sources of help are out there as much as there are things like what I'm doing. So just remember that. Yeah.

Thom Jenkins (29:50): And I'm more than happy to put any and all of those resources in the show notes. You just said using your story to inspire Katie. You've certainly done that for me. Thank you ever so much for coming on the PetsApp podcast.

Katie Ford (30:03): Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.


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