This is a good time of the year. The semester has ended, and we are taking a quick break before we start our next classes. The seasons have just changed over, and with that, many more changes.
Perhaps some of us are gearing up for the New Year and the change that it represents. It is the time to make Resolutions, hoping to reverse some bad habit, or else improve something about yourself that may already be pretty good. While I think such self-reflection is good, I think the constant feeling of needing to improve yourself can serve as an effective distraction and way to destroy your self-esteem.
This year, flipping through the radio while driving, I heard a specific line in a Christmas song that did not have as much meaning to me in any of the past years I have heard it as it does now.
From O Holy night:
“…and the soul felt its worth”
That line reminded me of this blog. On this blog, we often use surveys as a way to start conversations about mental health in veterinary medicine. The most recent poll asked the reader to respond to the following statement: “I know my strengths”. The results are below.
This statement was based on a paper in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education titled Monitoring the Veterinary Medical Student Experience: An Institutional Pilot Study out of Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. In this study, students answered a survey which measured self-esteem. Then, these students were broken into “high self-esteem” and “low self-esteem” groups, and some interesting data were found.
First, it was found that veterinary students had the highest self-esteem at two points in their education: during fourth year, and at orientation. Do you have a prediction when the lowest self-esteem is found? I cannot tell what you are thinking, but you are probably right: second year. This is when you are in the thick of exams, no end in sight, and you may have forgotten why you wanted to go to veterinary school in the first place.
Second, some interesting differences were found among students that were classified as having “high” vs “low” self-esteem. Students with high self-esteem were on average older, more likely to be male, have a higher GPA, feel less stress, be more likely to be satisfied with their school, and feel more technically and socially competent.
In this study, the “high” and “low” were defined as the top and bottom 25% of the self-esteem survey. In our blog poll, the top 25% answer “strongly agree” to knowing their strengths, while the bottom 25% is spread over “strong disagree, slightly disagree, and neither agree nor disagree”, and even “slightly agree”. What would it take for you to move from one of these “low” categories to the knowing definitely that you have strengths and being able to name them?
This goes back to the start of this blog post, discussing Christmas carols and New Year’s Resolutions (I promise it is all related). There is a lot of power to be found in knowing that you have inherent value, and not feeling like you have to improve in order to be accepted or worthwhile. Perhaps try taking an online test that will tell you your strengths, including this one, free for Virginia Tech students. While the phrase “knowing your strengths” implies finding value in your abilities, this worth extends to you as a person, and even to your lack of abilities.
I am not asking you to become complacent or sluggish, to stop trying to improve or learn. There is a lot of value in utilizing your strengths. I simply point out this alternative because my personal experience has shown that it is very easy to go too far in the opposite direction, never being satisfied and destroying your self-esteem in the process.
Share your thoughts in the comments. Answer the new poll to the right of this post. And, perhaps, this New Year, make a resolution to examine and rest in your strengths and inherent worth.