Awww, look how happy!! Big grins for me, Mica, and River. So cute.
I remember the passion and vigor I had when I first graduated college and jumped into my corporate engineering leadership program fast track job. I was HUNGRY, man! Giant sponge. Learn all the things. Work hard.
I remember how excited I was to discover Lean Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement. An outlet for my analytical mind AND I can use my creative side, too? Awesome. Sign me up!
I also remember when it was no longer fun. When being a "change agent" meant having the same difficult conversations over and over again with recalcitrant people. When being a leader meant operating in a high stress, high expectation environment. When I started getting panic attacks at work and crying in my car at the end of the day.
I remember the spark that lit me up when I first started exploring dog training. The crazy nerves when I began working with real clients. The calmness and steady feeling when I gained proficiency and confidence.
This winter has been the worst in the five years I've been operating High Spirits Dog Training.
By that, I mean that I have yet to sign a private training client THIS YEAR.
That's a LONG time without the key chunk of my income. My livelihood. My subsistence.
Discomfort in February became stress in March became despair in April.
I relieved some of that by tapping into my savings account for the first time since being laid off and going full time two years ago. That's what it's there for, after all.
I also sat on my butt, worrying and stressing and biting my nails, for months instead of going out and DOING SOMETHING ELSE to put money in the bank.
Being a small business owner, being self-employed, can sometimes be paralyzing.
If I act, if I divert my focus to something else, what if the tap suddenly turns on?
This month, May, the tap finally turned on. Email inquiries started pouring in where previously there was simply a trickle.
A month ago, two months ago, there was nothing I wanted more. I wanted desperately for work to come in. To be able to work. And to be able to make some money.
Now, things feel vastly different.
About a month ago, I allowed myself to shift my focus. I poured myself into building my life coaching practice.
It. Felt. Wonderful.
I reached out to people I'd always wanted to coach. I cleared out, furnished, and decorated a dedicated room in my home for seeing coaching clients. I reached out, experienced coaching with several coaches, and signed my OWN coach. I ramped up the website and began writing captivating, passionate blog posts there. And I coached my ass off.
I served people powerfully. I learned through each conversation. I stepped into it fully.
I gave myself permission to put dog training on the side and focus 100% on coaching.
It's been awesome!
But, now, the tap has turned on for dog training inquiries. And I am so reluctant to even respond.
Over the past few months, pretty much since the beginning of the year, I've not only lost the excitement and happiness of doing private training, I've actually begun to dread going to appointments.
I had a string of about six behavior evaluations in January and February this year that sucked the life out of me. All of them, one after the other, was heavy. We had to discuss rehoming, relinquishment, and even euthanasia. The consultations were incredibly stressful. Not just by being in a potentially dangerous situation and having to navigate around dangerous dogs, but having to lay out the options and what they might mean to loving dog owners. To help them through the emotional roller coaster and remain professional, detached.
It rocked me.
After each one, I bawled like a small child.
In April, I wrapped up the two clients I had been working with since December. Both women were incredible, and I absolutely enjoyed all of our sessions together. What was interesting, though, and had never happened since opening my "doors" in 2014, was suddenly having no clients.
I felt equally panicked and relieved.
I now feel like I'm at a crossroads. And I'm incredibly reluctant to make a decision.
I've got two people I need to respond to about dog training services, yet I haven't made the calls.
I hope to gain more clarity during a phone call with my own life coach tomorrow. Today, Thursday, is my day off anyway, so I'm allowing myself to just sit on it for now. I'd hate to sign them and then back out later. If I'm in this, I want to be fully in. They deserve nothing less.
So, for right now, I'm stuck.
Why has the love died? Why am I feeling burned out on dog training? I'll tell ya why! Repetition and futility. Also known as compassion fatigue.
Since I've become so specialized (I really only work with reactive working/active breed dogs now), it's both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I have systems in place that make these cases structured and get great results. I know what I'm doing. It can be a curse, though, because I'm repeating myself again and again. I'm explaining the same things, I'm repeating the same processes, and I'm seeing the same clients/situations over and over. It's not fun anymore.
The part that has kept me in it is the people. I love working with my clients! They are amazing human beings! And I continue being a dog trainer for them. I want to help them. They care so deeply, and they work so hard. They just need a guide and a path.
The futility part is just plain being burned out on stupid humans and stupid dogs. Here's what I mean by that. I have been trained and trained and trained to see things that other people have not. Canine body language. Stress signals. I have been educated on behavior, training, tools, and methods. I cannot unsee or unknow what I now see and what I now know. You can't just turn that off.
So, everywhere I go, in this giant metropolitan area, I see people doing things that upset me. I see dogs that upset me. I see things happening to dogs that upset me. And there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.
So, for right now, I want off this train. I want to step away. I want to take a break.
And, honestly, just writing those words RIGHT NOW made me feel it completely real.
I don't have to make a black and white decision. I don't have to permanently seal a door closed. But I can step away. I can take a breather. I can take care of me so that I'm able to take care of others.
Because, if I'm honest with myself, if I took on a client right now it would be reluctantly. And maybe I wouldn't perform at my best. And that's not fair to them. They deserve my best. Their dog deserves my best. Their family, and their future success deserves my best.
This photo is me, back in Vermont, where the magic first started.
The immediate conflict is money. I don't have much. My coaching business is still growing, and that takes time. I could use some dolla dolla bills yo. Like yesterday. Like January.
So I guess I find myself back at square one.
If you've stuck around through ALL this ranting and stream of consciousness, BRAVO! I hope you're not overly confused. This blog is, after all, for my personal use. My hope is that it helps someone, somewhere, by being out here in the open. Being this blatantly authentic and vulnerable is not easy. If it helps someone, though, it's worth it.
Follow your truth. Always move forward.
That's the advice I give myself, and I also now give it to you.
Wherever you are, keep your chin up. Look forward. And move in that direction.