Episode 63

Emotional Intelligence & the Voices in our Heads

With Amy VanDeWater

Midwest Veterinary Conference Preview Series See All Episodes »

The voices in our heads have a bad rep: They’re sometimes seen as an indicator of mental illness and therefore get ignored. But they’re not always a sign that you might want to visit a psychiatrist! Sometimes, they can help you become more self-aware, and in so doing, become a happier, healthier, more productive person.

But first, you have to learn to listen to them.

In this episode, veterinary coach Amy VanDeWater shares her refreshing perspective on wellbeing, which centers around emotional intelligence: One’s capacity to be aware of and manage their emotions and the emotions of others. To some, the idea of raising your EQ (emotional quotient) may sound woo-woo, but research has shown it can have a massive impact on personal and professional relationships, success, and overall wellbeing.

In this MVC preview episode, Amy barely scratches the surface on the subject of EQ, but you will begin to see how important the concept is—especially for today’s veterinary professionals, who, now more than ever, are struggling with stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue so bad that they feel they have no choice but to leave the profession. Want to learn how you can restore your passion for veterinary medicine? Listen in!

Episode Guest


Amy VanDeWater

With 35+ years of experience in the field, Amy is the founder of Glue Veterinary Coaching, where she brings a real-world approach to helping veterinary teams and managers maximize their impact and fulfillment.
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Registration for the 2023 Midwest Veterinary Conference is open! Featuring 300+ hours of live and on-demand CE in 25 tracks, 75 expert speakers, and more than 100 exhibitors, this is another event you won’t want to miss!


Krysten Bennett: Welcome back. Mia and I are here with Amy Van De Water of Glue Veterinary coaching. Amy’s here to talk about her sessions at the 2023 Midwest Veterinary Conference. Thanks for joining us today, Amy. 

Amy VanDeWater: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here. 

KB: We’re glad to have you. If you just want to start off by introducing yourself, share some background and how you work in the veterinary field. 

AV: Yeah, for sure. So I have actually actually been working in the veterinary field for over 35 years. I started as that little girl with braids and freckles, at eleven, I started working at my first practice, thanks to wonderful parents. That was probably illegal even back then, but we rolled with it. I actually got paid in quarters—a total of eight quarters for my Saturday shift, which was incredibly exciting. 

And so I went on to work in veterinary practices for over 10 years. I’m an Ohio State grad, and out of college, I started at the Capital Area Humane Society in Columbus. I think lots of people in the Ohio area will recognize that. And then after that I became a rep in the industry. So throwback days: Fort Dodge Animal Health. Anybody that remembers that? And then Boehringer Ingelheim. 

Then about what, five, six, maybe seven—I’m not even sure now—years ago, I started Glue Veterinary Coaching. And basically those 18 years that I spent in the field as a rep, in addition to the time that I worked actually in practices, I got to learn a whole lot about what made for really vibrant teams and cultures and what made for some pretty ugly situations with a lot of miserable people. And so it was at that point that I said, “I feel like I can really help people.” And so that’s why I started Glue.

Really what it comes down to is, it’s about helping veterinary leaders and their teams maximize their impact in their fulfillment. So it’s about skills, right? So I do workshops one on one with teams and work with their leadership. I’m kind of upping the game, upping the experience, and helping through skills and mindset to really be able to maximize the way we’re impacting the people and the pets that we interact with. The stuff that makes us feel like we’re doing such important work while also—and I’m super passionate about this part—while also getting every drop of fulfillment out of the work that we do each day. Accomplishing that is pretty tough, because it’s a very challenging field to work in. 

So that’s where I started with Glue Veterinary Coaching, and then I kind of maxed out my time that I could be doing my jazz hands at practices one on one. And so then started a virtual version, which is called Glue Unleashed. And that’s a membership program, where I do all the same things that I do in person, but do it virtually and work directly with leaders doing some coaching and training and all that kind of stuff, virtually. 

And then one more thing! I have one more thing on the introduction, because I’m so excited. Just recently finished an entire workshop series that’s on demand. It’s called Grow, and it’s a whole onboarding and training series that any new hires could go through out of practice when they first join. It’s all about the basics of vet med and then also moves into emotional intelligence, which I believe is the secret to a sustainable and fulfilling career in vet med. 

Mia Cunningham: Absolutely. You’ve had quite a dynamic career, and so we’re really excited to have you join us as a speaker for the conference. If you would, could you talk to us just a little bit about the sessions that you’ll be facilitating for us? 

AV: Yeah, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, for me, is what I truly believe, if every veterinary team had access to learning these particular skills, it would radically change their experience working in a veterinary practice. And I believe that down to the bottom of my heart. So a lot of what I’ll be focusing on in the sessions are the four core foundational areas of EQ.  I do my best to do with everything Glue, is to talk about things in a way that’s really sticky, that’s really easy to apply, palatable to learn, where people aren’t bored. And they definitely aren’t bored! I would say some might get annoyed by my excitement about things, but they’re not bored. 

So we’re going to go through, in each of the sessions, the four core areas, which are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. But do it in a way where it is real, honest, unfiltered talk about the challenges. I mean, we’re going to get gritty with it and really head on acknowledge the things that are so tough to manage in a career in vet med. 

And then how do we take these skills—these superpower skills is what I call them—and apply them in a way that can make this the best work you’ve ever done? Where you go home at night, you’re going to be tired no matter what, right? You’re going to be exhausted. But it’s that type of exhaustion that’s delicious, because you did something so important today. And so that’s what four of the sessions will be about—and they kind of go in a row. I mean, you could pop into just some of them, but they definitely all build on each other. 

And then right smack dab in the middle of it all, we’re going to talk about what I consider a really new perspective on handling chronic stress. It’s really an approach to wellness that I think is pretty novel. And I didn’t just come up with it myself, so I’m not like patting myself on the back here, but I took a whole lot of time learning a whole lot of stuff and recognized that the things we’re doing right now to manage chronic stress, they are not working. I think we can all agree, we know the things that we’re supposed to be doing, and we’re not doing them. For most people, we’re not doing them or we’re not doing them consistently. So my goal in that workshop, which is the one called Digging Out, is to really share this new perspective on how we approach managing the chronic stressors of working in this field and our personal lives, and a really simple way to start chipping away at the weights on your shoulders—I actually picture them as boxes—of all the different stressors that we face each day. And how can we, one by one, start lifting those off? Because we can’t do it all at once. I’m not going to go start working out at a gym every day for an hour and a half to get rid of my stress. It’s not going to happen, right? I’d rather eat some Oreos and take the dogs on a walk. So the key is making sure that we are doing these little totally simple things that you really can’t fail at in order to move closer to that place of wellness. 

There’s a quote from a wonderful book called Burnout: “Wellness is a state of action.” That was a light bulb moment for me, because wellness is not like you’re floating through a field of daisies covered with sparkling fairy dust—like we somehow just have it. It’s not that. It’s something we create. And so if we’re sitting back waiting for things to get better, just waiting for things to change and to feel less stressed, that ain’t happening. So we’ve got to take an approach as a state of action. And what are the teeny, tiny things that we can do, that we can’t fail at, to start feeling better? 

KB: There’s so much that you said that I really want to dig into, but we just don’t have the time. But my favorite thing that you said was getting gritty with it. Which I feel like— 

AV: That could be a song. Shouldn’t it be? 

KB: Yes! It’s like a Weird Al parody song of “Gettin’ Jiggy With It.” 

AV: Oh, my God, I might need to write this song. 

KB: There you go. Yes, absolutely. That can be your theme song. Imagine it: Like at MVC, you’re walking in with “Getting Gritty With It” playing in the background like a rock star.

AV: But not dancing like you just did. Because I’m not a good dancer. 

KB: This is not dancing! I can’t dance either. That’s the extent of it.

AV: I guess I can do that. I can do that little bouncing thing. Let’s just keep the expectations low.

KB: Ah, but anyway. Okay, so you kind of already touched on this a little bit, I think. But is there anything specific, anything else that you want to highlight or mention to kind of pique interest in attending your sessions? 

AV: Yeah, like I already mentioned… For me, it’s all about making things really memorable. And so whenever I’m either working one on one with a practice or through the membership, it’s all about taking big ideas—like emotional intelligence. We could spend 12 hours talking about one of the foundational areas and not even cover it. And people go to week-long seminars on this!—So how do we take that down into something that people can use literally the second they hear it? And so that’s one of my goals with Glue, is to make things very actionable. 

Amy, center, shows off Glue’s emotional intelligence characters collectively known as The Voices in Your Head.

Just to give you an example, in talking about self awareness, I share the definition of it, but then we shift completely over to who is talking in your head each day. And there’s actually characters. There’s six of them. I know your audience can’t see them, but I’ll show them to you here. And that got a chuckle, just for the record. Everyone, that got a chuckle. So these voices in our heads really are what determine our experience each day. We know that, because two people could work side by side each day and come home and tell a completely different story of what that day was like. One of them needs to go fetal position, Netflix, bottle of wine. That’s all they got left. And the other one feels this sense of accomplishment and pride, even through the really hard stuff, like euthanasias, right? 

It all comes down to who we’re listening to. And so, just to give you an idea, two of the main voices are Molly, who is the voice of logic, reason. She really sees things through a pretty optimistic lens, but she’s not like, just skipping through fields of daisies. It’s not like she’s that annoying, toxic positivity person, but she sees things when things happen, when she experienced things, she’s generally able to see them through a lens of, there’s some good in here somewhere and I’m going to find it. Or, if it’s a challenge: All right, so how are we going to make this better? Because we’re not going to just sit around in this place where we’re miserable. We got to fix it. And then there’s Marge, who is the polar opposite of Molly. She is incredibly judgmental. She can see a person and immediately pick out the things that she doesn’t like about that person. She has this amazing ability to find the negative nuggets in absolutely anything that’s happening. So if you work side by side with someone who’s listening to Marge a lot of the time, it is exhausting. Absolutely exhausting. Right? That’s just two of the characters, and it seems a little bit like it’s like the angels on your shoulders, but it’s really not, because there’s six of them and there’s not enough room on your shoulders. 

So Molly is like the good one, the hero, right? Because she actually is that voice that’s coming from our frontal cortex, where we have logic and reason. The other ones, what I call the villain voices, cost us a huge amount of energy. We’ve got Wendy the worrier, we’ve got Vicky the victim—and I think Vicky the victim is probably one of the most popular ones in the veterinary field right now. If you spend any time on social media, in the veterinary and Facebook groups, you’ll see there is a whole lot of, I feel like I’m a victim of the veterinary field. That’s her voice talking in your head. Molly sees it differently. 

So we talk through what each of those voices are and when we hear them. And the key is with self-awareness is not just recognizing who’s talking. And I promise you, once you hear Vicky the victim in your head, or Wendy the Worrier, you cannot unhear them. You hear them forever now, like, you see them, at least I do, I see them in my head. But the most important part of self-awareness is being able to anticipate when you’re going to hear those voices. 

For instance, I’ve got two boys, they’re 14 and 12, and a husband. And if I travel, 90% of the time when I walk in the door, our house is going to look like a frat house, because I’ve been gone and everybody runs amok, and it’s fast food all the time. So I can anticipate that, when I open that door, there’s a good chance it’s going to be pretty messy, and Vicky the victim is going to absolutely be talking to me. Like, I go and I do all this stuff and I work so hard and then I come home to this and it’s just not fair. And Marge pipes in with a little bit of a little bit of attitude and anger. So it’s my responsibility to anticipate that, because if I can anticipate it, then I can change it. And then that leads into self management, which is that second core skill area. 

KB: So I think I just want to attend your entire track. We’re going to have to sneak in there. 

AV: Please, if you do, let me know you’re there! 

MC: And I love that attendees will be able to have a toolkit that they could utilize immediately upon leaving your class. 

AV: It’s so important to me that whenever I’m talking, whether it’s leaders in the industry, managers, people that work in any role in a veterinary clinic, that they feel better and more empowered when they walk out than they did when they came in. And so I take that as a mission for me and a mission for Glue. Because this field is so incredible, and we are given the opportunity to have so many fulfilling experiences, but all of that can get lost if we are not actively managing our experience. And it gets lost in burnout, it gets lost in compassion fatigue, it gets lost in drama and gossip. It gets lost with rude clients, who you then keep talking about for the next 20 minutes. So it gets lost in all of those things, and it doesn’t have to be that way. And I refuse to accept that we should just leave it that way. It’s a tragedy to me to see people shift out of the field because they don’t know how to manage their experience. 

Who you’re hanging out with in your head is exactly determining what your experience is. That’s pretty empowering, right? When you hear it, that’s how we change it. And we can change it. Every single person can change it.

And once you recognize the voices, it’s like, all of a sudden you realize—we have 60,000 thoughts per day, and every one of them is in one of these voices. And so you start to realize who you’re hanging out with. And who you’re hanging out with in your head is exactly determining what your experience is. That’s pretty empowering, right? Like, when you hear that, that’s how we change it. And we can change it. Every single person can change it. It’s just a matter of whether they’re willing. Because there is effort, there’s intention that has to come behind that. But what I can guarantee—and I say this with every workshop, with every team—I guarantee you, if people that are listening attend these sessions, and if you come with just a little bit of an open mind and a willingness to say, Is there a way that I could make this a little bit better for myself? I guarantee you it will get better. And it will get better fast. It takes practice, but it gets easier and easier the more you try. 

MC: Well, I have a feeling that people are going to want to stay connected to you after attending your sessions. 

AV: I hope so! 

MC: Where can they go online to find information about you and your organization? 

AV: So the website for Glue, it’s Glue Veterinary Coaching, and the website is www.growwithglue.com. And so you can actually contact me through there. There’s a tab at the top that talks about Unleashed, which is the membership, and my phone number is on there. Just hit me up. I’m all ears to answer any questions or see if there’s a way that we might be able to partner. 

KB: This was great. Thank you. We appreciate it. 

AV: Oh, thank you! And I hope I’ll get to see you at the conference. I hope you’ll swing by. 

KB: Yes, absolutely. 

AV: Have a good one. 

Amy will be speaking on Friday, Feb. 17, in the Staff Development track. That’s sessions 281 to 286. This track will be recorded on site and be made available for MVC Virtual beginning on Feb. 24. To learn more about the virtual portion of the conference, please visit mvcinfo.org/virtual.