The Secret Formula of Life, Part I: Harnessing Your EQ Superpower
Emotional Intelligence: The Secret of Success See All Episodes »
Anyone who tells you they know the secret to finding success and happiness is either trying to sell you something or is flat-out wrong. Everyone knows there’s no magical formula for anything, let alone something as nebulous as personal fulfillment.
Or is there?
Today, we welcome back Amy VanDeWater of Glue Veterinary Coaching for the first installment in our series on emotional intelligence, a.k.a. our ability to be aware of and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. She believes EQ is a superpower that can have a massive impact on our lives, and the sooner we learn to wield that power, the sooner we can achieve our heroic quest to find happiness, success, and fulfillment.
In part one, we lay the groundwork for Amy’s “Secret Formula of Life” by digging into the concept of emotional intelligence, focusing on the first pillar of self-awareness, and introduces us to the inner voices that, if left unchecked, can sabotage every facet of life. Most importantly, she explains how to identify these voices in order to improve our experience, both at home and at work.
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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Photo by Esteban López on Unsplash
Krysten Bennett: Hi everyone. I’m Krysten Bennett and along with my colleague and co host Mia Cunningham, I am joined by one of our favorite guests, Amy VanDeWater. She came on the show last year during our Midwest Veterinary Conference Preview Series, and we had so much fun that we invited her back. Welcome back, Amy. We’re so glad to have you on the show again.
Amy VanDeWater: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
KB: We’re glad to have you. Now before we get into the meat of our conversation, let’s start off by reintroducing you to our listeners.
AV: I have actually been working in the veterinary field for over 35 years. At 11, I started working at my first practice, thanks to wonderful parents. And so I went on to work in veterinary practices for over 10 years. And I’m an Ohio State grad and out of college, I started at the Capitol Area Humane Society in Columbus. And then after that, I became a rep at Fort Dodge Animal Health anybody that remembers that and then Boehringer Ingelheim, and 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, “You know, I feel like I can really help people.” And so that’s why I started Glue.
And Glue is really, what it comes down to, it’s about helping veterinary leaders in their teams maximize their impact and their fulfillment. So it’s about skills, right? So I do workshops, one on one with teams and work with their leadership on kind of upping the game, upping the experience and helping them through skills and mindset, to really be able to maximize the way we’re impacting the people in 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 this is a very challenging field to work in.
And then I kind of maxed out my time that I could, you know, 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 just recently finished an entire workshop series that is on demand that’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, and 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: Let’s just start with the basics. You posit that emotional intelligence is the key to living a fulfilling life. But this is a huge topic that could be and possibly is the focus of an entire podcast in and of itself. We don’t have that much time, so can you kind of give us like a 30,000-foot view of what that is?
AV: Yeah. I call it a superpower—emotional intelligence is truly a life superpower. And the reason that I view it that way is because, when you learn the skills and you start applying them in your daily life—whether it’s your personal life, whether it’s your work at a veterinary hospital, whether it’s talking to though lady at the bank, who you need to give you money when you don’t have your ID with you, whether it’s your nosy neighbor who annoys you. Emotional intelligence allows you to navigate all of those people interactions—and it doesn’t even have to be just people, any experience that you’re having in your life—in a way that allows you to manage your energy better, so we’re not investing so much energy into places that it doesn’t serve us well, and really earn that trust and influence that allows you to move things forward in a way that’s sort of mutually beneficial for you and whoever it is that you may be interacting with, whether it’s your children, or your spouse or partner, or in the case of working at a veterinary hospital, your co-workers, your manager, your clients, all of it.
And so, when you think about emotional intelligence as a set of skills, if you are skilled at it—and anyone can get better at emotional intelligence just by practicing. The way that I like to discuss it is with four core skill areas, which are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, and they each build on each other. And so once you kind of master it—well, no one’s going to master it. I mean, I’m sure there’s people that have mastered it out there somewhere, but definitely not me—but when you have to sit and keep getting better and better at it, it can radically change the way you experience your life.
And so when I’m saying, like, it’s the secret to life, I really believe in a big way it is. And part of that is because I lived up until my mid-30s not knowing this stuff, and then really got interested in it and studying it, and it totally changed the way I experienced my work, my marriage, who I am as a parent, who I am as a pet parent. Because those dogs they can be driving me nuts sometimes, right? And emotional intelligence is part of that, those skills, and managing how you respond to things. That’s really what that secret formula is about.
KB: Is having a high EQ something that comes naturally to certain people, whereas others may have to work at it?
AV: Well, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ve interacted with someone who has high EQ as well as people that maybe, if you know a little bit about emotional intelligence, you’ll say they probably don’t have very high EQ. So there’s definitely a component that can come naturally to people. And I also think for a lot of us that as we get older and more experienced in life, we start to naturally develop some of these skills. For instance, I don’t invest a bunch of energy nowadays into things that in my 20s I would get all fiery and go off the handle about, because just not worth it. And so some of that absolutely comes with life experience, but how amazing would it be if we can teach it to people when they’re in their 20s, and then instead of waiting until you’re 35, or 40, or 50 or 60 to figure it out naturally, you learn it early, and it can radically change the trajectory of your life. In fact, I started teaching it to my kids in, like, child form, from the time that they were about three. A different, more palatable, understandable, simplified version.
KB: You kind of touched on this a little bit, but what qualities does someone with a high EQ have?
AV: So you know, one of the things I really focus on in vet med, there are people that go to work each day and work side by side, and one person may come home at the end of the night and have all kinds of things to say about all the horrible things that happened and how miserable this work is, and we’re not appreciated and all that. And then another person who experienced the exact same day can come home and be talking about, “Yeah, those those three euthanasias were incredibly tough, and the families were so upset, and it was really, really painful to be there. But what an honor. What an honor, that we had the opportunity to help make that experience as peaceful and be there to comfort them and to help them experience a loss like that in a way where they’re surrounded by people that get it and truly care.” So you see the difference? So that doesn’t mean that someone has low EQ if they say euthanasia sucks—because it does, right? But it does mean that when you’re able to sort of—it’s called positive reappraisal, when you’re able to see a challenge in the work that you do and the things you experience at work and be able to then frame them in a way and see what you gained.
Another clue would be, let’s say a rude client comes in. We’ve got plenty of those, especially since COVID; we got plenty of the rude ones, right? And so a rude client comes in, and if there were two people working at the front desk, if one of them had pretty high EQ, their blood pressure, heart rate, all those stress indicators don’t nearly budge even just a little smidge, right. They can go through that experience, handle it with, from a communication standpoint, very very gracefully, and afterwards, not feel like they have lost energy due to that person’s behavior. While someone’s sitting next to them who maybe hasn’t learned these skills—because they are a set of skills; I mean, it’s something that you learn. So if they haven’t learned those skills, that person may be still thinking about all the things they wish they would have said to that guy, you know, and they maybe go to the back and say, “Guys, Mr. Smith was just here and you’re never gonna believe what he said this time.” And in the whole time they’re replaying that conversation, they’re experiencing it again. And then somebody else back there’s like, “Oh my god, the last time he was here, this is where he said, and I’ll tell you what, I thought we should have fired him then. But now, here he is, going off on you!” And then you see how it spreads, right? And so someone with high EQ doesn’t allow other people’s behavior, other people’s choices, they won’t be a victim to that anymore.
A big chunk of emotional intelligence is being able to communicate with people in a way that they can hear. They can literally hear you. Because a lot of times, they’re not listening or they’re not in a position to listen. So, being able to get an interaction to a place where someone who is upset or scared or angry or whatever it may be, get them to a place that they can really understand what you have to say, because you completely understand where they’re coming from. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but you do understand it. And then in that process of bringing them to that place where they can now hear you, that’s where we’re able to use that influence that we built through making connections with clients and co-workers and be able to lead them into what I mentioned before, a mutually beneficial action. So it comes out in so many ways, and so that’s why I think it’s truly a life superpower. It impacts every thing that we do.
MC: So, Amy, the way you explain self-awareness is through the concept of listening to the voices in our heads. Now, normally, when we hear someone talking about the voices in their head, there’s sometimes a negative connotation or assumption. But in this case, listening to those voices can be a really good thing. So can you kind of expand on that thought for us?
AV: The way that I like to talk about self-awareness is simplifying it down to something that’s very, very easy to start using immediately because we don’t have time for all the complicated stuff. Self-awareness is all about understanding and anticipating your feelings, emotions, that kind of thing. And so, for me, what I kind of crunched that down into is listening for the voices in our head, because whatever voice we’re listening to the most is going to determine our experience. There’s six main voices that I share with people and ask them to start really listening for. And that’s really all that self-awareness is, is really starting to pay attention to who’s talking in your head.
So we’ve got Molly, she’s that voice of reason. She’s able to kind of look at something that’s filled with emotion and apply logic to it and figure out what’s our next best step. You know, she’s optimistic, for sure; she sees things from an optimistic perspective. But it’s not like that fake happiness. Or the most annoying thing, when you’re going through something complicated and you have to figure out what to do and then, they’re like, “You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be fine. Just, you know, it’s all going to work out.” Well, yeah, it’s all gonna work out—after I do all the things. That’s what I’m trying to figure out! So Molly is that voice that allows us to kind of push away all of that emotion that comes into the experiences that we have in life, and really help us figure out: Is there something that I can do that’s going to help make this better? And so she’s in it, everyone has her in there, every single person, it’s just a matter of how loud or quiet she is in your head at a particular time.
And then there’s Marge, which is like her evil counterpart; she’s the opposite of Molly. Marge can find a nugget of negativity in any possible thing. Like if she won the lottery, the very next thing that would come out of her mouth is “Well, how much are they taking in taxes?” She cannot experience things without finding the worst parts of it. And she’s also incredibly judgmental. She thinks that she does everything better than anyone else. Nowadays, we hear people refer to others as Karens. And you know, Marge is the original Karen. So you know, she judges people, she has expectations that people fail her constantly, and she just is a miserable person. If you are hanging out with her, she’s miserable and she literally sucks your energy. And you know that, if you hang out with someone who’s listening to a whole lot of Marge, they are exhausting to be around.
So those are like the two primary ones, but then there’s also four more that in some way are talking in your head. We’ve got Wendy the worrier, we’ve got Vicky the victim, we’ve got Evie the energy vampire, and then the fan favorite is Trigger, who is a little devilish-looking pug who has one of those poky little spear things, you know? And he takes you from perfectly happy to super annoyed in an instant. And that’s how you know that Trigger got you with with his poky thing.
So those are the voices, and when we think about self-awareness, really, that is all it comes down to. I’m sure there’s all kinds of, like, EQ gurus who would say, “Well, it’s much more complicated than that.” Well, yeah, it is, but when it comes to real life, this is what we’re doing with self-awareness: We’re learning to understand who’s talking in our head and then be able to anticipate them. And that anticipation is that empowering moment, because when we can anticipate them, then we can start managing them in a better way. Basically start gagging what I think of as the villain voices and giving the microphone to Molly, so her voice is the loudest in our heads.
KB: Out of curiosity, is Trigger a boy dog or girl dog?
AV: He immediately became a boy dog. I did not have any intention behind that; there’s nothing to be read into that.
KB: It’s interesting that all the voices are female with the exception of Trigger.
AV: I know. And you know what? The way that these voices came to life is when I was actually building Glue, my company, I always try and come up with really sticky ways to talk about these things that can be overwhelming to think about. If people feel like it’s too hard, they’re not going to do it. And so I started listening really carefully. And these were the voices and in the last five years, I truly have not come up with another voice that isn’t actually just a version of one of the founding six. Someone said there should be a realistic Rhonda, but we don’t need a realistic Rhonda; that’s actually Molly. You know, Molly will say, “Yes, this is an extremely bad situation. And we can all agree that this is not fun, but what are we gonna do about it?”
KB: So now that we know who these voices are, what happens if we don’t pay attention to them or if we listen to the wrong ones?
AV: That’s a perfect question, because this is the crux of what’s in it for me. And that’s another thing I try to really do when interacting with teams and leaders, is point out how is this going to directly benefit them. We have to be motivated to do it, because it takes extra effort. It takes some intention. Here’s the thing: If we are just going through life, reacting to the things that are happening around us, depending on our individual wiring—for instance, I am more wired as a Marge, especially when it’s anything that has to do with change. My brain instantly reacts in a Marge kind of way. Like, “Why are we doing this? Why is this changing? I thought we decided!” And so at that point my wiring takes me there. But with EQ, what I’m able to do, and do much better now than I could years ago, is I’ve made the time much shorter between when I first have that Marge reaction to when I’m able to hand Molly the microphone. And Molly’s like, “Listen, Marge, zip it. Here’s the deal.” Right? And she can just really clear away all that extra stuff and say, “How do you want to handle this right now, in a way that’s energy efficient, in a way that’s productive and moves things forward in a good direction?”
So when we’re not able to do that, when we’re not able to find that tiny little Molly voice—because everybody has her in our heads, it’s just a matter of is she whispering or is she shouting? And so when we’re able to very intentionally give that—I picture it as this tiny little miniature microphone—give this little miniature microphone to Molly, we’re able to skip that part of all of that anguish and anger and it really comes down to energy. I refer to it in my workshops as, we all have an energy dog bone budget, and I use these little bones to represent how much energy we have each day. We choose how many bones we invest into things that we experience. If we’re listening to any of the voices other than Molly, we are literally just giving away bones that we can’t get back.
And so life without the EQ skills, we’re at risk of feeling really depleted a whole lot of time when we’re listening to the villains, especially working in the veterinary field, which asks a tremendous amount of the people that dedicate their lives to this work. The best thing that we can possibly do for ourselves is figure out how to manage those villain voices, the ones that are sucking all of our energy each day. That’s like the low-hanging fruit, right? Because we completely control that. No one else controls that, except us. No one else can mess it up, except us. Right? And so it’s a super empowering way to look at the challenges that we deal with on a daily basis and empower ourselves to be real smart on which voice we’re going to give that microphone to and invest that energy with.
KB: Okay, so that’s all we’re going to cover in this episode. Next time we’ll dive into the second EQ skill of self-management, which involves learning how to manage those villain voices, and what Amy calls the secret formula of life.