Somehow in the last few years, I became a dog person. I went from completely indifferent towards dogs to interrupting conversations to say, “Aww, look at that dog! Do you see the dog? She’s so cute.” I have a 3-year-old black Lab, Samwise Gamgee (I know), and naturally, I want to turn every conversation I have into a conversation about my dog. I present to you: Things My Dog Taught Me About My Professional Life (i.e. Totally Not An Excuse To Post Pictures Of Sam).
1. If you do something well, do it all the time.
Sam loves to play fetch. He will drop a tennis ball at your feet, wait impatiently until you throw it, realize you’ve only pretended to throw it, wait for you to actually throw it, and then bring it back to start all over again. It is, by far, his favorite game and he is so, so good at it. If there were a Strengths Finder skill for Sam, it would be Playing Ball. For people who are good at analytics, communications plans, or connecting with donors, embrace that. Instead of being just OK at a bunch of things, think about being great at only a few things. Me? I like writing. This last year I volunteered to write our proposal templates and other fundraising one-pages because it’s one of my strengths.
Sam has amazing concentration skills. If you are holding a ball, sometimes he freezes and just stares at it. He’s oblivious to the outside world until you throw the ball. I’ve realized trying to do multiple tasks at the same time means I’m not giving any of them the attention they deserve, and collectively, my work suffers. I’m trying to focus more and just do one thing at one time, and not flit from a project to email to the project and then back to email again. Giving projects my undivided attention produces better work, and I end up accomplishing more each day.
3. Play nice.
When playing with other dogs, Sam loves wrestling, and it can get a little rough. There’s lots of teeth and play biting and nipping heels. But if any of his dog-friends yelp and need a break, all the dogs cool off and give each other space. Then five minutes later, they’re playing again. There are limited resources in the nonprofit world, from funding to job positions to program partnerships. Not everyone is going to get that amazing grant. Just remember: We’re all working towards similar goals and want to leave this world just a little shinier than how we found it. Competition often fuels the drive to excel, and maybe even a little collaboration down the road. Plus, the nonprofit world in this town is smaller than you think - you may be applying for a job with a former adversary some day.
I love to run and Sam is my best running partner. After we get back from a run, he will run around the yard and the house at top speed (runner’s high), and then lie on his giant pillow for several hours. Sam lies around for hours even on days we don’t run (a shocker, I know). This is one dog that knows how to work hard, and then relax. If Sam were you, he’d take some of that PTO and use it. Finish up a big project? Take Friday off. Facing down a busy season? Head out of town before you’re glued to your desk. If you need ideas or a dog to go on vacation with you, Sam’s a big fan of Duluth, playing in a lake, and Vegas.
Sam knows when I’m feeling awesome and responds with his usual high energy. I’m not a very emotional person, but when I do feel crappy, he’ll cuddle with me. There’s a reason why therapy dogs are so good at what they do. Through some kind of dog-magic, Sam just gets my feelings and understands. To truly be successful in our work, work that helps and cares for others, that provides essential services, that advocates for education and the environment and any number of other causes, we must empathize with the people we serve. We must communicate that empathy with our supporters, donors and policy-makers. Empathy is what turns good work into great work.
Sam starts each morning energetic and ready to face the day (which usually means a nap, barking at the USPS person, another nap, playing with me, and then an after dinner nap). And while I wish my office had a “take your dog to work” day, I’m just going to have to think like Sam and approach my work with the focus and energy Sam brings every time he chases a ball or chews up one of my shoes.
What have you learned from your pet that applies to your professional life?
Photo used with enthusiastic permission of author.