Podcast #25

Batman in an Egg
Vets are born with a higher likelihood of developing ‘Superhero Syndrome’ due to our tendency to be introverts, Type-A, Sole-Operators and being hypercritical of ourselves. Recognizing Superhero Syndrome can help you and those around you, GROW, and be HAPPIER!
By nature veterinarians are introverts. We are ‘Type-A’, we are hyper-critical of ourselves, and by nature are sole-operators. We think that we need to save everyone, save everything, and be everything to everyone. We also think this is a good thing, and despite wearing ourselves down to the bone for others, we think this is admirable.
Let's Get Personal
As a vet, in the current vet climate, one of the biggest ‘symptoms’ of superhero syndrome is working too much. Taking on too many shifts, staying late, and feeling that if you aren’t there to work the clinic will fall apart or the shifts won’t be filled. Especially as a locum, I suffered from this for YEARS.

Recently, I needed to change my place of employment to achieve the personal growth I required. I had a great relationship with my clinical boss, and felt TERRIBLE leaving that job because I knew it would make it harder for my boss to fill the shifts.

She said one of the best things she could have to me, “I don’t need you. I will find someone else to fill the shifts.”

At first this hurt- my knee-jerk reaction was to feel bad that I wasn’t important, that I wasn’t essential. I had (and maybe still have) Superhero Syndrome. I wanted to feel ‘needed’, wanted to feel that everything would fall apart if I left. How stupid is that??

By making that comment my boss taught me a very important lesson- you can be a desired, wanted and valued member of a team, but that doesn’t mean that you are NEEDED or they will fall apart without you. She gave me PERMISSION to put myself first- and for that I am so grateful. She also taught me that clinics will go on without me, and someone else will fill that void. This wasn’t to be mean or hurtful. It was to be supportive and to show me that I don’t need to do everything for everyone. It was after this point I truly started putting myself first!
This ISN’T healthy. This isn’t productive. This isn’t KICK ASS. The sooner we realize that we are not superheroes, that we are not alone, and we start working as a team, and we start understanding that we are not the only way the case or the clinic will succeed, the better!
Understanding what Superhero Syndrome is, and understanding how it can be secretly be punching you in the gut everyday, can help you address your tendencies and change your behaviour!
This is a belief and idea of responsibility that you are the only person that can perform a task. A sense of feeling the need to ‘save’ others, and if you are not there the task will not be completed, or will not be completed successfully or properly. It is the feeling of having to put everyone else above yourself, and the feeling of fulfillment with how much you sacrifice.
What does Superhero Syndrome LOOK LIKE?:
Helicopter flying by mountains
‘Helicopter Moms’ is a term used to describe a micromanaging mom, always fluttering around. ‘Helicopter Bosses’ exist as well, and they strangle their own businesses growth.
Try to assess if you are displaying these behaviours in both your professional and personal lives:
1. Micromanaging tasks
2. Taking on extra work (extra hours, extra duties)
3. Saying ‘YES’ to work/tasks even when you want to say ‘NO’
4. Not trusting others to perform tasks
5. Competing with yourself/others ALL the time
6. Trying to fulfill ALL ROLES to EVERYONE (emotional support, management roles, teaching)
7. Unable to delegate
8. Difficult to feel pride or accept praise for actions/accomplishments
9. Unable to ask for help
10. Putting others’ needs above yours
Why Is Superhero Syndrome BAD?:
Wilting Flowers
Superhero Syndrome is death to team-work, detrimental to professional and personal relationships, and limits growth of both the ‘superhero’ and everyone around them.
By not trusting your co-workers (or family members), and not allowing them to be contributing members of the team, not allowing them to step-up and meet their potential, you undermine any sense of team-work and camaraderie. Team-work requires everyone to be valuable and fulfill their potential. Growth of a business, team, family, etc involves everyone contributing to their best ability!

By overworking, and by taking all the stress and responsibility on yourself, and taking on everyone else’s emotions, you will speed down the road to compassion fatigue and burn-out.

Everyone has a limit of energy, both physical and emotional. By taking on too much you will use up your energy, and have less to give to other areas of your life. If you use up all your emotional/physical energy at work, you won’t have any time for yourself, your family, or anything else.

Relationships are 2-way streets. Relying on someone, allowing someone to take care of you as much as you take care of them, is important! If you don’t allow others to do their part, they will feel useless, untrusted, and invaluable. To allow your friends/family/co-workers be a source of support for you is important for them, and important for your relationship. If you don’t allow your family/friends to do their part then you are not allowing your relationship to grow, and are creating an unhealthy relationship.

By not allowing others to perform tasks, fulfill roles, and be a support for you, you are robbing them of growth potential. Others need opportunity to grow, and by performing all tasks yourself, you limit their opportunities.

Personal growth involves working with others. It also involves finding the potential in others, and finding new and more efficient ways to perform tasks. If you perform all tasks yourself you limit your opportunities to find new paths/strategies, and you also use up all your energy so that you cannot explore new things both in your personal and professional lives.

Vets are often guilty of the ‘victim’ mentality. To suggest that ‘Superhero Syndrome’ is part of a ‘Victim Mentality’ is counter-intuitive. However, vets often compare how long we worked, how hard we worked, how much extra-time we put in, as badges of honour. We glorify over-working instead of recognizing, addressing and changing our situation so that we aren’t over-working. We complain and play the victim about how hard we HAVE to work, what we HAVE to do. However, WE are the ones that put that work on ourselves, WE are the ones that CHOOSE to work the extra shifts, CHOOSE to stay late to help, CHOOSE to be open weekends, CHOOSE to take on the emotions of everyone around us. By having Superhero Syndrome, we set ourselves up to overwork and take on too much, and then complain about it and play the victim.
Many clinic owners are ‘Superhero Syndrome Bosses’. They micromanage all tasks, and try to control every aspect of the clinic. They feel that if they don’t have their hand in every case, every aspect, their clinic will fall apart.

In reality, they are strangling their own businesses. They are using up all their energy in the ‘mundane’ tasks of day-to-day clinic operation, and have no energy to focus on GROWTH or IMPROVEMENT.

‘Superhero Syndrome Bosses’ limit growth of their businesses by not providing professional opportunities and autonomy for their staff and therefore not a desirable working environment, and also by not playing to their staff’s strengths. They also limit the growth of their employees, and lose out on the opportunity to LEARN and GROW from each new employee (especially new grads).
How to Combat Superhero Syndrome:
Two fists approaching one-another, one fire and one ice.
Fighting Superhero Syndrome is difficult as it seems like you are doing everything right. You are working hard, you are doing all you can. sometimes it is taking A step BACK that is needed- and that can be the HARDEST thing to do for Superhero Syndrome Sufferers.
Just by understands and acknowledging a syndrome exists, we are better able to combat it. First, take stock of yourself and your actions and determine if you suffer from Superhero Syndrome. If you do, acknowledge this and recognize that although having high expectations of yourself is important, Superhero Syndrome is BAD.

Making a list of all of your tasks/actions, and prioritize what is most important to you! This will allow you to recognize where you are willing to pull-back, and where you are not willing to pull-back.

Part of being high-functioning is working SMARTER, not HARDER. Part of working smarter is finding where you can accomplish the same goals but with less energy (less time, less money, less stress, less emotion). Part of this is also finding how others can accomplish parts of your tasks, so that you can lessen your load and work better as a team.

Delegating is very difficult for Superheros. We micromanage, we feel that if we don’t do it then it won’t be done right. Delegating tasks to others, allowing others to find better ways to perform these tasks, allowing others to show their strengths, is IMPORTANT. Important for others, important for yourself! To do this you need to acknowledge that other people’s ways can be OK. Your way is one way, NOT the only way.

‘Superhero Syndrome’ sufferers often are unable to accept praise and unable to acknowledge their own successes, as they often feel they need to do more than the ‘average’, or feel that as the ‘superhero’ this is what they ‘should’ be doing. By allowing others to praise you, and praising yourself for your successes, not only allows your friends/family/coworkers show appreciation, but allows you to address that you aren’t a superhero, you are a person, and you aren’t expected to do and be everything for everyone. Also, by praising yourself and sharing your successes of how you are working SMARTER and not HARDER, you are breaking that victim mentally for yourself, and those around you!

Trusting others to care, to try, and to be part of your team is imperative. Giving others the opportunity to succeed, and more importantly the opportunity to fail, is important for their growth! This will help everyone grow, and will help your team grow! Also, by trusting others to accomplish a task you will prove to yourself that it doesn’t matter HOW it gets done, as long as it gets done appropriately.

If you don’t want to take on extra shifts, if you don’t want that extra responsibility, if you don’t want to bake organic, grain-free cookies for the bake-sale- JUST SAY ‘NO’. “Sorry I can’t”, “I am too busy right now for that”, “I have other priorities right now”. Give yourself permission to say ‘NO’. More importantly acknowledge that life will go on if you say ‘No’. The clinics will find someone else to fill the shift or they will close, it is NOT your responsibility. Clinics, you CAN close for the day. Emergency clinics are around for a reason. If you need to close on weekends, close on weekends!

Asking for help can be hard for us ‘Superhero Syndrome Sufferers’. Ask for help! Ask your spouse to clean/make dinner, ask your kids to clean up themselves, ask your co-workers to help you with a case. You DON’T have to do it alone! You can refer that case that is just too complicated and needs something more or just different. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and to ask for help, to acknowledge your weakness and others’ strengths is important for team-building, important for self growth, and ultimately is what makes successful people more successful!

Having high expectations of yourself is important. Having REALISTIC expectations is equally important. In order to accomplish your goals, in order to find happiness, you need to push hard and make goals and have expectations that are not unachievable.

Having professional goals are important, but having personal goals is equally, if not more important. To have a life outside of work is important to have a balance. When you have personal goals, when you have a life outside of work, you will be more able to prioritize yourself as you make commitments that aren’t work-centric. Also, having goals that are not work-related helps you grow as a person, become more well-rounded, and more centred. Having personal goals also allows you to focus on yourself, and allows those around you to support you. Being selfish in some parts of life helps combat Superhero Syndrome, by not always focusing on others.

Do you feel that you might be suffering from Superhero Syndrome, either as an associate or as a boss? KICK ASS Consulting can help you address where your priorities lie, and where you may be able to improve inefficiencies or delegate tasks to improve your relationships, business and life!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published January 19th, 2020

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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