I met Justin Dickinson when he interned at my current facility last year. Now, he's all growed-up, working as a zookeeper and writing blogs. When I read the one I'm about to share with you, I got real excited. Here was an entry that perfectly encapsulated not only the struggles of aspiring trainers...but ALL of our bad days and ruts in our career and life. But the best part of Justin's spiel? The ability to turn our jobs as animal trainers and caregivers into a life lesson. There are a lot of gems of wisdom in here, and I happily pass this on to you, dear readers. Enjoy!
|Look at him, enriching those dolphins.|
When Cat contacted me about taking one of my tumblr posts and putting it on TMF I thought, “Justin, you can’t vomit right now! You’re pumping gas!” So after I got into my car and remembered that I was running late for work I immediately accepted the offer to share my thoughts with a wider audience; which is possible because Cat is *cough cough* basically internet famous *cough cough*. Ahem. Sorry, I had something stuck in my throat… er… keyboard.... Anywho, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share, collaborate, and maybe start some new conversations. And as I promised Cat I would edit out most of the gushing over how excited I am I’m gonna save myself some work and get right to it! So! Without further ado (other than this introductory sentence) here’s what I call An Aspiring Trainer’s Guide to Conquering Career Induced Depression.
So if your experience pursuing a career in animal training/zoo keeping is anything like mine then you’ve probably run into many disappointments. You’re not qualified enough. You didn’t pass the swim test. You didn’t get offered an interview. Et cetera, et cetera. This can turn into a massive funk cloud that just smothers the life out of you. You feel hopeless, like a loser, probably a bit fat if we’re being really honest. So what can you do to help move forward? Well I’m gonna tell you. I’m gonna talk about what you can do to help yourself feel better. Not feel better about your resume. Not feel more comfortable about your interview last week. I’m talking about actually feeling better emotionally. You can’t take care of a dolphin’s health if you’re not taking care of your own health. Mental and emotional included. Anyways, here are my not so expert steps in how you can make yourself feel better in general:*
1). Change Your Base.
You’re probably gonna feel the urge to eat a lot of junk food. Do it. Eat all of it.
|This is really easy if you make friends with the fine folks at concessions|
Eat every last chip and cookie until you recognize that it isn’t helping. Then change your base. The animals get a base diet for training, calories, etc. but we never really plan out our own diet that way. So start eating fruits and vegetables out the wazoo. Bake a chicken. Look up those “gross vegan recipes” and make something.
|Okay, but have you BEEN to Olive Garden?|
After all that junk food you’ll be amazed at how good you feel to be eating right. How awake you are, how much energy you have, and how happy you feel. Plus if the occasional “I didn’t get an offer” pint of ice cream sneaks in you won’t feel quite as guilty.
2). Clean Your Habitat.
Let’s be honest. The only thing that smells worse than the fish covered swimsuit you aren’t wearing right now is the combination of sweat, old pizza boxes, laundry, and general funk of depression that’s filling your room.
|Yeah that's about how proud you should look.**|
So first step to tackling this is to take a long hot shower. Actually standing up this time is suggested but not required. After you’ve thoroughly cleaned yourself you’ll have a better appreciation for just how badly your habitat is in need of cleaning and repair. Dive right in with the trash. I strongly recommend getting at least two large trash bags from the get go so you don’t lose motivation when your trash can gets full. Next you need to dust, sweep, vacuum, and/or rinse with a fire hose… I’m not here to judge, you do what you gotta do.
Now I know for some of you this next step will feel impossible, but DO IT ANYWAYS! Strip down your bed, grab your hamper, and do all your laundry. All of it. Leave nothing soft, cozy, or snuggly in that room. This will help prevent you from taking a nap or just curling up in a corner and reminiscing about the first day you got your favorite teddy bear.
|I'm sorry Mr. Bear, but that means you, too.|
Meanwhile go have a snack or something (If you’ve already successfully changed your base I’d recommend a banana. If you haven’t completed that step yet, I still recommend a banana). Take your mind off your clean yet barren habitat. Once the laundry is done the next step is to put your bed back together, straighten any pictures, fan out the magazines, and I suppose put the clothes in the closet. After all of that is done walk to the middle of your room and lie on the floor. Yes, get down and put your body on the freshly vacuumed carpet. Now look around and enjoy your fresh space. Notice the lack of dark clouds and the fresh scent of lavender or lemon or whatever kind of scented cleaning product you used. This is no longer a space of dreary disappointments. This is now a happy home for accomplishing goals and good nights’ sleep.
3). Get Some Enrichment.
This one is very open for your own interpretation. Basically you need to go out and try something new. Old hobbies not bringing the same joy? That’s fine. Go find a new one. Go buy a hula hoop and set a new personal record. Go to Wal-Mart and count how many people you see in their pajamas. Go see a movie you’ve never seen before. Go wave to strangers. Go try and do anything new or different. Give your brain and body some stimulation, because odds are, the 6 seasons of reality tv you watched on Netflix didn’t do that for you. I personally find it very enriching to get my adrenaline pumping. I’m not really a thrill seeker so the most enriching thing to my daily schedule is being scared witless or conquering a fear. Like my fear of eagles for example.
|Warning: Please do NOT make capturing eagles your choice for enrichment unless properly supervised :)|
4). Do an Interaction.
Probably the most dangerous of the steps is to do an interaction with an actual human face-to-face in person. It doesn’t really matter what you do for this step; dinner, drinks, donuts, but you need to engage with the other person.
|I think what Google is trying to say with this one is you first were displaced by depression, now you’re getting closer to face-to-face contact, and soon you’ll be out getting sandwiches with someone. Or something like that…|
You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to feed off of the energy of someone else for a while. Talk about their life instead of the troubles in yours. Now this can be dangerous because you run the risk of discussing all your career troubles. But that’s why this step is toward the end. If you’ve mastered the other steps then you should be ready to talk about anything. After you complete this interaction, book another. Plan to do one at least once a week until you’re ready for more. This will help keep your skills as a human (eating, sleeping, bathing, etc.) in working condition.
5). Learn a New Behavior.
Now last and most difficult is to learn something. I know how inconceivable that sounds. Especially after you did all the other steps. But it’s time to face facts. Whatever you tried before didn’t work. What can you do to make it work next time? Maybe you need to have another set of eyes on your resume or better prepare for the interview. Maybe you need to hit the pool a bit more often or get some experience on a microphone.*** Maybe you did everything perfect and it was just a personality preference. In that case you need to work on accepting that. Sometimes you just never know what they’re looking for, and that’s okay. Grow from it. Learn how to market who you are so that when someone is looking for it, they see you and they want it even more than they thought they did. And once you feel that you’ve found what you’ve needed to learn and mastered it, reinforce your behavior with a slice of cake or a new shirt or something. It’s all for nothing if you don’t find a way to encourage yourself to keep doing it.
|I don’t really know what the babies are being reinforced for but yeah… clap for yourself. You deserve it!|
Now, if you’ve followed all these steps you should be well on your way or fully out of your Career Induced Depression. Don’t be afraid to revisit these. Odds are you’re gonna get pretty bummed more than once. That’s the nature of the beast. But more than anything, remember what it takes to train any behavior: motivation. Ground yourself in what motivates you to pursue this career and never lose sight of it.****
Like Justin's stuff? Check out his tumblr blog Zebra Underwater
* You can perform these steps in any order, but they’re listed in my recommended order.
**I always found it ironic that Hoarders is played on a network with the initials TLC.
***Or maybe you make too many lists like me...
****Note: I didn’t include this in the list because it didn’t really fit the “treat yourself as the animal and care for/train yourself” theme I was going for but I would also recommend talking it out. Find a person who gets what you’re going through and just get those feelings out. A mentor, a therapist, a parent, whoever. Someone who has been there with you and you can trust. And if you don’t have anyone you feel really gets it then send me a message. I just spent my day off retyping this up so it’s safe to say I know how you’re feeling.