If a large branch falls in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If I empty the dishwasher and there is no one in the house to recognize my significant contribution to the stability of the home, does it count?  Yes, my contributions count and the branch does make a sound.  The significance is in the events and not whether or not there was an audience.

If you as a worker in the animal care industry find that you are making significant contributions but are unsure if anyone hears or cares, I’d like you to know that we do care and we want to hear.

We want to hear your story, what brought you to such a noble profession, what made you stay when things around you made you feel less than secure, and what made you decide to be world famous at what you do.

Through the trainings that we offer we have the fortunate opportunity to hear people’s stories.  And I must admit they are humbling and amazing and funny and we want to hear more.  Just recently I spoke with a woman who was a chauffeur prior to coming into our industry. Another gentleman was a chef looking for something different. There’s also the story of the son who got into the industry because it was part of the family legacy.  I believe people want to share their stories because it makes them more real. I believe we need to hear each other’s stories because it makes us more real and in doing so we care a little more.

I recently met with a lab animal group that had come under some significant pressure from animal rights extremists.  Just asking them why they stayed at their job blew me away.   Here are some of their replies: “Because I didn’t want to stop caring for the animals” … “the people protesting what I do still deserve the benefits of our research” and … “the people that I work with care about me and we need each other”.  What great testimonies of commitment to purpose.

These are the stories we need to hear. These are stories that make us real to each other and spur us on to continue pursuits of excellence and dedication for the noble thing we do.

There will be branches in the woods that fall and no one hears, and there will be times you make significant contributions to the world around you with no audience.  May this be of one of many forms of encouragement to keep doing what you do, keep creating chapters to your story. It still matters!  And some day maybe you will have the chance to share your story with others.

I remember as a child my mom would always tell me to stop always asking “why” and just do what I was told.  I believe she was on to something that most parents understand.   There are times when you just need to do what you are told and trust, especially as a 5 year old child.  On a visit with my God Son who at the time was 4 we had the most riveting conversation all based on the word “why”.  Never in my life had I been asked so many “why” questions, “why doesn’t Spiderman run out of webs, why does Kryptonite make Superman lose his powers, why don’t you live in Atlanta …… why is the sky blue?

I believe as we get older there is a transition point where the ban on asking why is lifted and we slowly emerge into a world where it’s okay to ask why.  This can be a scary and challenging place for some.  Asking why has the potential to challenge assumptions and reveal answers that may be difficult at times to answer and embrace.

There are problem solving techniques that require asking why to uncover the root cause of a problem.  There are times when we ask why out of frustration because we have no other recourse of action.  There are times when we ask why to get better understanding and clarity of purpose.  All are legitimate reasons to ask why.

Have you ever been given a task and wanted desperately to ask a why question?  “Why me, why this way or why now” Or have there been times when these why questions have been asked of you?  There is a time and place to ask why.  Maybe not in the middle of a crisis requiring immediate action but certainly there should be space for why questions in the course of our day.  Consider this:  If you want clarification or deeper understanding, you may have to ask”why”.  If someone asks why of you, it’s often because they want clarification and deeper understanding.  As shocking as it may be, sometimes our communication is not always as eloquent and thorough as we would hope.

As a progressive leader encourage those around you to ask the “why” questions and embrace the questions when asked of you.  The more clarity and purpose you can provide to your staff the better chance of their success, your success and the success of the organization.  Should you not currently be in a position of leadership, let this be your permission to ask those why questions, your supervisor isn’t my “mom”;) it’s okay to ask.

We have all heard it said “you can’t teach an old dog a new trick”.  I have most often heard this statement made in reference to someone that is unwilling to learn or adjust to a change in their surroundings.  I have even heard this statement in reference to ones staff or employees that are perceived as unwilling to change or learn something new, “All they want is to stay in cage wash”.

For someone that has had dogs most of my life it’s hard to figure out where this statement came from.  I have found that dogs do in fact tend to learn all kinds of new things throughout their lives, even in their more senior years.  So if the statement isn’t true for dogs than maybe it’s not true for people.

My mom is completely unwilling to own a cell phone or a microwave.  At first I thought she was falling into the “you can’t teach an old dog a new trick” quagmire.  However when needing to use a cell phone or a microwave she is more than willing to do so.    My moment of eureka came when I saw that my mom was more than willing to learn something new.  She has no problem using my microwave when visiting and with a bit of instruction she can even use the cell phone.  She just doesn’t want to own either.

The problem with using the statement “you can’t teach an old dog a new trick” is that we start to believe it.  It’s not true for dogs and it’s certainly not true for people.  Yes you may find that you or someone you know is unwilling to learn but that is very different from not being able to learn.  Our challenge as trainers, educators and manager of people is to assume that all of our learners are willing to learn and then create such an atmosphere that the only way they will not learn is if they willfully choose to not learn.

We are all capable of learning new things.  ACTS has the privilege of training lots of people and there is nothing more gratifying than seeing someone learn a skill, technique, or concept which had previously eluded them.

My goal is to have some we have empowered give a testimony that says the following “ACTS provided a training session that made me believe you can teach an old dog a new trick”.

AuthorCaroline Thompson

This isn’t a self serving memoir, although a memoir might be something I would like to do in my future.  Instead, I hope this article will serve to illustrate /   help you to better understand the power of self-motivation.   The premise being that if we can motivate ourselves then external motivators will enhance our drive toward excellence.  I use my story because from a very early age I knew what I wanted to be a veterinarian and, in spite of some difficulties and setbacks, I achieved my goal..    It may be that my experience will provide enough clarity to verify the premise. I was born to parents of modest income inWest Philadelphia.  I sometimes would like to say “yeah, I grew up in the hood” but in reality I just grew up in a home where my parents cared about me, pushed me to be better when I wasn’t at my best and let me ride my bike without a helmet.  My neighborhood was fairly integrated, meaning there were black people and white people living as neighbors.  Many neighborhoods in Philly at that time were segregated.  As a kid I spent as much time as possible outside playing with all of my friends.  I could be found playing sports in the street, running around the neighborhood, sitting out on the porch steps late at night, playing monopoly and pre-pubescent games that my mom would die if she know I was playing J

It was a fairly normal existence from the way I saw it.  But as I look back there were a few pivotal things that I believe made the difference for me.  I will just list them in order of remembrance and not occurrence as I don’t think the chronology is so much important as is the activity.  In second grade we spent the entire school year in North Carolina living on my cousin’s farms (The school district in Philadelphia was going on strike and my parents didn’t want us to miss school.)   My Cousin Joe was always happy to let me help him take care of the animals, and I would help as much as I could.  When I returned to Philly I went to private school through high school.  My dad and mom were big readers and encouraged us to do the same.  My mom always made a point to take us to the library often during the summers.  I think I read every book that had anything to do with animals.  It was through this extensive reading that I decided I was going to be a veterinarian.

During high school I started to see that things don’t always go as planned.  All set for college, I was destined to do well at the University of Maryland and begin my journey to becoming a vet.   However, only a week before enrolling I was told that there wasn’t money for me to go to school.  Student loans and grants all fell through and my parents didn’t have the money to send me to college.  Thankfully, with a bit of faith and lots of favors from family and friends I found a way to enroll.  Once in college I found out quickly that maintaining good grades was way harder than I thought it would be. I had to work really hard to make good grades.  In spite of all of my hard work I didn’t get into vet school immediately after completing my undergraduate studies as I’d expected.  I received an invitation to attend a summer program for potential vet students (thank you Tuskegee University) .  I worked hard in the program and at the end of the summer session was admitted into vet school.  Today I run my own training company; I have worked for a variety of institutions, and have crossed paths with some of the most amazing people in the industry. I continue to look forward to new opportunities to make a significant impact for good in the lives of the people we have the privilege of working with.

In summary, the foundation of the motivational factors in my life is two-fold. First, as a little kid I already knew that I wanted to be a vet.   I didn’t realize how hard it would be but I believed it could be possible for me.  Second, I believed if I worked hard to move through obstacles and challenges it would pay off. In life people can be and do whatever they put their mind to. They just have to put their mind to something they believe in.  Providing external motivators like bonuses, titles, autonomy, money and verbal encouragement are great, but they will never truly satisfy if there is no internal driver or motivator.   If you are working with a person who seems to lack self motivation, take the time to help them find or rediscover what motivates them.  Or, if you feel stuck and appear to have lost your internal motivator, make it a priority to find it because the reality is true for us all - if we aren’t self motivated, no amount of external motivation will ultimately satisfy.  To discover our internal motivators, and help others find theirs is a significant key to unlocking potential and allowing our best abilities to shine.