When we moved off-campus junior year, my best friend, Esther, transformed her affinity for animals into dog-sitting endeavors. While she certainly was glad to make a few extra bucks, Esther quickly realized how helpful having a canine companion in tow was for her mental health. At this time, Esther was balancing a busy Pre-Med class schedule, Research Lab job, and as much of a personal life as possible—despite dealing with difficult external circumstances.
Though tough times can cause us to feel most alone, Esther’s experiences exude the ways pets offer us companionship, comfort, and compassion. In fact, our furry friends can teach us values and life lessons that extend to seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives. In my eyes, pets promote some of the most important lessons I have learned throughout my work experience. These three things—connectivity, growth-mindedness, and motivation-driven optimism—exemplify how pets can make us better entrepreneurs.
Instant Personal Connection
When I trained new employees on the foundations of client-driven sales, I always stressed the utmost importance of forming genuine interpersonal relationships. Because sales is all about getting clients to come back, the first step to being a successful salesperson is initiating a strong personal connection. On the sales floor, this means striking up a conversation with the client, making them feel welcome, and establishing commonalities—all before merely mentioning a single product for sale. It is human nature to place greater value on the opinions of our friends and family over that of strangers, and if the client and salesperson lack a true connection, the client could consider the salesperson’s motives disingenuous.
Connectivity is an intrinsic human value; after all, forming bonds and gaining social acceptance is an evolutionary trait. Especially in our COVID-centric world, this notion extends far beyond the confines of the sales floor. Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that young people aged 18-25 are most likely to suffer from anxiety and depressive symptoms since the onset of the pandemic. Richard Weissbourd, Psychologist and senior lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, attributes these statistics to young adults’ stage of life. According to Weissbourd, it is at this time when individuals “[transition] from their ‘inherited families to their chosen families.’” Even in a COVID-free world, this life change makes young people more susceptible to loneliness.
Especially for those who lack a family unit due to current barriers in physical closeness, pets can offer instant warmth, love and appreciation. Any pet owner will tell you that their furry friend instantly became a part of their “chosen family.” There is, in fact, a science behind this—studies show the increased connectivity and companionship animal-owners feel, as well as pets’ positive contributions to managing mental illness, especially at times of emotional crisis. Just as human family members offer support during challenging times, pets intuitively do the same. Animals such as dogs possess innate attributes that help humans to feel social support. One study even recorded a lower risk of depression and stress-induced illness, as well as improved self-esteem, among those who considered pets as true family members. Though no single living being can eradicate the issues resulting from the pandemic, pet adoption can help create interpersonal connectivity and welcome a new family member into your home.
My mom said it best when she described her home office as becoming a “circus.” When she adopted our second cat in February 2020, she had no idea the cats would become her best work-from-home buddies a month later. In navigating the transition to full-time remote work, my mom quickly discovered that the cats’ favorite activity is “helping” her throughout the day. Their nap spot of choice is frequently in the middle of her desk, and they are not afraid to let her know when they feel attention-deprived (which is the second she tries to get back to work). Throughout quarantine, having the cats around has made our home more lively, energetic and fun. They turn even the most stressful work days around, and their presence is never bothersome. Pets are your best friends and make it a point to involve themselves in every aspect of your life. With pets around, there is something new and exciting to look forward to every day—you never quite know what they will do to put a smile on your face, even at the most unexpected times. Pets can help you welcome change and accept when things do not go entirely as planned.
This growth-oriented mindset, as well as focusing on opportunities to embrace change, are lessons that lend well to being a successful business leader. On the job, it is crucial to expect the unexpected and adapt quickly to situations out of your control. Just as the cats constantly remind me and my mom, pets can help us tackle work-related challenges head-on, leading to more success than ever before. Even despite her busy workdays, my mom has found the cats’ attention-seeking to be endearing, never annoying. Though they fall asleep on her paperwork or demand her attention during zoom meetings, my mom welcomes their unexpected and humorous antics in her daily routine. In order to succeed in the workplace, it is crucial to embrace change and remain calm when things do not go your way. As a pet owner, these lessons are not just applicable to work, but all aspects of your daily life.
Motivation through Optimism
In June 2020, my friends and I returned to New Orleans for the first time since COVID hit. Esther encouraged one of our friends to foster a dog for the summer through Take Paws Rescue, one local nonprofit helping rescued cats and dogs find loving homes. Our friend, Matt, fostered a two year-old-Pitbull named Jaxson for two months; Matt helped train Jaxy and assisted Take Paws in finding his forever home. Matt and Jaxy quickly took to each other, and Jaxy certainly has a soft spot in each of our hearts. Fortunately, Jaxy was adopted and welcomed into a warm family, but it was certainly an emotional goodbye.
Both Matt and Esther will tell you how much fun it was to have Jaxy around, but Matt himself was not always so certain that fostering a dog would be worthwhile. Matt did not grow up with a pet dog, so fostering Jaxy was his first time facing the responsibility of a pet dog. But Matt and Jaxy’s instant bond was enough to show Matt that he could instantly succeed in the role of a dog-caretaker. In fact, like Esther, Matt saw the true benefits of having a dog in your life. Thanks to Jaxy and Take Paws, Matt became motivated to dog-sit more often, and approached the responsibility of a pet with a positive attitude.
In every business, it is crucial to maintain this same enthusiasm. Research points to the optimism’s positive impacts in the workplace. Dr. Beth Cabrera of George Mason University, among other researchers, found that employees who possess optimistic attitudes at work are more likely to have higher performance ratings. Dr. Cabrera claims that this is because people are more likely to work hard in achieving a certain goal if they feel capable of attaining such degree of success. This strong relationship between optimism and success in the workplace indicates how critical it is to maintain a positive mindset in order to maximize your potential.
We have all heard the saying, “optimism is contagious,” and there is indeed truth to it. A positive attitude can provide the entire team with the necessary tools to achieve even the most daunting of goals. Studies show that optimistic salespeople are more successful than pessimistic salespeople. Furthermore, optimists tend to lead a stronger team because they can more easily identify setbacks or issues within a certain model or business approach. Through identifying these issues, optimists can help the team resolve issues that could otherwise cause them to fail. By the same token, pet fostering or adoption may seem scary for first-timers, but you’ll never know how much your pet can provide to you until you have one of your own.
While vaccine rollout shows there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the impacts of COVID won’t magically disappear. Even for those who have not faced any physical loss, isolation and a subsequent transformation to a remote-based lifestyle have caused detriments to seemingly everyone’s mental health. While there is no magic solution to improving mental health, I am fairly certain, from both my friends’ and my own personal experiences, that pets can help. My point is, for those on the fence about welcoming a pet into their lives, or even for those who swore they would never become a pet owner, there is no better time to bring home a warm, loving companion. Better yet, there is so much to learn through having a furry friend of your own; these three ideas do not even begin to cover all I have gained from growing up with pets. So many of these ideas have not just shaped me into an animal lover, but a more compassionate, motivated, and overall happier person. I have taken these lessons to heart and have seen their benefits in my own work experiences—as well as virtually every other facet of my life. Considering the myriad local non-profits supporting animal rescue, it is clear that deserving dogs and cats are longing for loving homes. And I am certain these homes exists within our local community.