Cal Major is an ocean advocate, world record stand up paddle boarder and veterinary surgeon. She founded Paddle Against Plastic in 2016 to bring a positive message to the plastic pollution crisis, and to inspire and empower positive change through stand up paddle boarding adventures. Her 2018 expedition saw her SUP the length of the UK, from Land’s End to John O’Groats; she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Points of Light award on World Oceans Day to celebrate her campaigns and efforts to conserve our oceans. Cal is passionate about connecting people to nature, to protect mental health, and to drive a desire to protect our natural world. As such, she is currently working on setting up the charity The Vitamin Sea Project. Cal loves to engage people through public speaking, writing and film. She lives in Devon where she surfs, kitesurfs and sea swims whenever possible.
Tell us about a daily habit or routine you practice that contributes to your productivity and fulfilment?
Mornings are me-time. Between waking up and anywhere between 9 and 10 am is protected time for the combination of coping mechanisms and important activities that I have found work best for keeping me mentally and physically well. This generally includes yoga, stretching, meditating, my physio or strength routine, and sometimes a run or swim or other activity. If there’s something I know I need to do in my day, I try my hardest to do it when I first wake up, when I have the energy to do it and before the day runs away with me.
What was a major setback that you learnt the most from, or actually turned out to be a success?
After completing my 2018 SUP journey the length of the UK, I suffered a paralysing depression. It was a horrendously painful and long road to recovery, but journeying through it has allowed me to seek and hone strategies to live a more emotionally sustainable life, and has allowed me to really see what is and isn't important to me. I hope to never have to sink to those depths again, but feel enormously grateful to have gone through it and out the other side and be able to empathise and support others who are going through their own version of depression.
When you start to doubt your own ability, or are having 'a bad day at the office', how do you get back on track? Can you give us an example?
This regularly happens! When it does, I think about what my dear friend Sarah Brown would say to me in those moments. I used to regularly call her up doubting myself, and she’d always put me back on track, believing in everything I was doing. If I was struggling, she’d advise me to take a ‘Mental Health Day’ - even now if I’m struggling with overwhelm or imposter syndrome I’m getting better at stepping away from it, getting out into nature (where I heal most rapidly), and coming back to it when I’m better equipped to deal with it. I suppose I’ve learnt to be a bit kinder to myself.
What have you got better at saying no to? How did you realise this and how has it benefitted you?
I used to say yes to everything! I have the most wonderful coach, Penny Barker, and she has really helped me to figure out what feels most authentic to me, what fills me with excitement and joy, and what really doesn’t serve me. She’s really helped me to learn the benefits of saying no, focussing on instead what I’ll be able to say yes to as a result. Sometimes I still say yes to things that then become a source of great stress, but rather than get worked up about it I try and learn from it, knowing I can turn a similar request down in the future.
If you could gift a book to all vets at graduation, what would it be, and why? (It doesn't have to be specific to animal health!)
Do Less, Be More, by Susan Pearce and Martina Sheehan
We vets are so highly driven, and many of us are perfectionists. I found this book so comforting and practically helpful in slowing down and appreciating what is and isn’t important, valuing a different pace. I really think it should be essential veterinary reading!
Tell us about something you are currently a fan of? This could be anything; a person, trend, hypothesis, mindset, diet, activity, tech, hobby etc.
I have always have been a fan of nature and being outside, but since being on lockdown [edit: Coronavirus 2020], I’ve really begun to notice trends on what makes a positive difference in each day. The most profound changes I’ve seen have been when I’m outside, particularly when I get outside to exercise. I appreciate it’s not possible for everyone to go out once a day at the moment, but having a garden and spending time surrounded by nature, going for a mindful walk in the morning and taking in the beauty of the flowers, bugs, birds etc, has made an enormous difference to my feeling of peace and happiness - more profound than any of my other coping mechanisms by far.
What purchase of less the £100 has most positively impacted your life in the last 12 months?
I can’t think of a purchase, but I can think of something that was free! Joining the library! My library in Devon allows you to download e-books too, so during lockdown I’ve been able to access some really wonderful titles, fictional and non-fiction. I love books, so if I have to choose something I’ve bought I’d say it would have to be all the gorgeous books that are currently bringing me so much happiness.
What is the worst bit of advice you hear regularly in our profession? Why do you feel it is bad advice?
I have heard a few times how it’s such ‘a shame’ when people step out of clinical practice, especially if they’re good at it. That doesn't necessarily mean it’s good for that person, and there are so many amazing career paths available that aren't in practice. My time at vet school and in practice have taught me so many transferrable skills and qualities that have enabled me to conduct a different line of work with compassion and integrity. I’m still a vet, I’m very proud of that, the driving forces to protect animals are the same, but I do it now in a very different way.
What advice would you give veterinary graduates about to begin their careers?
Be kind to yourself. We're all different - there are people who thrive at working a million miles an hour, shift work, long days and nights, and there are those of us who don’t, and who have different fortes. That doesn't make either a failure. I think it’s our own responsibility to learn for ourselves what does and doesn't work for us and our own health and wellbeing, but there’s also help available to figure that out - coaches and mentors and colleagues. Don't be afraid to be honest and ask for help.
If you could send a single text to every vet around the world simultaneously, what would it say? This can be one word, a message or an entire paragraph.
If you are struggling, feeling down, exhausted, bleak, depressed or even just a little overwhelmed, please know it will be ok. I know sometimes it doesn't feel like it ever will, but there is light, and there is hope, and there is another way to live. Please reach out, there are people who care. You are loved and will always be loved by those who matter.