Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nurses: Surviving Versus Thriving

Many nurses talk about needing to survive. And what are they surviving? Their shifts? Their home life? Their financial responsibilities and constraints? Their marriages? What does it mean for a nurse to reject simply surviving in exchange for actually thriving?

 Survival of the Fittest? 
Survival of the fittest. We’ve heard this Darwinian notion for decades. Dog eat dog is another saying that many people—including nurses—seem to feel best describes the world, not to mention the healthcare industry. And when these phrases become part and parcel of who we are and how we function, then we become stuck in survival mode, and this can often mean also being stuck in the sympathetic maelstrom of fight, flight or freeze.
Look Around
So, nurse, take a look around you. Who’s thriving and who is simply surviving? What are the characteristics of those who seem to thrive? What is that special something that props them up, buoying them against the slings and arrows that life has to offer?
You know the person(s) I’m talking about. She’s almost always happy, and she seems healthy, balanced, calm and collected. He’s a nurse who everyone appears to like, and he apparently is able to take care of himself in a way that his job doesn’t really stress him out or take over his life. Somehow, these nurses just get the job done, have fulfilling and rich lives outside of work, and appear to ride the waves with great aplomb and fearless skill.
What do these people have? How do they do it? What’s in that secret sauce, anyway? (Or was it the Kool-Aid they drank?)
This Ain’t No Party
David Byrne said it well in the Talking Heads song, “Life During Wartime.”
“This ain’t no party
“This ain’t no disco
“This ain’t no foolin’ around.”
Life in nursing can indeed feel like life during wartime. In the ER, the ICU, the OR, hospice—a career in nursing and healthcare can feel like a slog through the bloody mud of a Normandy beach.
Yes, it’s not necessarily a party, but you, dear Reader, are a party to your own life, and no matter how messy it gets and how dirty and tired you are at the end of your shift, life goes on and how well you live it is, in the final analysis, up to you.
Thriving Is An Option
While surviving appears to be the least common denominator among us, thriving, on the other hand, is an option that only some of us choose to pursue.
Now, certain individuals are thrown humungous curve balls in life, including (but not limited to) illness, disability, grief, abuse, divorce, violence, trauma, and other monumental, life-changing energies that can really take us for a ride on every level.
However, I’ve known people who’ve survived incredible traumas, and some of those individuals are more attuned to the importance of thriving than those who’ve had a relatively easy ride in life.
Thriving is an option, and while some seem to have the chips stacked against them in terms of even being able to consider the option of thriving, others use those chips as a means to bargaining and working towards a life more fully, happily and healthily lived. How do they do it?
A New World? 
Sometimes it seems that risk-taking is the path to thriving. Like my friend, the troubadour poet Chris Chandler once said (and I’m paraphrasing), the bold ones in Old World Europe sailed across the treacherous seas to an unknown land, risking everything in pursuit of the New World, and they succeeded (in historical terms) by settling North America and forging a new way of life for themselves and the generations to follow. Meanwhile, the meek ones stayed behind saying, “We’ll be right along. We’re just gonna finish reading this last Victor Hugo novel. Actually, let us know when you’ve got cable and flush toilets and we’ll be right behind you!”
So, nurse, are you waiting for the veritable New World to have the equivalent of cable and flush toilets before you jump? What do you need in order to take the risk of creating the life you want? 

Listen 
Sometimes we have to leap into the void. Sometimes we just have to dial back our responsibilities and allow ourselves some room to breathe. At other times, we need to listen to that deep, still voice inside of ourselves.

That voice may tell us to quit our jobs, start a new business, get some exercise or eat more fresh greens. And it's not always about the message. It's about listening in the first place.
So, what's your voice telling you, dear Reader? Are you ready to thrive? And if so, tell me how!
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