Monday, September 07, 2020

Nurse, What's Your Personal or Professional "Everest"?

Speaking with a nurse colleague the other day, she was referring to something she’s attempting to do in her life outside of nursing as her “Personal Everest”. These types of endeavors can be scary, and they can cause you to question yourself along the way. Is there something you want to conquer or master, either personally or professionally? Is there something in your sights that you just can’t let go of until you do it? 

When George Mallory was asked why he was going to attempt to summit Everest, he allegedly said, “Because it’s there”. Whatever it is you want to do, I bet you have a better reason that that. Can you find it?

Your Nursing Everest

Your nursing Everest could be any number of things. Is it achieving your next degree? Is it mastering a difficult clinical skill, a new software program, or a novel patient interviewing technique? Or how about a specialty certification that would really move the needle in your nursing career if you finally had it under your belt? 

Nursing school can feel like the biggest mountain you've ever climbed. When you graduate, your first Everest is passing the NCLEX, and then the challenge of finding (and keeping) your first job is next. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I failed the NCLEX the first time and passing it on the second try certainly felt like climbing a very steep mountain. I took myself on a three-day retreat in a cabin in the woods and drilled those test-taking strategies into my brain until I wanted to scream -- but I did end up passing, thanks to the gods and goddesses of nursing!

Sometimes just getting through difficult shifts can feel like scuba diving without oxygen, walking on the moon without weighted boots, or fishing with string and a stale piece of bread. How do we ever do it day in and day out? 

I know nurses whose Everest is getting through their PhD dissertation or their masters thesis. Others find that learning to podcast, blog, write, speak in public, or start a business is on their list. What's on yours? 

Compare and Despair = A Huge Waste of Energy

If you're trying to do something quite difficult or challenging, comparing your relative rate of success or failure to others is definitely not in your best interest -- in fact, it's a huge waste of time and energy. 

If it's true that comparing ourselves to others isn't a hot idea (which I know for a fact it isn't!), why do we insist on doing it so much? Is it this "I" culture of selfies, curated lives, and only showing on social media the stuff that makes it all look fun and easy? How many of us post about our failures, weaknesses, and bad experiences? I know people who use social media in a very transparent and authentic way, and I also see others who I imagine taking 10 or 20 shots before they get the one they think will show them in the best light. Is it really healthy for us to only see the perfection in others' lives and not the struggles and sweat inherent in achieving success? 

If you're comparing yourself to others and despairing that you're not measuring up, all I can tell you is that you have to stop -- it's hurting you a lot and probably not helping at all. 

Challenge as Metaphor

Whether your Everest is bowling a perfect game or learning to run a code, it doesn't really matter -- the fact remains that it's yours to own, take on, and achieve if you want to set your sights on it. 

Let's say you want to become a certified scuba diver. There's lots of scary stuff to learn, and threats to your ability to breathe are probably scarier than most. In scuba, your life is in your own hands, as well as that of your instructor and fellow divers -- it's intense, and there's no escaping the fact that you'll be challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally as you learn to -- literally -- go deeper and deeper. 

If we take this scuba diving metaphor further, we could compare it to the depths you have to go to in order to become, for example, an expert circulating nurse in the OR  -- neither is easy to do, but many people achieve it and so can you if you set your mind to it. 

Maybe you're learning how to rebuild the engine of an old car and you're having a hard time getting the carburetor adjustments just right. Or maybe you're on rewrite number four of what you think could be the next great American novel. We all take on various challenges throughout our lives -- even marriage, parenting, and getting old are challenging (I've done the first two and I'm currently working on the third!) 

Look deeply at your personal and professional challenges and try to ascertain the lessons and metaphors inherent in each. Will getting certified in scuba empower you in your nursing career? I surmise it will. Would earning your PhD in nursing make you more apt to push yourself to achieve something meaningful in your personal life? Very likely. It's all in your mind, and you can decide what meaning these endeavors hold for you. 

Climb, Climb, Climb

Life is a climb, and some have it harder than others. Your life may be as challenging as Christopher Reeve's or as easy as can be -- but I bet it's probably somewhere in between. There are kids with inoperable brain cancer, people who win the lottery, and those who trudge through life with little support and almost no money. We're all on the spectrum of difficulty and adversity. 

Luck can seem arbitrary -- and maybe it is -- but how we react to our experiences and the world around us is where the rubber really hits the road. When my colleague talked about frustration with her own inability to measure up to her expectations of herself, I mentioned a concept called "frustration tolerance". In psychology, this pertains to how angry, sad, hurt, or stultified you become when faced with adversity, and how you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. How tolerant of frustration are you? 

In the end, you need to keep climbing. Christopher Reeve didn't just stop breathing because he was tired of being a quadriplegic, and I didn't stop studying because I failed the NCLEX. And I bet there are things you've done that you can look back on and see how you just didn't give up. What was it like to keep climbing and then reach the summit?

We all have our own paths to climb and our own frustrations to live with and overcome. What's your Everest, and how hard are you willing to work in order to successfully reach the top? 


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University,, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. You can follow George the Cat on Instagram using the hashtag, #georgethecatsantafe. 

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