Sometimes a patient will resist your efforts to show empathy.
Show empathy anyway.
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We coaches are always thinking about how to explain what exactly it is that we do. A very smart friend of mine recently shared her perspective on this. When she gets asked "What do you do?", she responds "Whatever it takes."
I absolutely love this response, mainly because I think we nurses respond the same way every day.
We have too many patients, with too many tasks, and too many distractions, and too many obstacles.
And yet, somehow, we find time to get it done.
Somehow, we find a way to comfort.
Somehow, we save lives and still find time to document the education we gave on medication side effects.
When things go wrong we work with what we have, and help each other out, and jury rig equipment to make it all work.
So when it comes to being a nurse, I know you understand "Whatever it takes".
What is your self care was not an optional activity? You know, IF you have time and IF you get around to it and IF someone else doesn't need you more.
What if the question was "What do you do to take care of yourself?"
Could you still answer "whatever it takes"?
Being a nurse is hard, and I know if you are still reading this I am preaching to the choir here. So if you don't want your nursing career to flame out in martyrdom and burnout, then you might want to consider how well you are building yourself up.
If you hate your job, make a change.
If you are sitting in your car in the parking lot until the last possible second because you are afraid to start your shift, something isn't right.
If you feel empty, find ways to fill yourself up. Go on a walk. Get a massage. Eat better. Sleep more. Play with a dog. All those things we know we "should" do, but never seem to make time for.
You make the choice to prioritize yourself and your well being. You make the choice to find the ways to fill yourself up so that you can continue to take care of your patients. You make the choice that you are worth it.
(Pro tip: You are.)
We are all different, and what you need to do is going to be unique to you. But if you are ready to feel better, then start doing it.
Thanksgiving, like most holidays, means something a little different to many nurses. Most of us will be working. We will probably miss the meal with our families, because even if we managed to get Thanksgiving day off, we probably couldn't get enough days off in a row over a holiday weekend to travel to see our loved ones.
So with minimal effort, we can come up with plenty of things to complain about. It is frustrating. We can feel left out. It isn't fair.
1. I'm grateful for the potluck we are inevitably going to have at work. Yes, Carol is going to bring that creepy salad she always makes, and Pat is going to beg us all for gluten-free dishes that don't taste very good, but hopefully Bernadette will make her special curry. And while we all say we want to try different kinds of pie, I know I'm going to be sad when the chocolate pie everyone said was boring gets finished before I have a chance to get a piece.
But I'm grateful for this experience. The chance to share a laugh and some food with my coworkers who, let's face it, are practically like any other (dysfunctional) family. Years from now I'm going to remember these meals with great fondness.
2. I'm grateful for the meal the facility gives us. OK, ok, so it isn't going to taste anything like Mom makes. But as easy as it can sometimes be to complain about administration, I do appreciate the gesture.
3. I'm grateful for my coworkers. Yeah, some of them are brats and stinkers and make bad jokes and lose their temper and don't communicate as well as I wish. (Though to be fair they probably say the same thing about me sometimes.) For better or worse, I spend a significant amount of my life at work, and these are the people who I'm sharing it with, these are the people who are there to witness my good days and my bad days and everything in between. I see them more than some of my own family members. And when things get hard, I know who has my back. When a life is on the line, I know who is gonna be there helping me do what needs to be done. I'm grateful for that.
4. I'm grateful for my patients. Yes, some of them are brats and stinkers and make bad jokes and lose their temper and don't communicate as well as I wish. But when I get to hold someone's hand, when I get a whispered "thank you", when I know I saved a life even though the patient doesn't - it is all worth it.
5. I'm grateful that you are a nurse. Because odds are someday I will find myself in a hospital, and when I do I am quite certain I will rely on my nurses to take care of me. I sincerely hope that day is a long ways off, but when it comes, I hope I get taken care of by someone like you.
6. I'm grateful that I'm a nurse. This job is hard. My feet hurt, and my bladder is permanently distended, and I hear the IV pumps beeping in my sleep. I take the blame, I fix other people's mistakes, I go above and beyond, I mourn the patients I've lost, and I'm not told I'm appreciated nearly enough considering what I do.
And yet I'm still grateful. I had my choice of careers. Nursing wasn't the easy default option. No one accidentally becomes a nurse. I chose it on purpose, because I felt I could make a difference.
And even on my hardest day, even when we are understaffed and the computers crash and the patients are mean - I know that just by being there I am making a difference.
I matter. When I look at what I do, I know this to be true.
I am a helper.
Things would be worse if I wasn't there.
I take pride in that knowledge. And I am grateful I have the opportunity to help so many people.
I'd feel silly calling myself a hero. But I will say that I'm a badass. All nurses are.
It's Thanksgiving. What are you grateful for? Look around and start noticing. Are you grateful for the the degrees and credentials you have earned? Are you grateful for the opportunity to be part of the nation's most trusted profession? Heck, are you grateful for the paycheck and the 401(k)?
Are you grateful to be employed? Are you grateful for the employment options you have as a nurse? Are you grateful that your friends and family trust you so much they want to show you every time they get a rash?
Are you grateful that you know better than to check your blood sugar after you eat lunch? Are you grateful that you know you can't get the flu from the flu shot? Are you grateful that you get to be deliciously annoyed and self-righteous every time a character on TV shocks asystole?
Make your list, whatever it is. Appreciating and being grateful for what we have is a direct path to happiness. And you, my nurse friend, deserve to be happy.
How do you feel?
No, this isn’t a geeky 80’s Star Trek IV reference. (Or at least it isn’t ONLY a geeky 80’s Star Trek IV reference.)
I don’t have to tell you the world is changing. I don’t have to tell you that opinions in our country are polarized, full of outrage and disdain. I don’t have to tell you that politicians and the media both encourage and feed that outrage in their efforts to manipulate us, either for votes and money or attention and money.
But how do you feel?
We’ve all seen the clickbait articles on social media. The ones that either gross us out or make us angry and self-righteous, so angry in fact that we don’t even resist clicking the link so we can feed our outrage. “You won’t believe what their candidate did to this puppy - and got away with it!” Nine times out of ten the article is either a total disappointment that doesn’t live up to the headline, or else we realize it is satire or even totally made up.
And yet we don’t stop clicking.
The pundits and politicians are trying VERY VERY hard to teach us that outrage feels good. They tell us that outrage is motivating. They tell us our outrage is proof of what a good person we are. They tell us that no decent and intelligent human could fail to feel outraged over how crazy the world has gotten.
And we want to be motivated. We want to be a good person. We want to be decent and intelligent. And after years and years of getting bombarded with these arguments, we start climbing on board the outrage train.
You aren't a newly resurrected Spock, and yet many of us are just as confused as he was by this question.
Where does the anger sit in your body? Does the outrage help you sleep better? Does the time you spend arguing with your high school friend’s wife’s uncle on Facebook feel like time well spent? When you see your anger-fueled snarky comments the next day, do you feel proud and inspired? Are the hurt feelings and damaged or lost relationships worth it when nothing changes? Who is the person you want to be when you don’t get your way?
I know some of you are hanging on to the idea that these feelings do help you. That they are a necessary evil because they motivate you to try to change the world for the better. That even though they make you crazy, at least you are being true to what you believe in and are advocating for your principles.
But, and I’m going to jump into the 90's and do my best Morpheus imitation here, what if I told you that you did not have to feel outraged in order to accomplish any of those things?
What if I told you that you could fight injustice and stand up for freedom and acknowledge problems and pick sides and still feel happy and motivated and invigorated the whole time?
Outrage can be mentally and physically exhausting. It can trick you into making generalizations and to oversimplify reality and to assume the worst of those who may disagree with you. It can isolate and further distance you from the very people you most want to influence for change.
Outrage wears you down and can literally make you sick. When we let ourselves get so angry and afraid that we can barely see straight, it is an activation of our sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response. I won’t nurse out on you too bad here, but this cascade releases hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol into our bodies. This is great news if you are calmly walking down the street and a bear or a clown jumps out of the bushes and you need to run the heck away before you get eaten. But the chronic activation of these hormones due to ongoing and never-ending stress results in an array of negative health outcomes, leading to poor sleep, weight gain, anxiety and depression, impaired immune function, and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
We tell ourselves that our outrage is punishing the thing/person/injustice we are mad about. But it isn't. They can't feel your outrage. They don't feel your anger and your tears. But you know who does? You do. You aren't punishing anyone but yourself.
The good news here is that you have a choice. All you have to do is ask yourself two questions.
1. What do you want to accomplish in the world?
2. How do you want to feel while you are accomplishing it?
You can change the world and feel happy and inspired. You can recognize the bad things that happen in our world and yet feel excited because you are so awesome you are going to do something about it. You can talk with people who are hypocrites and liars and feel invigorated because you are being challenged to improve your debating skills while practicing being able to stay calm and extending them an offer to maybe see things a little differently.
If you feel lost and hopeless, it is just because you haven’t yet given yourself a goal. Once you decide what you want, you will start seeing lots of options on what you can do to get there. Next, make sure you are picking the path that is going to best allow you to feel the way you want to feel.
Your feelings are always your choice. No one comes along and injects you with a big syringe of emotion that you are obligated to feel. You get to decide on how you want to see the world and what you make it mean and how you want to experience it.
They are not the boss of your feelings. You are. Choose wisely.
Decide who you want to be. Decide if you want to be beat down and afraid, or if you want to find a way to feel hope again.
Ben Franklin said it best: Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.
If you aren’t ready yet to give up on what you are feeling today - and I can't emphasize this enough - that is totally fine! You will get no feeling-shaming from me. All of your emotions are natural and normal and you have every right to feel them fully for as long as you want.
All I’m offering is a reminder that you are not a slave to them. You are not trapped. You are not stuck. You can honor the feelings you have, and you can also look for ways to feel better at the same time.
OK, that was totally a geeky 80’s Ferris Bueller reference. And I stand by it.
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I want to talk to you about awesome.
Not just the kind of awesome where you are “cool” or put on a good show of being interesting. I’m talking serious, legit awesomeness.
Like when you see a comment by a troll on Facebook and instead of indulging your carefully groomed yet completely unproductive outrage with a stranger, you just, you know, note your opinion and then scroll past it.
Or when the most bullying-est of bullies tries their bully routine on you but are quickly confounded and thwarted because no matter what terrible things they make up about you they just can’t make you believe them.
Yes, I’m talking awesome like where you already have an Advanced Directive set up, and know exactly what to try to manage your anxiety, and when you floss your teeth it is figuratively just like a meteor has exploded into the wall behind you and you just keep on flossing, in full out slow mo, because you are so awesome that nothing that trivial gets in the way of proper dental care.
That’s the world I’m talking about, because that’s the world I want to live in.
Now I’m going to acknowledge this right up front - “awesome” is one of those words that can get me in trouble with some folks. They want to put limits on the word for me. They say it is unsophisticated. They like to accuse me of bragging, or of being duplicitously selective, only talking about the “good” things. They want to argue semantics and say things like “If everything is awesome, then nothing is awesome”.
To start with, I’m still marveling at how awesome it is that “duplicitously” is actually a word, because as I was typing it I was pretty sure I was just making it up. Awesomeness approved and validated!
All of us have the same capacity for awesomeness, so just because one person celebrates it in themselves does not mean they think they are any better than anyone else. Every day I hope I will I hear someone talking about something in their life that is awesome, because true awesome is contagious. Much like smiling or yawning or whistling that Lego song “Everything Is Awesome”, when you acknowledge the awe and wonder around you it can inspire others (and certainly me) to do the same.
And sure, of course not-awesome things happen. All the time, every day. But one thing I’ve learned as a coach, is that our brain notices the things we tell it to look for. In fact your brain is really really good at finding evidence to support your thoughts and opinions. If you think life is awesome, you train your brain to look for those things. When you start thinking life is hard, or that your co-worker is rude, or that everyone else on the road is a terrible driver, well then your brain is going to focus on that and will no doubt find lots of evidence to support that too. Training your brain to look for one thing doesn’t mean you are denying the other exists, it is just choosing which you want to be your default.
Of course if you want to play a zero-sum game and only accept a finite amount of awesomeness into your life, that is totally your choice.
But consider this: ask a new mother if she could possibly feel any more love for her child, and she is likely to reply that her heart is bursting and she is experiencing the maximum amount of love she possibly could. Then ask her again when she has her second child. Does she have to decrease her love for her first child to make room to love the second child? Of course not. She finds new capacity to love and has even more love in her life!
Awesomeness can be the same way, if you let it.
And look, I’m not writing an academic paper on awesomeness. I’m describing how I want to feel, how I want to think, how I want to live. To me, the word awesome accurately sums up what I mean. I choose awesome.
Except when instead of awesome, something is rad. Or super sweet. Or even a crazy-amazing doperocket.
So if you aren’t interested in being Awesomelingual, that’s fine - feel free to replace it with any word you want: I promise not to be offended by how you label the greatness in your life. (Hint: truly awesome people don’t offend easily.) You are your own person and you are free to use whatever vocabulary taps your toes into their most toe-tappingest two-step.
Because here is the real question: do you want to love what you do? Do you want life to be an unlimited wellspring of inspiration? Do you want to feel sexy whenever you walk into a room?
Let me repeat - you get to choose! My advice? Choose wisely.
Because, trust me, you are more than enough to be awesome. This choice isn’t beyond your ability. It isn’t pie in the sky. It is available to each and every one of us.
[Side note: You are enough, unequivocally enough, and there is nothing you can say or do to convince me otherwise, so if one of your demons is trying to backtalk me on that point you can let him know his insulting form of “modesty” is cute but uncompelling.]
If you are still on the fence, let’s take a quick personality quiz. Don’t worry, this will be easy! (Besides, Facebook has us all trained to love quizzes, don’t try to deny it.)
You wake up in the morning, rub your eyes and sit up. Ideally your next thought would be:
You are on your deathbed, looking back over your life. Pick the phrase you would hope would be most accurate for you.
I can’t say that either answer is “right” or “wrong” for you. But while 1 and 2 might seem worlds apart, the only difference between them is how you choose to perceive your experience. There is no CAT scan or blood test that is going to prove whether something is awesome or average. Which, I’ll admit, makes average a perfectly acceptable choice - if you think that living an average life is going to get you to where you want to be.
For me? I choose awesome. I believe it is my birthright, just as it is yours. And I don’t just mean I choose the awesomeification of my own life, but also of everything and everyone around me. I am an active voter in Awesometown, and celebrate awesometicity wherever I can find it. I’m a full time awesometologist, advocating for all the awesomniacs in the world. (OK, so now I really am making words up, but I am literally giggling at myself so I consider this a win-win.)
This brings me back to my original question. (See how I did that?)
Do you want to be awesome-in-a-can? Do you want to be the kind of person that believes the universe is there to help you, and that you can find a way to get through any obstacle, and that you are worthy of love and admiration? A person who has no regrets, and can say no without guilt, and that loves their hairstyle?
All these things are possible. All these things (and more) are possible for you.
This blog is an invitation. You are being invited, right now, to acknowledge and celebrate and marvel at everything that is awesome in your life. Those of you still humming along to the Lego song know what I’m talking about.
If you enjoyed this post, please help me get the word out by liking and sharing it! The more the awesome spreads, the more we awesomaniacs stand up tall and proud, the better it is for all of us!
Robb Hillman is a RN and Certified Life Coach. He provides coaching and Superhero Training so that his clients can empower themselves to have a deliberately awesome and satisfying life.
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Our current society seems to view robust and irrepressible optimism as a weakness, and dismisses it as coming from someone who is too silly, inexperienced or gullible to understand the “real truths”.
But I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what optimism is. Optimism isn't about ignoring reality and living in a fantasy of rainbows and unicorns. In fact it requires great strength of will and of character. It isn’t always easy, and it certainly isn’t passive. Optimism is a fierce battle of consciously choosing the perspective that is going to best serve you in your life.
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Robb Hillman Coaching is focused on helping nurses and other healthcare professionals learn, cultivate and optimize their self care practices, providing 1:1 coaching to help nurses create the extraordinary lives of fulfillment and purpose they both want and deserve.
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