I received my RN license 20 years ago this July. That is strange to say and makes me feel ancient. I remember what I used to think of the nurses that had been around the block…they just seemed so old! If you had told me back then where I would be now, the incredible people I would have met and the cherished lessons I would learn along the way, well, I would have laughed and said you were crazy. Most of the lessons I learned feel universal so I wanted to share them. Maybe some of them will resonate with you.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but had I the opportunity to sit across the table from myself back then, here are some things I would have shared with that wide-eyed, younger version of me…
- You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for.
- Taking care of someone when they are scared, ill, alone and vulnerable will be one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do in your lifetime.
- Nurses and caretakers are TERRIBLE at taking care of themselves. Seriously, we would much rather take care of someone else than ourselves most times. Prioritizing self-care will be one of the most important things you will do for yourself.
- Avoid gossiping. It doesn’t matter who you say something to, it will inevitably get back to the person you said it about and it hurts people.
- Almost always when I would walk in and see an assignment and think, “UGH, please no,” I ended up walking out having had a great day. Look forward to the days when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. They are not always the easiest days but you will get the most professional and personal growth from them.
- No matter how much you think you can compartmentalize your personal life from your work life, it doesn’t work. The only person you are fooling is you. If you are having issues at home, take the time you need to resolve them so you can be present at work 100%. No one is going to put you first if you do not do it yourself.
- There is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is unattainable. There is only doing the best you can and having the intention to be true to your core values and moral compass.
- Take time to know who you are and what beliefs are important to you at work and in life. If you do not know where you stand how can you stand up for yourself and your patients?
- You will make mistakes. It is inevitable. The mistakes you make will teach you so much more than all the things you did right.
- Own the mistake when you make it. Don’t try to pass it off on someone else or make an excuse. This personal accountability is what builds strong character and vital trust with your team.
- It is so much better to be happy than right. It is one of the truest things I have ever heard. You will gain so much peace from this one sentence.
- When you go head to head with a coworker be very careful because you will likely need them to help you someday.
- You are going to come across patients, coworkers, supervisors and many others who are not going to have the same beliefs or values you have…that is OK. It is what makes the world such an incredible place. Try to withhold judgement and respect the differences while maintaining your own belief system.
- Live your life and practice with honor and integrity above all else. Never put yourself in a place where you regret something you said or did. If you do end up in that place, correct it as soon as possible. The amount of sleep and peace of mind you will lose otherwise will never be worth it.
- If you are sick, STAY HOME. I know you will feel guilty but try to let that go. Guilt is destructive and entirely unnecessary.
- You will be exhausted, close to tears, feeling beat down and fed up at times in your career. This too shall pass. Your boss, your job, that super irritating coworker are merely seasons in your life. Learn what you can from them and leave the rest behind.
- If you are feeling trapped and helpless, apply for and interview for other jobs. At least if you stay in your current job it will be because you choose to.
- You are going to have to work with someone you don’t like. Get over it. Find something you can respect and some way to connect with them. They will know if you are not being genuine so make it real. This is the only way to make a team truly work so you can be there for your patients.
- Always thank your team, even if the day was not great. Showing gratitude strengthens those bonds with your colleagues and people will remember that you made them feel good. It is a small gesture for great reward.
- When a patient walks through the door of your facility, they are expecting the best care. Make certain you are giving them the kind of care you would expect your mother, father, child or anyone of your family or friends to receive.
- Do not underestimate the healing power of a smile, a hand being held or a warm blanket. Be generous with all of them.
- Not every patient wants the same kind of care. Some need to use humor to cope with the fear they are feeling, some need a gentle touch while others want the facts delivered straight and concisely. Try to sync up your communication with their needs in order to make that connection they need.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. You may think you are doing this but most of us struggle with this one. This goes for everyone you interact with from your patients to your coworkers. It is so important for people to feel heard.
- Being a nurse is a privilege and a joy. It will cause you moments of despair and moments of pure joy and triumph. Allow yourself to feel all those feelings and then remember to be grateful for all that this incredible profession has brought you.
I have learned so much from my chosen career, many more lessons than I could ever put into words. I have met some of the most incredible human beings along the way. A nurse’s heart is so big that it barely fits in our chests. It is where our superpowers come from. I have so much respect and admiration for anyone who chooses nursing or any type of caretaking as a career path. It is a difficult life at times, making sacrifices we didn’t realize we were signing up for: sleepless nights, missed holidays, time away from our family, working ridiculous hours, being covered in other people’s bodily fluids, no time to go to the bathroom, missed meals, the list goes on and on…
I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.