So a wonderful thing happened to me on the Big Red Carpet. First, I screwed up. Lots of great stories start that way. For me, screwing up is not exactly unusual. Perfectionism took me all the way to Harvard Medical School and very nearly killed me, so these days I focus more on healthier goals: getting stuff done, doing my best, pushing my limits, cleaning up my own messes and learning from them. That kind of stuff: improvement is possible and useful, whereas perfection is an abstract idea not found in nature. But that’s all for another day.
So I screwed up, and I didn’t even notice I’d screwed up until I started seeing some surprising responses. I asked folks to have some fun, use their imagination and think of a superhero or other identity, an alter-ego of sorts they’d enjoy wearing to work. Mine was Batman. How cool would that be? I jumped on the comic book theme on a whim. It turned out others were doing it too. No surprise there: comic books are hardly a new concept.
The surprise came when I started getting submissions that were abstract ideas and personal qualities instead of personas. Instead of Wonder Woman – still far and away the most popular response – I got “Compassion.” At first I wondered if that was the name of a fictional character, and I asked, The answer came back: not a name. Just plain old compassion, the idea, the human quality. Instead of playing imagination with me, some folks sent me their most valued personal trait as a nurse. As it turns out, in one set of messages recruiting ideas, I’d asked for “superpowers,” and they started rolling in. Not the comic book kind, but real superpowers: qualities nurses bring to work every day.
Such a cool twist! It wasn’t what I’d intended, not at all, but it was still good. Nah, forget good, it was great! It IS great because nurses are great, right? So I screwed my way up into something pretty cool, and I’m glad about that. I got so many submissions of this sort that I set them aside for a special post, this post in fact. Here’s seven of them:
Barbara Benton Allen: “Patience… Also, common sense, which FB told me is a super power! LOL”
Sarah Tomsen: “Talking down an agitated patient.”
Sandra Bee: “Empathy.”
Cathey Kabage: “Service recovery.”
Cindy Blackhurst Kerner: “Instilling confidence and trust.”
These nurses and their great ideas got me thinking. What would MY superpower be? I’m a generalist: As a rule, I don’t like choosing any one thing. In the spirit of things, though, I going to do just that, and I feel good about it. My superpower, my one favorite quality as a nurse, is my ability to adapt. Adaptation with a capital A!
At work, I adapt on the fly to lots of surprises. I offer helpful words like an improv comic, cope when no one can see how, solve problems no one foresaw and that lack any approved solution, answer questions no one saw coming. Most health professionals can walk away from such issues: if it’s not in their narrow chosen niche, it’s not their problem. Nurses are the least likely group in health care to do that, to walk away and leave it to someone else. We solve our own problems AND all the problems other groups casually leave behind. It’s a strength and a curse, really, but I do love making it up as I go (I also value planning, preparation, and prevention: I’m not making an excuse for procrastination here).
I work inpatient psych, and if there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s to predict the future. Stranger than fiction? That’s pretty commonplace stuff where I work. It’s simply awesome when something totally unforeseeable, totally unreasonable, totally unmanageable comes up, and somehow I find a way. All known options fail, so I create some more from scratch.
I remember a scene from Band of Brothers. Told that his unit would be surrounded in the Battle of the Bulge, an officer calmly said, “We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant. We’re supposed to be surrounded.”
In the Lord of the Rings series, told of a suicidal and necessary battle plan, the dwarf Gimli smoked his pipe, smiled and said, “Certainty of death, small chance of success… What are we waiting for?”
Well, I’m no paratrooper, and I’m no dwarf, and while I certainly face some danger now and again, it’s hardly combat. But when someone says a problem is unexpected, hopeless, and overwhelming, I feel something akin to that can-do, must-do, WILL-do attitude. I’m a nurse. I’m supposed to find a way because that’s what the situation requires. It’s what my patients and my coworkers require. It’s my duty, and so I do it. I do love it so. Sometimes I fail, but not often. I EXPECT to succeed, and that expectation helps me pull it off when others give up.
I’m a nurse, and so I do it. I get it done.
Thanks to everybody who’s offered all these great ideas! I look forward to yours, too! Use your best judgment and your heart. I’ll happily accept comic book ideas, other persona ideas, personal quality ideas, ANYTHING you send my way. Surprise me!
I do love surprises…