“Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise…” ~Maya Angelou
Nursing school is hard. It’s supposed to be. The amount of information you need to obtain; the skills that you must develop; the understanding of the human body in sickness and in health that you have to grasp; it is not for the faint-hearted. Then there are the emotions, the body fluids, the danger, the suffering, the roller-coaster ride of possible events from birth to death, did I mention the aromas? For those who think that somehow you can be a nurse and escape all of those lovely possibilities, then maybe nursing is not for you. And I haven’t even mentioned the attributes you need to have: the compassion, conscience, competence, courage, caring and commitment, to name a few.
Nursing school itself is like an obstacle course, with fences to leap over; hoops to jump through. It is hard to think how else you can be sure that people who will be taxed with making life and death decisions; recognizing situations that call for immediate interventions; or just giving the right medicine, know what they need to know. The dosage calculation exams; the weekly quizzes; midterms and finals; all to help you prepare for the final barrier: the NCLEX exam. What’s the point in graduating from school if you are unable to pass the qualifying exam that will give you those letters to put after your name so you can begin to practice?
For those of us who teach, finals week can be very challenging. It is full of mixed emotions as you see those who have worked so hard underperform, and sometimes others succeed that you didn’t think could. You have to put ego aside, or else you see every success a reflection of your own performance, each failure a flaw in your skill as a teacher. You have to recognize that just like a farmer plants a seed and then tends it, ultimately it is the life within the seed that causes it to grow. There is a difference between nurturing and enabling; sometimes you have to show tough love if you want people to learn life lessons along with the pharmacology and pathophysiology.
We learn more from failure than we learn from success. Although it may be difficult to see the message as we are overcome with sadness, frustration or despair. It may not be easy to see beyond the immediate disappointment; however the secret is to try to breathe through it until you can gain perspective and recognize the truth. You were not ready, you had not allowed yourself the time, you had been trying to do too much at once, or whatever else may have led to your collapse.
There are many biographies and stories available about people who are tremendously successful at what they are doing, who got there after many failures and malfunctions. Thomas Edison said: “I haven’t failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. We are living in a time that demands instant gratification; we have answers to many of life’s questions literally at our fingertips. We no longer have to go to the library to look things up. As fast as we can think of who it was that starred in that movie about the dinosaurs we can get the answer. I have only to type the word ‘failure’ into Ms Google to get a dozen quotes. We have forgotten that everything in life isn’t that instantly attainable. Babies still take nine months (or more!) to cook in the womb.
When we miss the lessons that come from failure, we miss the opportunity to reshape our lives. When we sink ourselves down into our emotions, wallow in our sadness, we miss the possibilities that may be awaiting us instead. One young male nursing student who had to repeat a semester was inconsolable for a while. He is now married to a classmate he met in the semester he repeated! You never know what may be waiting behind door number two.
And the disappointments we may encounter may be dramatic. We may find our world temporarily upended by a car crash; a painful reminder of the fragility of life, the little control that we really have of this messy world we live in. We can wallow in what-if and why-me, or we can give thanks for being alive, for having insurance, for being able to start over. As we are counting the bruises and the expenses we may need to stop and count our blessings also.
This week I found myself in a midweek slump; needing to find the energy to pull my socks up and get back into a positive mood. For a while, in addition to feeling down I also beat myself up for feeling down! Sometimes we get so far inside our own head we need a reminder to come out, to just take one breath at a time; one step at a time. Dawn comes; day breaks, and if we are lucky, we will rise again.
This Friday morning I hope you are able to see the hope in the future, and learn the lessons from the past. I trust that if you are encountering setbacks or defeats you can find the calm strength that exists in your core that is steadfastly waiting for you. And if all else fails, go to wherever it is you draw your strength and restore your soul. And if you know anyone in nursing school, take time with them. Nursing school can be rough! But it is also the pathway to an amazing adventure, an opportunity to participate in a wonderful career.