Twenty-four hours ago I was finishing up the exit exam for my nursing program. A year and a half of stress, sleeplessness, and processed microwave dinners was coming to an end. I finished the final 160th question of the test and hit ‘submit’ and expected to feel a wave of relief and excitement. But in reality, it was a little anticlimactic.
What a lack of perspective. What a vision so full of trees, that the forest can’t be seen.
I set very high goals for myself. Sometimes too high. See, the thing is, there comes a point where you can’t do much better except to be perfect. And perfection is a myth, a finish line that never comes.
Doing any better on my exam wouldn’t have made any difference. I couldn’t score all that much higher, and it wouldn’t have changed my grade anyway if I had. But in my mind, I had missed my goal by a small fraction of a point. It was easy for my brain to start obsessing about this. To wonder if that one question I submitted at the exact second I realized I selected the wrong answer, unable to go back, would have made a difference. Or what that other senseless miscalculation was worth.
That little voice inside, mostly silenced for years now, still rears its ugly head once in a while- the voice that says, “It wasn’t good enough.”
I compete with myself. But the problem with a competition is there is a winner, and a loser. And if you’re competing with yourself, you will always lose.
And here’s reality: I didn’t go to nursing school to be perfect. I went to nursing school to be able to make a difference in the lives of people. Imperfect, human people. Studies actually show that nurses who are the kindest to patients are the ones that they rate as the ‘best nurses.’ As a healthcare professional, I need to know what I’m doing or at least who to turn to for help. I need to not make mistakes. But I also need to be someone my patients can look to for support, for strength, for hope, for compassion, for empathy.
Perfection is not relatable, because it doesn’t exist. It can’t empathize, because it lacks perspective.
My patients won’t care about fractions of points, they only care that I can take care of them when it matters. They care that the 23 hrs. and 55 mins a day their doctor isn’t in the room that I can put into practice what I’ve learned and meet their needs. This isn’t even about me, it’s about them.
Becoming a good nurse is not a race that can be measured. I am not a wind-up monkey. It’s okay for me to tell that voice in my head to be quiet. Silencing that voice isn’t usually as easy as flipping a switch. More often it’s like turning a dial and fine-tuning until we overcome the fuzzy stations that keep fighting to break through. The music on those stations is laughably irrational, as it plays yesterdays on loop and begs to be tucked in at night.
It’s not easy, but it is simple. We have a choice. We have a choice what station we listen to, whether we feed the lies or the truth, see the trees or the forest. We can spend our lives picking apart the mirror or living in what really matters.
After leaving school, I called my Dad. I said for the first time out loud, “I just finished my college degree. I just graduated,” and I was so overwhelmed with emotion, with joy, that tears started spilling from my eyes and for a moment I couldn’t speak. Right then, it started to feel real. That matters.
Through commitment and sacrifice I did something I used to never think I could do. That matters.
My chosen profession may allow me to make other people’s lives a little better, a little easier. That matters.
Nursing school has given me such incredible, humbling experiences. Experiences in which life entered this world, and in which it left. Experiences with people in a variety of walks of life, in a variety of areas of treatment. That matters.
Playing the game of ‘not good enough’ is no way to live. I choose grace over chains, and mercy in place of a hearse.
I choose to enjoy this. To enjoy every bit of this. Pending my diploma being printed, I have a college degree. Pending taking state boards, I’m a RN.
It IS good enough. It is so much more than good enough. And it matters.