Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seeking out Discomfort

Image credit: Chad Podoski, Flickr

I spent the past few weeks at work waaaaay out of my comfort zone. It kind of sucked.

As part of my orientation for the ICU step down unit, I'm working on a six week rotation in Surgical Intensive Care.

The ICU is...intense. In two weeks, my preceptor and I sent two patients emergently back to surgery, saw two patients re-intubated (a definite move in the wrong direction), and took care of someone having a massive stroke.

I also learned how to use an arterial line without getting blood everywhere, saw the importance of assessments every four hours (because you catch the stroke as it's happening), and spent lots of time running to the supply closet and then standing there looking desperately for scissors or gauze or a chest tube setup or whatever supply my co-workers were waiting for me to find. I felt like a nursing student all over again. I just wanted someone to ask me to put on a sugar tong splint or work in triage or do something that was familiar to me.

I hate to admit it, but I know I'm a much better nurse after this experience.

Neale Donald Waslch said "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (I found that quote on Answering Oliver but I can't find the specific post).  I don't completely agree with this statement: I couldn't handle feeling this overwhelmed and stressed out all the time. I got home exhausted every evening and laid awake worrying at night. There are some benefits to having a comfortable routine.

What I do believe is that in order to grow, sometimes we have to seek out discomfort.

Occasionally the uncomfortable situations come on their own, and all you can do is muddle through. But other times you might find yourself stagnating a little, and then you have to go looking for the discomfort. Surviving the  uncomfortable in our lives makes us stronger and better.

However, when you're seeking growth through change and discomfort (or when it's imposed on you from outside) in one area of your life, I think it's important to cut yourself a little slack in other areas. I haven't beat myself up if I missed a workout or grabbed some takeout instead of cooking. A few lazy days were very necessary.  Everything can't be a priority, and "learning experiences" can be exhausting. I don't want to prove that I'm a superhero, I just want to be the best Melissa I can be.

What kinds of challenges in your life have lead to growth and improvement?

Speaking of improvement, remember those Every Day for a Month projects? There's one coming for October. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Myth of Happily Ever After

Image credit: Sonia Luna, Flickr
I don't want to be a downer or anything, but I think we were all sold a big load of crap by the Brothers Grimm.

Disney perpetuates it. Every single story is about a young adult going through some major challenge, finding a soul mate, and then living Happily Ever After.

When I was younger, I thought I would get to the point in life that the struggle would be over and I would just coast along, happily ever after. I blame the children's stories. The main character is never a middle aged lady regrouping after a huge tragedy or some guy making a career change or anything. The protagonist is always young. The implication is that you go through the hard stuff in late adolescence and then you're done.

I went through my twenties thinking that if I could just get it together it would all get easier. I kept waiting for "happily ever after" to happen, but it never did.

Now that I'm older I finally realize that struggle is what life is all about. It sounds like bad news until you consider the alternative. Imagine if you really got it all figured out at 20, and then spent the next 50 or 60 years coasting along. Boring, right? Where's the growth and improvement in that proposition? What it life at 20 was as good as it gets?

What I have learned is that happiness is not an end point. Happiness is more like fitness- you have to keep working on it, and no matter how good it gets there is always room for it to get better. Just like building muscle, you can get yourself in a position for more happiness later by doing some hard work now. You might get an injury in your life, and your happiness declines for a while. But just like muscle memory, your brain must have some sort of "happiness memory," because once you've been there it's easier to get back again. And like fitness, you can never completely stop working on it or you'll lose what you have.

I was reluctant to write about this topic because I was afraid it would be kind of a bummer. But the more I consider it, the more positive I think it is. Imagine if your life choices were all made in early adulthood. It might be okay if you were super thrilled with everything, but most of us had some room for improvement back then (and probably now too).  Thank goodness for the possibility that things can always improve.  Every day we can work on happiness a little. When things have been bad for a while, we realize that struggle always leads to growth. Growth strengthens our happiness muscles and makes them more resilient.  But we can never say, "okay, I'm done, now I can live happily ever after."

Just some thoughts for a cloudy Wednesday.

What do you do to strengthen your happiness muscle? What trials have made you a happier person?

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