And while it takes courage to achieve greatness, it takes more courage to find
fulfillment in being ordinary. For the joys that last have little relationship to
achievement, to standing one step higher on the victory platform. What is the
adventure in being ordinary? It is daring to love just for the pleasure of
giving it away. It is venturing to give new life and to nurture it to maturity.
It is working hard for the pure joy of being tired at the end of the day.
It is caring and sharing and giving and loving…
— Marilyn Thomsen, author
Why is courage so often unnoticed in the nursing profession? Most people do not regard courage as one of the primary virtues necessary for healthcare success. They mistakenly believe that courage is only relevant during particularly perilous times. As a result, they do not perceive comforting a sick or dying person, questioning a doctor’s recommendation, attempting a new medical procedure, or taking initiative as courageous workplace moments.
Nurses who work in a hospital environment have their courage tested daily. They often find themselves trapped between two distinct cultures and mindsets. As they maneuver through the bottom-line, business-oriented corporate hierarchy of the hospital, they often find themselves tackling common challenges, such as office gossip, cutthroat promotion opportunities, and overburdened workloads. At the same time, they must tactfully balance these bureaucratic business issues with the nurturing nature of their chosen profession. Many times, the hospital’s corporate culture directly contradicts the caring nursing profession, causing many nurses to feel frustrated and emotionally drained. Hence, they become dispirited, the opposite of courage.
Opportunities for nurses to display courage occur nearly every day. From speaking up during a staff meeting to overcoming an obstacle that hinders professional advancement, these instances are often the defining moments of a nurse’s career. As nurses allow their courage to show at work, these events compound to yield greater professional status and improved personal fulfillment.
The Heart and Spirit of Courage
The original definition of the word “courage” comes from the French word corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” Historically, nurturing, and compassionate people have always acted from their hearts, but notions of courage as heroic have diminished this heartfelt value of courage. Without courage, however, a key part of our spirit is lost. Perhaps that’s why Aristotle believed that courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all the other virtues possible.
When you come from your heart and spirit and allow your passion for what you do to guide you, you are displaying your true essence. Many people prefer to settle for conformity or complacency (two out of nine courage killers) rather than display courage at work. They believe that standing up for what’s right or advancing professionally is not worth the sacrifice or time to accomplish it. They do not want to open themselves up to criticism, attend evening school to obtain a degree or certification, or commit to their calling. Such people are not acting courageously
People with courage state their objectives and then go backwards from there to look for what is possible. Using discernment, they develop new models when the door to an old model closes. These people move forward and upward, never quit, and take risks to reinvent them. Setting challenging goals and taking calculated risks reveal their heart and spirit. Because of their desire to continually learn and improve their performance, they build an innate reservoir of courage that leads them down the path to success.
Step Up with Courage
Building your courage reservoir is like climbing a standard six-foot ladder. The first step is low and wide, with each consecutive step getting higher and narrower. Near the top of the ladder the ascent can get a little shaky as the steps taper. For a nurse, a new hospital policy that requires you to devote more time to paperwork and less time with patients may perpetuate feelings of frustration and anxiety. But conquering an obstacle or revealing vulnerability are behaviors of courage. They support you to face the challenge head on. What would happen if you said, “Even though my supervisor disagreed, it took a lot of courage for me to challenge the new policy and open myself to criticism and conflict?”
People who continually “step up” do not easily give up on their opinions and judgments, even when challenged. Their willingness to be ostracized after a meeting for expressing an idea requires self-efficacy—the capacity for producing a desired result or effect. This behavior is very different from being close-minded and narrow. In other words, nurses with courage believe in themselves and their skills. Even more important, they do not blame others for their shortcomings or failures. They hold themselves 100% accountable and recognize the value of courageous will. They have control over the patterns that govern their beliefs and know their zone of courageous energy.
As you continue to climb each step of the ladder, your motivation to improve standards of care, to commit to the hospital’s mission, and to seize opportunities that allow you to take setbacks and obstacles in stride intensifies. Unfortunately, 20% of people never make it past the first rung. They do not identify their goals and quit before they start. The other 80% of people set goals for their personal and professional endeavors.
As the challenges increase, the group takes a break to regroup and refuel. Sixty-five percent of the people decide they are content to stay where they are, so they settle in. Only the remaining 15% reset their goals, commit to their original vision and purpose, and continue the climb. When they reach a difficult moment, they ask themselves, “Do I really want this?” Then, after reevaluating their path, they decide whether the sacrifice is worth the goal. If they need to adjust their plan, they do. They constantly refocus and continue their climb out of conscious choice. For such courageous caregivers, settling is not an option. They reach the top rung of the ladder.
What rung of the ladder will satisfy you?
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