Can you tell me exactly what is wrong at your job? I bet you can…all the things that should be done better; improved staffing, decreased demands of an administration that doesn’t understand the day to day of what you do, more time to spend with patients, less pressure to fill out seemingly arbitrary paperwork, coworkers who pull their weight, no mandatory overtime, patients who are understanding of the nuances of healthcare that they seem oblivious to, adequate pay, decreased daily emotional exhaustion.
Any of these sound like your job?
Work can seem helpless. But despite the magnitude of the problem, everything has a solution. If we didn’t believe there was a solution to seemingly impossible situations, we wouldn’t have gone into nursing. There is ALWAYS something that can be done, always some way around grim situations.
So, what is the solution when the root cause seems out of your immediate locus of control?
How can you be happy when everything around you seems completely unreasonable?
Can you be happy when it is reasonable to expect your coworker to pull their weight and they aren’t?
Can you be happy when it is reasonable to expect better patient ratios, adequate times during appointments, or some understanding/appreciation from administration and it just isn’t happening?
Can you be happy when it seems like you are living in injustice?
And it doesn’t require the world around you to change.
Of course, we can lobby for change, but we don’t have to wait for it before we can feel better.
I hope this gives you hope.
Let’s go back to the nurse in you that knows there is always a solution and acknowledge that frustration comes when we believe that the solution is dependent on someone else.
The solution is NOT dependent on someone else
(which is why we can be happy despite the unreasonableness of our situation).
We don’t have to somehow convince ourselves that the situation isn’t unreasonable.
Here’s the answer: look carefully at the problem, break it down into parts, find the part you have control over.
Let me give you an example, my commute.
At one point, the length of my commute was seriously hindering my happiness. I was resentful of how much time I was wasting in the car every day. It ate at me every time I got in the car.
So, I used the strategy that I use with my patients every single day: asking one more question until I get to the real root of the problem.
When my patients come in with back pain, I don’t just jump to a treatment plan, I get more info. What does it feel like? When do you get it and how? What makes it better? What makes it worse? Does it go into the legs? Where in the legs? Both legs? Equally? Into the feet? What part of the feet? What does it interfere with in terms of daily activities?
Now when it comes to patient care, this approach is obvious. Asking these questions gives the necessary information to not only diagnose but to come up with a treatment plan. The same is true with developing the treatment plan for happiness at work.
Back to the example. The length of my commute is a subjective complaint. There are people with longer commutes and no complaints and people with shorter commutes with great despair.
The key comes with the next question, why is the length of my commute a problem?
It’s SUCH A WASTE OF TIME!
(I hate wasting time.)
But once I realized this, I realized that the part I could control, since I wasn’t changing my job or my living location, was my idea of wasting time.
I started brainstorming for what I could do with that time AND how it would benefit me. I realized I had 2 hours a day that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I could do it while driving home. I started listening to podcasts and learning new things. I signed up for Audible and listened to the books that I didn’t have time to read. I took it as an uninterrupted time to call my sister (or at 6am, my mom). Sometimes I just listened to music and took it as a time to unwind before I got home and started the second half of my day. And surprisingly, reframing the time spent commuting resulted in me missing my commute for the 12 weeks that I worked remotely at the beginning of COVID.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
But what about when it comes to something a little more serious than the length of a commute. What about when you have too many patients to take care of and you are being asked to take on more and more. How is it possible to be happy in this unreasonable situation?
Start by asking one more question until there is something 100% in your control to change your mind about.
Why is it a problem if you have too many patients and not enough time? Because it is impossible to get everything done and then my patients suffer.
Why is that a problem? Because I am not able to do a good job.
This is the place that you get to take control.
What IS doing a good job? How would you define “a good job” in the situation that you are in now, the situation with too many patients and not enough resources (time energy, staff, supplies)? What would doing a good job realistically look like?
If you are stuck here, I will tell you.
Doing a good job is doing the best you can with the tools you have, making every effort to take care of the patient you have in front of you, even if it’s quick. It’s about how you are showing up, not about the details of the crappy situation.
If you can embrace the idea that
you can do a good job in ANY situation,
your whole experience will change.
Don’t believe me? I dare you to try it.
How often do you remind yourself that you are doing a good job?
Are you more acutely aware of all the things that you know could have been done better if the situation were different?
I get it, that’s how I think too.
But ideal and realistic are not the same.
We can do a great job in realistic situations, and we do it in a realistic fashion, not an ideal one.
There are many other examples but try it with one of the issues that you have with work. Keep asking more questions of yourself until you get to the answer that is solely about you and then challenge yourself to find a solution by reframing the way you think about just that piece.
You don’t have to “think positive” about the details of your job that require systemic change. (Phew- that would be tough.)
All that is required for being happy is getting to the root of why these things affect YOU personally, what you are thinking about the situation, and then decide how to reframe just that piece.
Taking a minute or two to do this the next time you feel exhausted by work can result in you feeling better by your next shift, despite the unreasonable work situations. It can move you from a passive participant in your happiness to an active contributor.
And won’t that be great?
Have a situation that you are having trouble dissecting? Reach out and I can help you figure it out. DM me or shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org