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  • Writer's pictureMegan Filoramo

Wait, am I starting the fire?

“You don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” Emily and Amelia Nagoski

This statement elicits a dramatic image of just how damaging it can be if the care of others is at the expense of your own health and wellbeing. It’s the basis of many self-care and burnout prevention interventions. And while this could be explored further, the converse is also true.

You don’t have to set other people on fire to keep yourself warm.

The effects of this can be equally devastating.

But what does this actually mean?

Why would we be setting other people on fire? (figuratively of course)

As nurses, this seems at direct odds with our day to day mission. 

I was interacting with a healthcare professional who was consumed with the unfairness of situations at her job. She was furious, overcome with how she deserved more because of seniority and the people around her didn’t deserve what they had been given. She was so upset, upset about opportunities given to her coworkers and that her work was not appreciated.

And honestly, I understood. There have been times in my life where I felt the same way. There are instances where work may seem unfair, when you feel that other people aren’t pulling their weight, times when every day there seems to be more and more evidence as to how awful everything is.

But to be clear, when I was thinking that way on a daily basis I was utterly miserable. Every day was torture. The constant negative focus on my coworkers was eating me from the inside out. Everyday I complained to my friends about the aggravation of it. Every day I woke up thinking about how my work was better and yet others were getting the same benefits. Every day I was virtually setting them on fire in my mind, and unfortunately my conversations,  thinking that if I made it clear just how unfair things were, I would feel better.

Please understand, I was not having homicidal thoughts, I was just ruminating; repeating over and over the negative narration of my experience at work. 

Here’s the key, whether or not things are fair, spinning out about it sets everything on fire, your relationships AND the quality of your work. 

Surrounding yourself with fire is distracting. 

What is going on with your coworkers is a distraction.

Sitting in distraction lowers the quality of your work. 

I’m going to say that again, sitting in distraction lowers the quality of YOUR work.

We can’t set the world around us on fire and then give good care because we will be too consumed with the other people, our racing thoughts, and our emotions.

The good news (and the bad news) is the only person who can change this is you.

If you are spinning out about people at work, take a deep breath.

You don’t do good work because of them, what they do or don’t do doesn’t determine the care you give.

You don’t pay them their salary, so the quality of their work is not your concern.

This may sound controversial. It may make you feel like you are condoning a poor work ethic or letting them off the hook.

The truth is, caring more about what THEY are doing (or getting) than what YOU are doing will destroy you if you sit in it. 

I know it’s not easy. (Remember when I said I have been through this myself?) It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you struggle with this. It isn’t a moral wrongdoing to be upset when things seem unfair. But I am more concerned with you feeling better, being fulfilled by your work instead of tortured. It’s the ultimate act of self care to drag your focus back to you.

It just comes down to how you want to spend your time? Do you want to unconsciously set people on fire to keep yourself warm or double down on being the best nurse you can be.

Only one of the two will actually keep you warm. And once you’re warmed up, what other people are doing won’t even seem relevant.


Learning the process to change our thoughts is the topic of next month’s free event: Community Coaching for Nurses on Thursday, June 6th at 7pm EST. Register here, now, while you are thinking about it. Are you willing to try something new to bring some relief to your life? I hope so.

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