The bravest thing

When people talk about their past, sometimes we respond with saying things like: “Yesterday is gone. Don’t dwell on what’s happened, live in the present” or “Don’t waste time thinking too much about it, you can’t change anything, so move on and forget it”.

As a nurse, I understand that most of us are reluctant to look back on our life, let alone talk about it. It can be a painful experience to uncover truths about ourselves and others. I’m too embarrassed to tell you how many times I was scheduled to see a therapist and cancelled because I was too afraid to talk about my life.

After years of ignoring my own past, I’ve learned that life can only be understood by looking backwards. That we cannot live the way we want to live and be who we want to be without understanding and accepting our feelings, thoughts and behaviours of the past and present.

In an effort to reckon with my past – my shame, fears, failures, mistakes and regrets, I’ve been looking back. Let me tell you, it’s hard work. These things aren’t easy to think about, and they’re definitely not easy to share. Trust me. I’ve tried not to think about them for a really long time, but it’s gotten to the point where the pain of ignoring these things is greater than the pain of keeping quiet about them, so here goes:

One of my biggest mistakes and regrets is that I never reflected and wrote about any of my experiences as a nurse. Ever. Never, ever.

As a nursing student, I didn’t mind doing reflective practice. I liked it, actually. But I didn’t keep at it. Partly because I didn’t understand how important it was for me to think about what I was experiencing, and partly because I was afraid.

Afraid of what I might learn.

What did I do instead? I pretended and people-pleased – for eight, long years.

For eight, long years I ignored what I was seeing, hearing, thinking and feeling about my work. And for eight long years I was stressed and afraid – until I started writing and blogging. That’s when it became clear to me that reflective practice isn’t a choice. It’s something I have to do. It’s as if the universe if gently forcing me to discover painful and wonderful things about nursing, the world and myself so that I can begin to make change.

Through the process of blogging, I’ve learned that the act of reflecting, writing and sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences is one of the bravest things we can do.

Owning my story is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There’s a part of me who wants to stay small and hide under the radar. There’s a part of me who wants to edit what I’ve written. I know there are people who want me to edit what I’ve said. And in the past, I certainly would have.

But I can’t.

I won’t change anything because I do not believe in perfect or people-pleasing, or pretending to be someone I’m not.

Since reflecting on my life and my work, I’ve learned that I, like most people, am most afraid care a lot about what people think of me:

  • I want to be perceived as easy-going, yet boundaried.
  • I want people to think that I’m confident and educated, but not a self-righteous know-it-all.
  • I want people to view me as generous and vulnerable, but not too giving or weak.
  • I want people to see me as passionate and committed, but not too passionate and rigid.
  • I want people to consider me an honest person, without making them feel uncomfortable.

Besides learning about how I want and don’t want to be perceived, the most important thing I’ve learned is that these expectations are unattainable. It’s impossible to control what other people think of us.

We cannot be who we want to be and live the life we want to live when we’re so worried about what other people think of us. We have to let go of our fear of criticism and failure in order to be who we really are, and only the way we can learn to do that is through reflective practice.

I firmly believe that in order to figure out who we are and become who we’re meant to be, we have to reflect, write and share what we’re feeling and thinking.

I know that it’s scary to have real, honest thoughts and write about them. And I know that it’s scary to share them with the world, especially at first. But I also know that these things aren’t as scary as facing your mortality and having regrets about the way you’ve lived your life. Or as scary as thinking about the end of your life and wondering what would have happened if you lived the way you wanted to live, instead of how you thought you were supposed to.

Reflective practice isn’t easy. But it has saved my life and my career, and it might save yours.