Commitment Makes You an Artist or A Nurse

That I am an artist was never questioned by anyone other than myself. It took time for me to believe in myself as an artist, because I felt I would know when I became one. Some artists laugh at such thoughts:

In artistic work one needs nothing so much as conscience; it is the sole standard. — Ranier Marie Rilke

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

How do I know I’m an artist?
The same way I know I am a nurse: Not because I am paid for my work, but because of my commitment to nursing. Commitment manifests itself as time set aside for continuing education, and time to practice skills. It’s not enough to want to do something. You need time to practice skills, whether it be starting IVs, or developing a series of paintings for exhibition. You commit to nursing through education, taking boards, and continuing education. You have to commit to creativity, too.

Begin with one hour a week, every week. It needn’t be the same day or time each week, although a set schedule may make it easier, childcare and weird nursing work schedules may necessitate flexibility. Protect this hour as if it were a difficult-to-reschedule dental appointment.

What will you do with this hour each week? You will have a creative date with yourself. For now, don’t invite a friend. Free yourself completely of taking care of other people. You need to hear your voice to find your creativity. You may already know what you’ll do with the time: write a poem or short story or resume piano, dancing, or voice lessons. If you’re drawing a blank about what to do, here are a few suggestions:

  • Wander the aisles of an art supply or craft store. Give yourself $10-$20 to spend on pens, paper, stamps, inkpads, dried flowers — whatever. Need ideas? Check out MarthaStewart.com, or Pinterest.
  • Wander the aisles of an office supply or dollar store with $10-$20. Buy felt pens, stickers, glitter, glue sticks, and an inexpensive scrapbook. Tear pictures from old magazines of everything catching your eye. Paste them into the scrapbook using a glue stick. Decorate the pages with your glitter, stickers, and felt pens.
  • Buy a cheap rectangular or square flower vase made of clear glass. Fill it three-quarters full with small glass beads. You can use small, polished stones instead, but they tend to scratch the implements. Use it to hold pens on your home or work desk.
  • Go for a walk with your camera. Take snapshots of anything that attracts your attention. Take lots of pictures without over-thinking the process. You’re practicing how to “see.”

The important thing is to make a habit of allowing yourself at least an hour a week to explore and develop your creativity. What ideas can you add to this list?

Learn to Say No

Developing creativity requires personal time. You’ve heard it before: Learn to say no.

I was a new-ish nurse working night shifts on a busy hospital unit. Our census exploded,

The Bride by jparadisiWhat are you married to?

The Bride by jparadisi
What are you married to?

and every evening the nurse manager called all off-duty staff begging until someone accepted the overtime shift. It is difficult to refuse extra shifts when it’s your manager asking. This went on for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. Answering machines were new back then, and I resisted owning one.

One afternoon, my daughter raced to the ringing phone, picking up the call before I could. I overheard my manager asking, “Hello, is your mommy there?” As I reached for the receiver, my daughter blurted out, “You’re not going to make my mommy go to work again, are you?” Embarrassed, I grabbed the phone. On the other end, the manager apologized: “I’m sorry, I guess I’ve been calling too often. Enjoy the evening with your daughter.”

The next day, I bought an answering machine, and learned to screen calls.

Not long afterwards, something unexpected happened: The manager took her overtime-paid hours to administration, along with the record of increased census. They discovered they’d save money by hiring another FTE. The overtime calls became occasional.

Moral of the story: it’s not my personal responsibility to fix my unit’s staffing problem. I’m not advocating nurses refuse shifts during staffing crunches. In nursing, being a team player is essential. However, I found that if I work more than two overtime shifts a pay period, I get a diminishing return on the extra income because of taxes where I live. Therefore, my flexible boundary is to limit overtime to two shifts a pay period. I learned to say, “No,” to more than that.

Recognizing which problems are yours to solve, and which are the responsibility of others is the key to learning to say “no,” to coworkers, patients, children, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, soccer moms, whomever.

Write this down and tape it to your bathroom mirror:

I am responsible for my own stuff, and that is enough.”

The caveat to this affirmation is:

If you step in it, you’re going to have to clean your shoes.”

Remember:

▪ Avoid drama.

▪ Evaluate commitments carefully.

▪ Protect your personal time.

Our ability to say no is strongly connected to the important relationships in our lives. Nurses in particular are conditioned to believe that saying “No” in order to make time for ourselves is selfish. Add the nurturing nature of a nurse to this training, and saying “No” becomes nearly impossible.

You cannot grow creatively without time to yourself. Recognizing what stuff is yours, and what belongs to others is the first step towards self-care and personal growth.

Do you think nurses have more difficulty saying “No” than other professionals? Do you think this problem is gender related? What experiences have helped you learn to say no?

Are You Circling The Drain? Self-Diagnosing A Creativity Resuscitation

Voiceless mixed media on vellum by jparadisi

Voiceless mixed media on vellum by jparadisi

Productivity and creativity are not the same thing. Neither are they mutually exclusive, but they are not the same thing. I didn’t always know this.

Like most nurses, I have always been productive. Whether making things with my hands, painting the dining room, running 10Ks, growing my own vegetables, or hand-making pasta, I often sat down for dinner around 9:00 p.m. It wasn’t until a breast cancer diagnosis flattened me on a couch that I realized the artist inside of me was starving.

In retrospect, there were early symptoms before the differential diagnosis that a creative resuscitation was necessary. Do you have any of these symptoms?

  • You think, “I can do better than that,” when watching friends or colleagues succeed in a creative endeavor. Maybe you can. The question is, why don’t you?
  • You daydream about what your life would be like if you didn’t have commitments to a job, spouse, children, etc.
  • You use the universal sign of creative strangulation: When you talk, you tend to place one hand at your throat, with the thumb and index finger forming a V around it. What words and ideas are you choking back with that hand?
  • You use the universal sign of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders: When you talk, you place one hand on the back of your neck. What burdens weigh heavily on that spot? Can you set any down?
  • You feel vaguely unfulfilled despite your accomplishments.
  • You hang out on the periphery of creative people. You have an inexplicable desire to help them succeed, but don’t believe you possess their level of talent.
  • You’re bored despite high productivity.
  • You fear releasing your creativity will destroy life as you know it. You believe you cannot be fulfilled creatively and hold a job or have a family. Or be a nurse.
  • You knew what you wanted to be when you were a child, and it is not what you are doing as an adult.

Nurses recognize when productivity is mistaken for quality in health care. We sometimes fail to make a similar assessment about ourselves.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms? Can you add to the list?

 

 

Finding Self-Expression in A Profession of Permission

Nursing is a profession of permission.

I had this epiphany when a patient asked me, “Can I have a couple Tylenol for my

Twenty-One by jparadisi

Twenty-One by jparadisi 2007
Inspired by the paintings of the Chauvet Cave.

headache?” The automated medication dispensing cabinet with a drawer full of Tylenol was in plain sight, but I could not give the pills, because I did not have a doctor’s order. I called her doctor and received the order (permission) to administer it.

Anyone can walk into any drugstore in America, purchase a bottle of the stuff, and eat it at will, but in my nursing role, I cannot administer medication without an order (permission). However, there is a reason for obtaining an order first. If this patient has liver disease or allergies, and I am unaware, calling her doctor for something as simple as Tylenol may prevent a medication error; the safety net of redundancy.

On a bad day, this lack of autonomy is tiresome.

Another example is staff meetings. Someone once told me, “For God so loved the world that He did not send a committee.” I did not fully appreciate the meaning of this statement before working in healthcare. Gathering consensus among nurses is like watching a freighter turned slowly by tugboats in a narrow harbor. It seems to take forever. In my opinion, I have the answer to the problem the nurses are discussing. It’s simple and cost effective, but no, everyone needs to give his or her input and sign off on it first. By the time the change occurs, I’ve mentally moved on.

Even using the bathroom during a shift requires asking another nurse to watch your patients while you’re off the floor. Nurses ask permission to use the restroom.

Nursing is a team activity. It’s the nature of our work. As individuals, we bring our unique experiences and voices to this work. Finding a place for self-expression is vital to our humanity — the wellspring of compassion.

Where do we find creativity in a job requiring permission to use the bathroom or eat lunch — after a 12-hour shift of caring for the sick on sore feet? For many of us, home life is just as demanding — shuttling children to soccer practice and music lessons, grocery shopping, making meals, paying bills, and finishing housework. Make time for a little exercise, and you fall asleep exhausted as soon as your head hits the pillow. The next day it starts over.

“Creativity?” I hear you say. “Yeah, right after I figure out how to sustain life on Mars.”

Consider this: Self-expression is so essential that 30,000 years ago, prehistoric humans drew pictures on cave walls to tell their stories. Their daily activities revolved around survival. Food was hunted and gathered. Marauding tribes threatened to take away what small comforts they possessed. Still, they made art.

So, forget Mars and ask yourself: Where can I find self-expression in nursing?

 

 

 

What You Focus on Expands

    Yesterday morning, I attended an awards breakfast at the hospital I work for, honoring 105 nurses with Certificates of Nursing Excellence. My colleagues were recognized for developing patient safety and education programs, precepting, and academic or certification achievements. I received recognition because the American Journal of Nursing published my painting Love You to Death on its October 2009 cover. I was scheduled to work during the breakfast, but two days earlier, our manager arranged patient scheduling so I could attend, without burdening my coworkers with extra work.

     The usual hospital administrators, with the addition of a Chief Nursing Officer, presented the awards. This executive nurse sits on our hospital’s Board. To my knowledge, she is the first nurse to sit on the Board. She makes significant contributions to nursing management.

     Home from work, I checked my email and found that senior art editor Sylvia Foley mentioned both of my blogs, JParadisi RN’s Blog and Die Krankenschwester in a post on the AJN blog Off the Charts.

     Recognition for hard work feels good.

     There are more than 105 excellent nurses working at our hospital. Many simply did not fill out the form required to receive recognition. They choose to work hard without it. We are all wired a little differently, in that respect.  I used to prefer staying under the radar too. But part of taking care of me is taking time to celebrate accomplishments, instead of keeping track of failures. What you focus on expands.

     Happy Nurses Day.