Caryl Goodyear-Bruch RN, PhD, CCRN
Why Does Failure Trump Success?
Confidence to me comes from being adequately prepared to meet any challenge.
— Esther Trackwell
How does Esther Trackwell’s wise observation align with a comment I often hear: “I took the CCRN exam, but I didn’t tell anyone. I’m afraid I might fail and then feel embarrassed”?
I’m puzzled each time a knowledgeable, experienced, caring and confident nurse mentions the fear of becoming certified. Most nurses would call certification a visible mark of commitment to their patients. So what is failure?
Is It Failure or Just Disappointment?
A common definition calls failure “not meeting a desirable or intended objective.” However, for many people failure connotes something truly devastating. When we take a certification exam our objective is to pass. Not passing is certainly disappointing, but is it failure?
When fear stops us, it means we have made it our master when our true masters ought to be our knowledge, skills and abilities. Many of us didn’t learn this at a young age; some may not have learned it yet.
As new nurses our lack of experience and street smarts may make us feel awkward and uncomfortable. Growing confidence is a reflective process, very personal and empowering. Over time, great mentors and role models guide us into confidence. As with any journey, sometimes our greatest learning comes from the bumps in the road. At some point we’re likely to want our confidence to be recognized. Becoming certified is an ideal way of gaining that recognition.
Reconsidering Failure (and Success)
Reframing what failure means may mean reframing what success means. I believe this is the key to growing the confidence that results in becoming certified. Not meeting an intended objective can mean success because it represents acquiring knowledge and experience as part of a journey. Not passing a certification exam can represent a learning challenge, not personal failure and devastation. After all, certification isn’t an endpoint; it’s another marker on the same journey.
In a recent article, Kay Currie suggests that our confidence increases when we increase our knowledge and skills, not only when we obtain more experience. Learning and knowledge are essential in speaking confidently about things that matter to our patients and their families. Preparing for certification increases our knowledge, confidence and empowerment to control our practice and impact patient
For as many nurses who talk about their fear of taking a certification exam, I have heard many more exclaim, “Wow, I really learned a lot of things I didn’t know!” after preparing for the exam.
Independent study, structured certification courses, study groups, practice exams and commitment to your personal journey offer the opportunity to impact the care you give and influence others to do the same. We intend to care for our patients to our best ability. And our best ability is linked to the learning, knowledge and confidence that grow from our personal journey.
A New Year’s Resolution
I invite you to join me in an unusual New Year’s resolution fundamental to everyone’s personal journey. Let’s take ownership of how we view failure and success. Is failure our master? Does it represent personal devastation? If it does, let’s resolve to make success our master, a marker of learning on the journey. What if we’ve already succeeded in that challenge? Then let’s coach and support a colleague who hasn’t.
Please write to me at email@example.com about your personal journey in dealing with failure and success, in becoming confident. Write to me especially about your certification journey, whether it’s long past or just beginning. What has it meant to you? How has it changed you?
P.S. Here’s a second New Year’s resolution: Plan to become certified this year. If you already are, coach someone else along the certification journey. (See page 9 for more about AACN’s special discount on certification resources.)
back to top