President's Column: Making Things Different

Feb 01, 2021

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On your 100th birthday, how do you want to be remembered?

Maybe the answer to this question is in a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “ The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” In that sermon, Dr. King defined these dimensions as:

  • The inward-facing dimension (knowing oneself)
  • A spiritual connection
  • The outward-facing dimension (doing for others)

As we continue to endure this pandemic, I wonder how can we, as individuals and part of larger systems, draw on the lessons we’ve learned and explore the challenge and the direction embedded in the idea of continuing to do something meaningful for ourselves and others?

When I think about this challenge, I find inspiration in the book “Make Your Bed,” by U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven , who spoke about the importance of changing the lives of those around us. He said if each of us changes the lives of just 10 people, who each then change the lives of 10 more people, within 125 years 8,000 people will change the lives of 800 million others. Stop and think about all the lives you’ve already touched and the power of the over 130,000 nurses who are members of AACN.

McRaven’s first lesson is to start every day by making your bed. This seemingly simple act is a reminder of the importance of the little things in life, and also a reminder of your ability to accomplish tasks both small and large. He also notes that even if this is the only success you have all day, you will come home to a neatly made bed — a bed you made — with the hope for a better tomorrow. It is the act of starting the day with a task completed that gives us encouragement to accomplish more.

The second lesson, which Admiral McRaven learned during Navy SEAL training, is captured in this idea: If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle. As he explained, to avoid flipping over in the surf, each person in the boat needs to pull together with equal effort and at the direction of the coxswain who steers the course. This lesson emphasizes the need for leadership and direction and the importance of reaching out and partnering with those around you to be successful.

This Is Our Moment to think in another way about making a meaningful difference. Our current strategies of individual actions and collaborating with our teams are important, but they may reflect only incremental action with a goal of making things better. As we move forward, we have an opportunity to act exponentially with a goal of making things different. This mindset applies both in our units (needing to reduce CLABSI) and also on a large scale (making every unit a healthy work environment). In this work our strength lies not only in individual power but also in coming together — driven toward a purpose.

Right now, amid all of this uncertainty, it is time to look forward, unbridled by the precedent of “we’ve always done it that way.” Right now, while we face a sad awareness of how rampantly a virus spreads, we also have gained new partners, new connections and new networks to spread our ideas to make a meaningful difference for ourselves and for others. This Is Our Moment. How will you seize it?

How will you answer the question on your 100th birthday of how you want to be remembered? My answer will be — I was a critical care nurse.

Tell me how you will make things different. Write to me at