perfectionism

3 Things I Learned From Quitting Nursing

It's been a year—a whole year!—since I quite my job as a floor nurse. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago that I worked those long shifts and cleaned up poop (among other things) for a living. Yet in other ways, I'm still learning to adapt to a new career and figure out what's best for me. Here are three things I've learned over the past year from quitting nursing.

1. I needed to learn to make mistakes.

As a recovering perfectionist, I hate mistakes. I've always hated them: mistakes in school, mistakes in social situations, and most of all, mistakes on the job. I hated mistakes because for a long time, I didn't believe in unconditional love. I couldn't imagine love not based on performance.

In the hospital, there was a lot of pressure to get things right. It was simply the nature of the job. And while certainly some pressure came from administration, coworkers, and patients and their families, most of it came from me. Part of that originated in natural bent towards perfectionism, and part of it was added on by depression and anxiety.

Eventually, I realized I was at a point in my life where I needed to learn about grace. If I was going to move forward and grow as a person, I needed to learn how to make mistakes. I needed an environment that was more low-stakes when it came to mistakes. I needed to quit working at the hospital.

For the past year, I've kept busy with freelance editing and writing jobs. It's been a beautiful example of how attention to detail matters, but it isn't life or death. It's given me the space to make mistakes and learn how to handle them. To be honest, it's still makes me cringe a little to admit that it's okay to make mistakes (like forgetting about the time difference when scheduling a call), but in the past year I've learned to embrace this part of being human more than I ever have before.

For that alone, quitting nursing has been worth it. But that's only reason number one!

nurse carrying hospital gurney to emergency room

2. It's time to stop hustling.

In many ways, the business world is all about hustling. When I first launched into the world as a freelancer, I bought into it completely. I learned I had to work overtime, network like crazy, and make a name for myself. I thought hustling was simply part of the entrepreneurial spirit.

As time passed, however, I've come to see a bigger picture. Entrepreneurship is much more than hustling. Hard work is definitely part of the package, but chasing success at all costs doesn't have to be. 

For example, as a pragmatic person and introvert, "networking" often seemed forced. When I focused on networking, I felt like I need to express interest in people of influence just in case they could help me later in life. I felt like I always had a hidden agenda. I know networking isn't like this for everyone, but I've learned I simply don't have the social capacity to connect with everyone—and usually the people I'm naturally drawn to are not the wealthy and well-connected (you know, the people you're supposed to network with so they can get you great, well-paying jobs).

I quit nursing to find a truer version of myself, and hustling was taking me away from that. If I feel like a fraud networking the usual way, it's not worth it. If I feel like I'm losing myself in pursuit of an audience and more "likes" or "views," it's not worth it. If I start to care more about the numbers than about the people they represent, it's not worth it.

I realized it's time to stop hustling, and it's a lesson I keep learning again and again. The data says I should be less successful since I stopped hustling, but I've found the opposite to be true. I may not be making as much money, but I consider a life of authenticity and integrity to be far more successful than losing my sense of self for potential riches.

3. Quitting my job didn't solve all my problems.

When I was working as a nurse, I would rise early before my shift, brew a cup of coffee, and then sink to the floor, totally overwhelmed with the thought of the day ahead of me. I'd sit there, with my back against the wall, and voice desperate prayers for help to get me through the day.

A few days ago, I found myself sinking once again to the floor in my kitchen, overwhelmed by life. With my back against the refrigerator, I was breathing out prayers for help when I realized I was feeling the same way I had when worked at the hospital. Even though I had radically changed my lifestyle, there I was, feeling the exact same way as the year before. I was discouraged and frustrated, to say the least. 

Yet wise words from a friend came to mind in that moment; he had mentioned that measuring progress by feelings wasn't always accurate. Measuring progress by what we've learned and how we've grown, however, was completely different. It was then I remembered I had radically changed my lifestyle so that I would be healthier, not so that I would feel better. While the change in career did decrease my anxiety and depression, it wasn't a quick fix to the hard work of getting to know myself and learning to listen to my emotions.

It did, however, provide a healthier environment to work through the hard parts of life. Another thing I've learned is that part of learning to love and care for myself means creating a healthy, nurturing environment. From quitting nursing to drawing boundaries to joining a gym, each choice I make to create a healthy environment has the potential to change my life. 

When I look back on the past year, it hasn't all been chocolate and naps (because aren't those things better than butterflies and rainbows?). It's been tough, and it still is, but in many ways, quitting nursing has allowed me to learn who I am as a child of God. It's allowed me to embrace grace through trial and error, explore the world and principles of freelancers, and celebrate progress in a more meaningful way. I've grown and changed and learned—and that, to me, makes quitting nursing absolutely worth it.

Thanks for reading! Want to subscribe?

* indicates required

Media Resources for Times of Need

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

In my last post, I shared about my 6-year journey through depression. Through either personal experience or by walking with friends through their struggles, I've collected a list of Christian media to serve as resources during times of struggle. Feel free to add in the comments and share with others!

-Allison

Books

Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Matthew Stanford, PhD

Blame It on the Brain? by Edward T Welch

Shame, Perfectionism & Belonging (which are all intertwined with anxiety & depression)

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brenê Brown, PhD, LMSW

Daring Greatly by Brenê Brown, PhD, LMSW

Rising Strong by Brenê Brown, PhD, LMSW

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

As Soon As I Fell by Kay Bruner

Abba's Child by Brennan Manning

Scary Close by Donald Miller

The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg

Trauma

The Color of Grace by Bethany Haley Williams, PhD

Whole (blog) by Sarita Hartz (especially for missionaries)

Transition

Packing Light by Allison Versterfelt (Allison Fallon)

Rocky Reentry (blog for reentry)

Addiction

Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

Coming Clean by Seth Haines

General

Lord, Heal My Hurts Devotional by Kay Arthur

 

Music

Caveat: This is mostly from the beginning of my struggle with depression, so these are a bit out of date. Also, if you're experiencing depression please know some songs can make you sink further into hopelessness. If you start to feel this, skip to another song. :)

Shawn McDonald: Don't Give Up, Rise, Storms

Superchick: Crawl (Carry Me Through), Breathe, Hold, Stand in the Rain, Help Me Out God, Beauty from Pain, Suddenly

Gungor: Please Be My Strength

Ginny Owens: I Will Praise You

Matt Hammitt: All of Me, Let It Bring You Praise

Steffany Gretzinger: Out of Hiding

Tenth Avenue North: I Have This Hope

 

What's your favorite Christian media for difficult times? Got something to add? Drop it in a comment or email me!

 (*Note: links to books are affiliate links)

Thanks for reading! Want to subscribe?

* indicates required

How the Olympics are Different from Real Life

When I was young, I took piano lessons, and every year I played in a piano competition called “Gold Cup.” Players didn’t compete against each other; rather, each musician prepared two pieces of music and then performed for a judge in a private room. The judge rated the pianist on a scale of 1-5. If you received scores of 3 or above for three consecutive years, you received a trophy.

One year, I entered the little room with the judge and the piano, and I absolutely butchered my first piece. I started off well, and then it all fell apart. I missed a note, my finger memory failed, I literally forgot a whole section of the piece, and I picked back up at the first spot I could remember and finished poorly. It was a disaster.

My second piece was okay. Not excellent, but stellar in comparison to the first song.

I was deeply disappointed, not because I might miss out on a trophy but because I had performed more poorly than I ever had before.

The judge talked about how I started so strong before everything fell apart. The Olympics happened to be occurring during this time frame, and my default for handling disappointment was humor. I must have just watched an Olympian blow a chance at a medal or something, because with a half smile on my face, I jokingly turned to the judge and said, “It’s kind of the like the Olympics. You can work so hard, and then you get one shot, and that’s it!”

After a couple comments on my playing, what the judge said next shocked me: “Why don’t you try the piece again?”

What?” was all I could manage to say. Not only was this unorthodox (and maybe not allowed?), but judges were also always behind schedule and pressed for time. Dozens of children waited in chairs outside the room for the brief, five minute chance to play their songs for a judge.

“Why don’t you try the piece again?” the judge repeated gently.

I ended up playing the piece again—and butchering it again, though I don’t recall if it was as bad as the first time. The judge gave me tips on how to overcome nerves in high pressure situations, but the grace given made a far more lasting impact than the words spoken.

What that judge did made an impression on me. That judge helped me understand life isn’t the Olympics.

As someone with a natural bent toward perfectionism and placing worth in performance, it’s easy to view my actions as make-it-or-break-it events. In some ways, I've viewed my life as a series of Olympic events. Because I demanded perfection of myself, every situation was a challenge with no grace and no do-overs. I've struggled to be okay with mistakes or failures or weaknesses. There's always been a score board. Eventually, if I'd train hard enough and push myself, I would win the gold medal in perfection. Or at least that’s what I told myself all those years.

It's taken me years to learn what the Gold Cup judge tried to help me understand so long ago, that playing the piano as a teenager isn’t the Olympics. It’s real life. It’s messy, and there are screw ups and balks and absolute failures. Living life each day isn’t the Olympics. It turns out I was the only one keeping score of my successes and failures, and training for perfection simply isn’t real. The true reward comes in the lessons learned and the processes of life.

We live, we make mistakes, we do things well, we learn, we build relationships, and we do it all again tomorrow. There is grace. There are do-overs. There is forgiveness and learning, and there are people and a God who welcome us in with open arms at the end of the day, no matter what our performance looked like, because they know who we are.

This week as I watch the Olympics, a shift in values and perspective finds me most drawn to the athletes’ back stories rather than their performance. I want to know where they came from, what they do outside of sports, and what their dreams are for the future. Some are moms, some students, some entrepreneurs.

As they hug and shake hands with their competitors, and as they rejoice with their families after events, I can’t help but wonder at the relationships they’ve built and wonder if those relationships are sweeter than the gold on a string. I can’t help but long to know about the lives they’ve built, because all of our lives are made of so much more than our performances, our achievements, and our actions in the public eye. I can’t help but wonder at where their true identity lies, because I know from personal experience building an identity on ability to perform is devastating.

I wonder about their real, day to day lives, because as much as I love the Olympics (and I do, I’ve been watching every day and set my TV up for the sole purpose of watching them), real life is simply not like the Olympics. No, it’s much, much better.

Thanks for reading! Want to subscribe?

* indicates required

Again and Again

I read a friend’s Facebook post today, and it really encouraged me. It was funny and lighthearted and honest and talked about how she was waiting for the future superhero version of herself to arrive. I wish I could share the actual post with you, but when I tried to go back to it I couldn't find it for the life of me!

Anyway, it was encouraging because perfectionism and idealistic expectations have been a long-time struggle for me.

Usually what most discourages me is just how long I’ve been fighting the same battle. I get disappointed when I make progress and then fall back down again. And again. And again. I feel frustrated there’s no formula or shortcut. It’s hard to keep finding grace for myself.

Yet it’s moments like these—a quick look at a friend’s post on Facebook—that remind me I’m not alone and help me get up again. In the middle of a newsfeed of picturesque moments and ads targeting my desire for “better, more, and easier,” I find hidden treasures in people sharing the everyday parts of their lives and their hearts.

Much of life is like this. In person or virtually, we are bombarded by ads and messages reinforcing negative beliefs we have about ourselves and others. It can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Yet in the midst of it all, we also encounter the honesty of friends, the kindness of strangers, the joy of walking alongside people who are just as messy and messed up as we are—whatever it is we need to give us the courage and strength to rise after a faceplant. We all need this encouragement sometimes. We’re all waiting for the superhero version of ourselves to come—not one of us has found her yet!

When we practice authenticity and let our walls down, we not only experience freedom in our falling and rising, but we also find the strength to get back up. It's found in and fueled by compassion and empathy and community. We all need it. Today, tomorrow, the next day, the one after that and the one after that. We fall down and we get up. Sometimes our getting up is what gives someone else the courage to rise, and sometimes watching someone else get up for the millionth time is what gives us the extra nudge we need to try to stand on our wobbly legs again.

Again, and again, and again, and again.

I’ve written about this theme before, and here I write about it once more—because I needed that extra nudge again today, and maybe you do, too.

Here’s to getting up, to falling, and to getting up again. (And again. And again.)

 

Are there areas in life in which you feel like you're constantly falling and having to get back up?

What motivates you to get back up when you've fallen?

How can we be more intentional about helping each other back up?

Thanks for reading! Want to subscribe?

* indicates required