I remember one night shift during which I cared for a patient, a teenage boy, who was recovering from cardiac surgery that had been performed just that afternoon. Within my 12-hour shift, I had stopped his chemical paralysis, lifted his sedation, weaned his ventilator to prepare for extubation, pulled his central line, assisted in his chest tube removal, all while drawing labs and weaning inotropic drips, managing his pain, etc. You get the idea. I felt great about my work. Really great. And then I gave report to the oncoming shift. The nurse had lots of questions for me. Did you do this? You didn’t do that? And she listened, tight lipped, as I stammered answers to her line of questioning.
At 6:55 a.m., I felt like a superhero nurse. By 7:15 a.m. I was on my way to my car, feeling dejected and wondering how I was going to come back in that night.
If your sense of self worth depends on external factors, you might be on a roller coaster that will take you for a bumpy ride. You might feel like the best nurse on the planet when someone acknowledges your hard work. You also might feel like a terrible nurse who doesn’t feel deserving of your license when something goes wrong or someone criticizes you. Or you might have no idea where you stand, during those times when you don’t have any external measure of how you’re doing.
It’s very difficult to separate out what others may think or say about you from how you view yourself. But those with an intrinsic and solid sense of worth depend less on those outside perspectives, and therefore are able to hold themselves in higher, steady regard.
That’s not to say feedback isn’t important, or a critique isn’t necessary. We can all improve. But allowing those kinds of moments to determine how you feel about yourself isn’t fair to you. It wasn’t fair to me. I’ve come a long way since then. But as a newer nurse, I wish I had understood that my sense of self-worth could remain constant, separate from external circumstances.
In “The Self-Esteem Workbook” by Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, self-worth is described as an entitlement to all persons, simply for being a person. It has nothing to do with external measurements, such as skills, education, wealth, appearance, or the approval of others.
Do you feel as if your core worth is constant, day in and day out?
If the answer is no, therein lies a doorway for you to enter and explore. What if you felt worthy, just by virtue of being you?
How do you define self-worth? Do you find yourself soaring high when you receive praise and sinking low when you hear criticism? What advice would you give other nurses who struggle with this?