F***ing Up

You guys know I’m a nurse, right? I mention it from time to time. I’ve seen some things.

Did you also know I was 100% terrified of needles for most of my life? When I received mandatory vaccines as a child they had to tie my arms down because I lost my shit. I was awful. I’m talking absolute total meltdown: shrieking, screaming, flailing, sobbing, this kid needs a sedative kind of crazy. 

Looking back, my heart goes out to the nurses that had to deal with my crazy. Heh. Sorry about that…

Despite my deeply rooted and irrational fear of blood and needles, I found myself incredibly fascinated by the medical field, especially in high school and college. I wanted to go into the medical field while simultaneously fearing everything about it. So I sort of tip-toed around it. 

I went to college for forensic anthropology. Studying bones and decomposed bodies was less frightening, because I couldn’t potentially hurt someone, after all they were already dead. While I went to college I worked as a receptionist in a clinic. I was flirting with the medical field, but never committing.

Finally a nurse just straight-up called me on my shit. She wanted to know why I wasn’t going to school to be a nurse or a doctor, if I was so interested, and obviously capable? I shamefully admitted my secret.

Oh, we can fix that.” Those words irrevocably changed my life.

I started by observing patient procedures, with permission, of course. I’d watch someone come in for a Botox injection, or a vaccination, and stay in the room until I felt like I was either going to vomit or faint. The amount of time I could tolerate being in the room gradually lengthened. I observed blood draws, and eventually those became comfortable, too. I started setting up the station for the nurses. I knew the process by heart. I could watch the entire time without issue, and even help trouble-shoot if there was a complication.

One particularly brisk morning, while I was setting up a station, a nurse hovered over me with a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Ready?” She sat down before me and opened her arm onto the table. “Draw me.” I think I may have disassociated for a few minutes. I don’t remember. The next thing I knew a few other nurses had gathered around, and I was holding the needle, and sweating like:

I took a deep breath, leaned in, and… felt the needle hit a hard surface. That’s when I realized I had closed my eyes. I immediately opened them and everyone started laughing. I had 100% missed her ENTIRE arm.

Guys. GUYS. Epic failure. I didn’t just miss the vein; I missed the whole dang body part and got the table instead. True story.

Now, years later, I am one of the best phlebotomists around. I am the nurse all of the hard sticks are sent to. I train other medical professionals to draw blood. I clean, pack, and dress wounds, drain cysts, remove sutures, and am completely unshakable when someone is bleeding all over the office. I don’t tolerate it. I love it.

How did I manage to get here, when I couldn’t even  keep my eyes open long enough to find an arm? Excellent question. Thank you for asking.

I’m going to be honest. I kept f***ing up until I got here.

After that first attempt at drawing blood, there were many more attempts that followed. I practiced on other nurses until it was safe to work with actual patients. I joined a wellness team that allowed me to draw consistently. Guys. I SUCKED. I was terrible at phlebotomy. My hands shook like I had 12 pots of coffee. I broke into a sweat and thrills of adrenaline filled my body every single time I drew. I was slow and clunky. I was unsure. I stuck the same person 3 times to find a vein. I f***ed up 20, 30, 50, 100s of draws. There were successes, too. Other nurses would observe and then trouble-shoot with me, offer advice, and explain where I could try to improve. Not once did anyone ever suggest it meant I was incapable of getting better, moving too slow, or that I should consider giving up.

I got comfortable with failure. I embraced the fail. It stopped meaning there was something wrong. I looked forward to failing. I realized that every time I failed, I wasn’t going backward, I was actually going forward. Each failure moved me in a direction because I was learning, improving, and practicing. Failure was serving my purpose. When I failed, I moved forward and up, toward my goal of becoming a nurse. If I failed, it meant I was failing upward

Failure that moves us toward our goal is the most useful action we can take.

So, when I tell you I f***ed up to get to where I am today, I mean I failed up until I hit my goal. 

How many of us dream of doing something, anything, and then the first chance we get to try it out, crash face first into an obstacle? How many of us make that mean we can’t do it? That we should stop, and go back to the things we already know how to do well?

If you saw a 12-month old trip and fall over her own feet, would you roll your eyes and tell her she should go back to crawling, because she obviously can’t walk well? Of course not. There is no other way for her to learn how to walk. She can’t develop the muscles if she doesn’t use them, she can’t improve her balance if she doesn’t practice, and she can’t learn what NOT to do if she doesn’t make mistakes. At some point all of us learned why a tablecloth is not a good stabilizer for standing. We don’t think twice about it. Of course she falls. Of course she screws it up. She’s never done it before. If she doesn’t fail, she won’t ever move toward success. No one would make her failures mean she won’t eventually walk. It’s not even a question. It’s just how it happens.

At what point then, do we forget this lesson when we try to do new things as adults? 

My last blog discussed how making decisions in life gives us back our sense of power. How many of us resist making decisions because we’re afraid of failing? Take a minute and think about that. What have you made failure mean in your life? What have we been taught about failure as a society?

We all have thoughts about what our lives could be. We daydream about starting a new hobby, or creating a new habit, or starting a new chapter. But, if we so much as dip a toe outside of our comfort zone and it doesn’t go perfectly, we jerk ourselves back into the safety of what we already know. We take it as a sign that we shouldn’t venture forth and explore, because we didn’t have flawless execution, so we weren’t meant to change. 

Puh-lease. Bloopers are the path to evolution. We all need to get our bloop ON.

Our culture has twisted failure into something negative, and I assure you, it is anything but. Failure is beautiful. Failure is fun. Failure is living. Failure is the absolute, honest, legit, single best, bona fide way to change ANYTHING. You can’t possibly assume you will be good at something if you have never done it before. No one thinks less of a kid for using training wheels on a bicycle the first time he saddles up. No one expects a teenager to excel at driving on the interstate their first time. Our brains are so complex, they can process information in seconds, and all we need to do is provide that information. When we try something and fail, we provide our brains the information they need to understand what we are trying to accomplish, what to do differently, how to alter our actions to do better the next time. Without that information we can never evolve. Failure is simply information. That’s it. We learn and we move up.

What we decide to do with that information is up to us.

I can be willing to fail as many times as it takes to succeed. I was willing to fail at hundreds of blood draws in order to become one of the best. I can be willing to fail at anything, knowing each failure gets me closer to the goal. I fail up in the direction of my goal. If I had stopped because of my initial failures, sure, I would have avoided some uncomfortable feelings, but I would have also prevented myself from really entering the medical field, which was my dream. The cost of any change in life, is the willingness to feel discomfort for as long as it takes to become comfortable. Each fail up is a step up. It doesn’t mean anything should have gone differently, or that anything has gone wrong. It certainly does NOT mean you can’t or shouldn’t.

Imagine what you would be willing to try if you not only expected to fail, but wanted to fail, because you knew it’s exactly what is supposed to happen? What if each failure made you giddy with excitement? What if you leaned into failure and celebrated it each and every time? How much joy would it bring to watch yourself rise a little more after each failure?

Confidence doesn’t come from being “good” at something. Confidence is created when we lose our fear of failing.

The discomfort of failure doesn’t scare me, anymore. I don’t even bat an eyelash. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel uncomfortable, I still suck at new things, I still have to work at it. The difference is I embrace it and enjoy it. I thrive on it. It makes my present life enjoyable, and it feeds my confidence and my self-growth knowing I am making progress for the future I have decided to create. It isn’t torture. It’s the essence of living. I am present in my life. I don’t want to avoid any of it.

Life, my lovelies, is a constant navigation from one set of training wheels to the next. None of us knows what the heck we’re doing most of the time. There’s no getting around it. We can either welcome the spilled coffees, mishaps, and face-plants with love, or we can spend our years resisting the discomfort and trap ourselves in a corner having only lived half the time.

The key is examining each failure and using it to modify your next attempt. There is no value in failure if you aren’t open to understanding what didn’t work, and why, but that doesn’t include beating yourself up for it. We are supposed to fail. Nothing went wrong. You aren’t terrible or useless because you didn’t get it right the first time, or the 50th time. What did you learn? How can you evolve or adapt? If the goal is something you truly want, it’s just another level up each time you try.

I am f***ing it up in here on a daily basis. When’s the last time you failed at something on purpose? What are you f***ing up toward? 

As humans, we are not designed to spontaneously finish growing. Our brains are created to problem solve, be curious, and explore. It’s rooted in our DNA. Just because we have finished our physical growth spurt doesn’t mean our minds should stop expanding as well. In fact, it’s when we stop being curious that our brains begin to stagnate and settle into a safe bubble, and we close ourselves off to the vast possibility of the universe.

Failing all over the place can be as simple as trying a new recipe, or as massive as travelling to a new country, or changing careers. It’s basically allowing your life to happen without judging the outcome. One person’s “wrong” is someone else’s “right.” Finding out what doesn’t work is JUST as powerful and expansive as finding out what does. Either way you are deciding what you want along the way, and that is the ultimate freedom.

Fail up, my friends. FAIL IT UP.

F***ing Up was last modified: March 11th, 2020 by practicalcoach_y7p8ax

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