What (this particular) Failure Taught Me


I just returned from presenting at a conference and debriefing in my head if my presentations included a little too much of this and not enough of that. When I present, I include myself in the narrative since my experience is part of how I learned but I also know that isn’t about me. I hope if I went far afield, that I still spoke to someone there who needed exactly what I said.

When I explain to people how I got to be a Perinatal Bereavement Nurse, I share that when I worked in NICU, as much as I treasured the work, I knew it was not my final destination. How? In part because I was generally the worst IV placer in the unit. This past weekend, a manager who hired me into a NICU job was in the front row to hear that explanation, and if I admitted this to her, I can admit it to anyone.

NICU nurses cannulate the tiniest veins in the universe and are Zen Masters at it. Maybe it would be safe to say I was the worst of the best. I joke that numerically someone has to be the worst at everything.  I intellectually understand every tiny aspect of the skill and I have excellent fine motor coordination so how I ended up with that skill not manifesting itself well was a mystery to me for a long time. I would have loved to have been a rock-star NICU nurse in that way, but I think God didn’t let me be one for His bigger purposes.

Mostly, I think God kept me in a humble spot in the NICU so that I would know there was another plan. I also tried a number of ideas outside of the nursing world that would have taken me out of this work entirely and those failed too. I now see that I was meant to be there and to learn so that I would be ready when my real vocation was revealed.

While I was busy failing, I learned a few helpful things.

  • I learned that feeding the feeder/grower babies in the dark corners of the NICU on night shift is sacred work and not to be diminished
  • I learned to put someone else’s interests before my own even if it meant going to my coworkers and telling them my patient had one good vein and needed their expertise – the baby’s well being simply had to come first . (This was harder if I knew they already found me annoying and my request likely threw fuel on that fire)
  • In offering up my time to help them while they helped me, I learned how to function in a team instead of a lone rock-star
  • I learned that getting to the place of flourishing in your vocation could take many years (I once had a student ask how she could “become” me and I responded “you need to get old and suffer” then admitted I was mostly/sort of kidding)
  •  I learned to have humility in my later successes because I knew what it felt like to try and fail
  • I learned to let other people do what they do well and grumble less when they can’t do what I can even when they try
  • NICU / Peds nurses have probably already figured out that I learned to tape IVs with the best (it is a task often done in tandem…one person gets the cannula in the vein and holds still while the helper tapes it in)

Again I hope I hit all the high points on my stated objectives and maintained some semblance of academic decorum but I also hope that I included real-world wisdom about these situations.

When people tell me they feel uncomfortable at the sadness of it all and awkward in their feeling of inadequacy, I introduce the idea that the thing worse than loss is loss with bad care. I introduce the idea that caring for suffering people on their sacred ground is one of the most awesome opportunities our flawed selves will ever have.




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