14 July 2011

Models, mentors, giants and heroes

Recently, my life has been very stressful with selling our home and buying a new one, launching our middle child and reorganizing our lives, as my husband and I make plans for a future with only one child at home. And, before you know it, she will be making her own way in an unpredictable world.

Change is a constant in all of our lives, and the accompanying stress can be a bit overwhelming at times. So, when I become stressed, I find it helpful to count my blessings and reflect on the people and events in my life that bring me joy. Of course, my family, friends—both furry and non-furry—and my colleagues are extraordinary blessings. Yet, there are other special people who have touched and influenced me in remarkable ways. To them, I am extremely grateful. Expressing gratitude brings a fresh dimension to how I view my life and fills me with a sense of appreciation for the mentors, models, giants and heroes in my life.

Two of my earliest role models were my mother and my maternal grandmother. Both women believed in serving others and contributing to the greater good. As young children, my brother and I, and two of my neighborhood friends, found creative ways to generate funds for important causes. We performed in street parades—I was the drummer, my brother played saxophone, and my friends played the trumpet and trombone. We marched through the streets of our neighborhood regaling the “audience” with the pulsating pleasure of John Philip Sousa marches. We also put on theater productions, carnivals, and plays, asking only for a small donation for our favorite charities. We pooled our earnings, tucked them in an envelope and sent them off to various organizations, including the Save the Trees fund in Chicago and the John F. Kennedy Library. My mother, grandmother and my friends’ mother were three strong and amazing role models who made a definite impact on my life, shaping my worldview by stressing the importance of serving others.

I am also a product of the Catholic school system. I was taught by Dominican nuns under the guidance of a strict monsignor who believed not only in the 3Rs, but also in deportment and character development. At the time, I was not a big fan of being graded on such behaviors as “is courteous in speech and manner,” “respects the rights of others” and “works and plays well with others.” But, believe me, our parents took these grades very seriously, often more seriously than our academic performance. Is it any wonder that civility and respect for others is a central feature in my body of research, as well as in my life?

Later, as I entered the university and encountered various professors, there were several that influenced my life in positive ways. Most prominent among them was a nursing professor I nicknamed Professor Sweet, who inspired me to become the nurse and person I am today. Because of faculty members like Professor Sweet, I state in a Reflections on Nursing Leadership article, “I am living and fulfilling a multitude of astonishing dreams.” And it’s true. This October, among my many blessings, I will be inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing. I am both humbled and astonished by this honor. Yes, I have worked hard to achieve this milestone in my career, but this dream is largely realized because of the incredible mentors and nursing “giants” who have encouraged and supported me along my nursing journey. These mentors have unselfishly modeled the way and illuminated the path to excellence.

Unfortunately, there are also naysayers in our lives. Individuals like Professor Sour, as I refer to her in the article mentioned above, who diminish our contributions, thwart our progress and demean our ideas. I try to re-categorize these naysayers as “motivators” and reframe their discouraging words to inspire action. They don’t believe in us, but we must believe in ourselves and in our ability to realize our personal and professional vision for the future. This can best be accomplished by aligning ourselves with positive mentors and role models who encourage and inspire us to reach our goals. We need to show gratitude, and then we need to “pay it forward” by modeling the way for others—by mentoring colleagues, students, children and adolescents.

Life is not a solo act, and none of us makes it alone. So much of what is good in my life is a testimony to the power of positive mentorship—others who have encouraged me to hope, to never settle, to set goals and to pursue my dreams. As the saying goes, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” By doing so, we see more and accomplish more because they raise us up. My mentors have all been great teachers—giants, if you will—who each, in their own personal and profound ways, have been a blessing in my life. As George Colman noted, “Praise the bridge that carried you over.” To all the giants and bridges in my life, thank you just isn’t enough.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.