“Should”ing On Your Career

I will focus on a career in the emergency department as that is where I spend my working hours, but all you need do to apply this to any other job is change the examples. 

“I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” -Byron Katie

It’s a busy Monday night.  Everyone thinks that the busiest days in the emergency department are surely Friday and Saturday nights, but those of us who work there know that the day to dread is Monday. 

The waiting room is overflowing.  There are multiple sick patients who need help immediately.  There are more ambulances on the way.  There aren’t enough nurses to keep the normal number of beds in the department open.  Half of the beds we can keep open are filled with patients who were admitted to the hospital hours ago, but there are no available beds upstairs to send them to.

No matter how hard I work to manage my thinking about a shift like this beforehand, walking into it can lead to almost immediate overwhelming frustration.  Even as I sit here typing this, I can hear my mental tirade. 

This department is unsafe. 

We shouldn’t have to work like this.

The administration needs to get their shit together and figure this out.

There shouldn’t be this many admitted patients in our department.

The rest of the hospital should step up some and help us out.

The medical system should be different.

All those thoughts feel so true, but they aren’t helpful.  Pause here for a moment and think of how those thoughts make you feel.  You can substitute other thoughts you typically have at work in here if you’d like.  When I let my brain speed down this path and tell me this story about my busy Monday night shift, I feel a range of emotions that typically swing from rage to fear.  It may not surprise you to hear this, but I don’t do my best doctoring from a place of rage or fear.

All those thoughts have one thing in common. They are all focused on how things at work SHOULD be different.  They are all arguing with the reality of the current situation.  That argument takes your brain to a fight (rage) or flight (fear) mode.  While those emotions would be helpful if I was about to go 12 rounds in a prize fight with the closest hospital administrator or run as fast as I can out of the hospital to find another career, they don’t help me do my job.

I do my best work when I’m relaxed and going with the flow.  I enjoy my work the most when I’m focused on the patient in front of me.  I’ve even been known to have a damn good time on a busy Monday night shift when I manage my brain correctly and stop fighting with the reality of my situation. 

How do I do this?

First, I ask myself if the thing I’m “should”ing on is something that I can change.  I can probably have some impact on the number of patients in the waiting room by picking up the pace some, but there’s a limit to what I can do if people keep checking in faster than I can see them.  I can’t suddenly create more nurses although I can work on my attitude so that the ones who showed up don’t bear the brunt of my rage.  I can’t get patients admitted to the floor any faster.

Second, I take all of the things I have no control over and I let them go.  I basically set up a no-fly zone in my brain.  The best way to start with that is to stop “should”ing on the situation. I treat the word “should” like a warning light. When I hear it in my mind, I pay very close attention to what comes next.

Finally, I actively shift my focus to what I enjoy about my work.  I challenge myself to stay a little longer in the room with each of my patients.  I focus on the feeling of just being present with them.  I celebrate the moment when I figure out a difficult diagnosis or I improve the clinical status of one of my patients.  I pause to laugh a little longer at the hilarious story one of my coworkers just told. Every shift you work is filled with moments like these, but we miss them when we’re busy “should”ing all over ourselves and our jobs.

If you’d like to learn more about this work, I promise you, I can help you enjoy your job more.  Check out my free course How To Feel Better On Your Next Shift.  I’d also love to hear from you directly via email at hello@unicorndoctor.com.