Thriving In Nursing – Is It Really About Vulnerability ?

Nursing Retention Strategies

There is a clear distinction in nursing retention strategies.  There are those strategies that help nurses survive and those that help nurses thrive in nursing.

  • Survival strategies – environmental and work flow improvements that mitigate the external job stressors
  • Thriving strategies – cultivation of nurses’ inner resources to help reduce personal stressors, and allow engagement

Thriving is finding Joy, Meaning, Purpose.

To Get There Requires Understanding What Holds Us Back.  

Vulnerability is one of those things … 

Learning to Thrive in Life

To thrive in anything— life, nursing, leadership—  vulnerability plays a role.

Vulnerability is  

  1. uncertainty  
  2. risk  
  3. emotional exposure

We experience vulnerability in everything we do – it’s there in every situation.  It’s a part of life.

I always thought vulnerability was about fear.  True, they are connected. Fear is the fear of being vulnerable. Fear is an option. Vulnerability is not an option.

Vulnerability is about self-protection and courage. 

This head snapping ah-ha came from Brene Brown, vulnerability researcher and author. LOVE her books.  

The lesson: How we deal with Vulnerability is directly related to how much Joy we experience in our lives.  The more we protect ourselves from hurt, the more it holds us back from feeling the good stuff ….

… vulnerability is the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity; (ie. where we thrive). It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.  If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (Daring Greatly, 2012,p34)

As I read Brown’s writings, what she was saying about vulnerability was hard to absorb.

Not until I got to the  “vulnerability shudder”, did I get it.   That is the overwhelming feeling of fear of loss when in the midst of profound joy.  Like looking over your baby or loved one while they sleep.  I absolutely knew that dual feeling of joy / fear of loss.

When we slam the door on vulnerability, we are slamming the door on love and joy.

According to Brown, leaning into joy, and allowing vulnerability to wash over us, cultivates resilience.  Hmmm. managing vulnerability works its way into resilience?

Now that vulnerability shudder is my friend (most of the time).  When I feel this shudder, it’s a signal to pay attention – to release my self-protection mechanism and allow joy and the meaning in the moment to flow. 

Learning to Thrive in Nursing

There are 2 aspects to vulnerability in nursing.

  1. First ….. there is a good amount of vulnerability in being a nurse and in doing nursing. You are responsible for the life and comfort of your patients/families….. and there’s the uncertainties of what you know and what you are doing,…. and there’s your emotional exposure to the things swirling around you ….
  2. Second ….. there are the vulnerabilities that your patients are experiencing … how much you absorb from their experiences is another question.

So yes,  uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure are around every corner when you are a nurse.

The lesson:   First, feeling competent and confident in nursing is required to offset the uncertainty and risk parts of vulnerability.   The emotional exposure part is the personal part. Lifelong learning through self-care is required for this. Balance is the goal here.

Inner stress when with patients triggers self-protection which holds us back from our authenticity and meaningful connections with patients.  The more our authenticity is shut off in our work, the less we thrive, the more we burnout.  

When we can access our authenticity and connect with others- we know that we have rumbled with vulnerability and have won. 


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