Reconsidering Superheroes

This post is dedicated to health care rebels working on the front lines; it is an abbreviated version of Lois’ speech at the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts’ 2017 Innovation and Star Awards ceremony.

I had dinner last week with a good friend who has worked as a hospital executive for 30 years. When I told her about today’s event, she started raving.

“These people working in home health care are amazing,” she said. “The stress, the uncertainty of one day to the next, the never knowing when budgets are going to be cut, the seriousness and complexity of patient issues. I’m telling you these health care professionals are some of the bravest people in the world. They are heroic, real life super heroes.”

I told her I disagreed.

In the face of fear or danger anyone can be brave.

Health care professionals are more than brave. You are courageous. And courage is one of the most important virtues in our world. Maybe more important now than ever before.

There are four traits that make up courage:

  1. Honesty: speaking the truth, acting in a genuine, sincere way, and taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
  2. Perseverance: sticking with what’s important and getting things done despite obstacles.
  3. Vitality: bringing enthusiasm and energy to how you live. Not doing things half-heartedly. Feeling alive and optimistic.
  4. Bravery: not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain. Speaking up for what is right and acting on your convictions even if they’re unpopular.

Courageous people do what is right. They willfully resist taking the easy way out. They rebel against complacency and mediocrity. They keep going when most people give up.

Courageous people inspire us to be better versions of ourselves.

And this room today is jam packed with courageous people.

Honesty, perseverance, bravery, vitality. These are the traits that make us courageous. We all have these innate traits, according to psychology research. And the more we use these traits, the greater our courage becomes.

Getting out of Crazytown

But let’s not pretend there aren’t those days when stress sucks the energy from us. People quit. Budgets cut get. A patient’s family gets emotional and confrontational. Administrative paperwork follows you home. Your car blows a tire and your child is sick and you can’t get to work. Your sister gets a bad diagnosis. The basement floods and there goes the vacation money. Your life feels like Crazytown.

Anybody here ever felt like they were in Crazytown?

No one feels particularly courageous on those days. Most of us feel downright pissy.

The big question is: How do some people quickly bounce back from stressful situations and stay positive and optimistic — while others become negative, complacent, or, even worse, think of themselves as martyrs? Why do some people thrive despite life’s inevitable obstacles?

They practice resiliency.

Resiliency is simply defined as the ability to cope with stress and rebound quickly. It’s not something most of us are born with. We have to consciously develop it.

Four favorite resiliency practices

While everyone in this room knows the value of eating well, sleeping soundly and exercising regularly, there are four other resiliency practices I’d like to share with you.

They’ve truly transformed my life, helping me quickly adapt and bounce back during those personal and professional Crazytown periods

Three good things/hunt the good. Every night write down the three things that did go well during the day. Doing this helps us see the good in life, even on the Crazytown days. As importantly, it helps us look for the good every day, developing a more optimistic, positive mindset. Which, by the way is contagious.

Self-compassion/being kind to yourself: No one is harder on ourselves than ourselves. We are our toughest critics. On those tough days, I’d suggest you think of the famous Otis Redding song, and try a little tenderness. For yourself.

When our good friends are stressed and feeling down, we’re there to offer them kindness and compassionate advice. “You’re too exhausted to think. Go home and sleep for 12 hours and things will look differently when you’re rested,” we might say to her. Why not give that advice to ourselves?

Appreciating your work mates: Appreciation is the single greatest motivator at work, according to Dr. Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania. Not “have a great day” balloons or rah-rah parties. (Though some days those can be so much fun.) I encourage you all to make time twice a year, or better yet once a month, to tell your team mates what they do that makes your work so much better. Giving and receiving appreciation lifts our spirits and fills our tanks with enormously positive energy.

Be in awe: No matter what’s going on in our lives, we can stop and marvel at some small wonder in the world. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and today he was off. My worrying lizard brain was starting to act up. I went outside and looked up at the sky finally clearing after last night’s vicious thunderstorms. The clouds looked magical. For a couple of minutes I got lost in their beauty. And got myself out of worry and into a can-do mentality. Stop. Look up and look around. There is such beauty in unexpected places.

And for good measure, know that indigenous peoples found that story telling, dancing, singing and silence are universal salves for our souls. I especially recommend the dancing and silence, two things most of us never get enough of.

Believing in Wonder Woman’s belief

To wrap up and get to the awards, I want to confess that I not only told my healthcare friend that bravery was over-rated. I told her that we shouldn’t worship heroes. No one person saves the day. It’s about courage and diverse teams of people working together, not heroics.

But then I saw Wonder Woman this weekend and think there may be room for that kind of hero.

At the end of the movie Wonder Woman says to her nemesis:

It isn’t about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will save the world.

Here’s to courage and resiliency and a whole lot of love. And most of all, here’s to all of you here today. You are true wonder women and men.