Reaching for the Stars: Turn Your Weaknesses Into Successes

Infection Control TodayInfection Control Today, March 2023, (Vol. 27, No. 2)
Volume 27
Issue 2

Learn from your mistakes; reach for the stars. We all have learning to do. Just don't quit!

Reach for the Stars  (Adobe Stock 88686178 by Jankovoy)

Reach for the Stars

(Adobe Stock 88686178 by Jankovoy)

As their eyes bore into me and silence filled the room, I felt panic bubbling up from deep within. I stammered and stuttered as I muddled my way through my highly technical presentation. I fought to keep my anxiety quiet as I finished my short educational update on “Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis,” which I’d been invited to present at that morning’s meeting. After I concluded discussing my last slide, one of the physicians stood up and asked a very complex question to which I didn’t have an answer. Unfortunately, I made up the answer on the spot instead of simply saying, “I don’t know. I’ll investigate that and get back to you.” I felt my cheeks turn a bright shade of red, and my heart was beating so loud that I could hear it inside my ears. I could tell by the rolling of eyes and the sighs in the room that I had failed miserably at this speaking assignment. I was beyond mortified.

The truth is, when I began my infection prevention and control career, I knew very little about what the job entailed. Furthermore, I had never spoken publicly outside of small group settings. I was just an emergency department nurse who had a particular interest in infectious disease. Assuming the role of infection preventionist came with an enormous learning curve. Statistical analysis, epidemiology, and many of the professional skills required for the job were absolutely foreign to me. Regardless of your background, everyone has something to learn when they enter the infection prevention and control field. No one walks into this profession fully prepared, and this is a challenging surprise to many who enter the field. For those who have a master’s degree in public health, understanding clinical practice can be challenging. And nurses entering the field may find statistics and epidemiology have a steep learning curve. For me, being able to speak confidently in public was a significant area of weakness.

After that presentation, a part of me wanted to throw in the towel. I wanted to walk back into the emergency department where I had transferred from, my head down, trailing shame. Instead, I decided to keep pushing forward, not to be held back by my areas of weakness. I resolved that I would do whatever it took to turn those weaknesses into my strengths. With grit and determination, I fought to become a better public speaker.

Today, I’ve lost count of how many speaking opportunities I’ve been offered and completed. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at conferences and virtual webinars, to provide education to a wide variety of audiences, and to lead our state’s weekly COVID-19 updates. I look back on that first speaking opportunity to that small room of physicians, and I smile at how far I’ve come in my career simply because I made the conscious decision not to give up. And with a fierce tenacity, I sought to turn my weaknesses into strengths.

We all have areas of weakness that we’d like to make our strengths. Acquiring the skills and knowledge we desire is much easier than it first appears. However, it does take time and effort.

Here is how I have sought to change, evolve, and grow in my areas of weakness.

  1. Keep moving forward. I tell my children that no one is successful at anything the first time they try it. Despite failure, we must pick ourselves up and keep trying. I didn’t learn to walk without falling. I wasn’t given writing opportunities without first being rejected multiple times. And I didn’t become good at public speaking until I got past that first atrocious attempt. Continuing to move forward through failure takes grit and determination. But over time you’ll begin to see your failures for what they are: learning opportunities.
  2. Strategically identify what your areas of weakness are. Do you need to learn more about central sterile processing? Is statistical analysis a foreign language to you? What are the areas where you need to grow? Consider asking your colleagues to help you identify your weaknesses and where you might be able to improve. Make a list of all the professional weaknesses you can identify to prepare you for the next step.
  3. Prioritize your list of professional weaknesses. I guarantee that you’ll have more than 1 or 2 areas where you need to improve your professional skills or knowledge. Once you have a complete list, prioritize these items so that you know where to focus your energy first. Begin with skills and knowledge essential to your career. Work with mentors and management, as needed, to determine which professional skills and expertise you should focus on.
  4. Begin to identify resources and opportunities to grow your weaknesses into strengths. Then make a plan. Do you need to read a book? Do you need to practice a skill? Do you need to take a class? You cannot grow if you do not seek the knowledge and experience needed to succeed. Professional growth does not spontaneously happen. It is intentionally planned for, sought out, and acquired. Seek the assistance of human resources, management, and experienced infection preventionists to identify opportunities for improvement.
  5. Don’t quit. Don’t ever quit. See step No. 1. Despite our failures, we must keep moving forward if we ever want to reach the stars. Did you know that 12 publishers rejected J.K. Rowling before she found one who would publish her first Harry Potter book? Imagine if she had given up all hope after that first rejection, that first failure. Failure is not a reason to quit. It’s an opportunity to learn so that we can grow. Success comes when you repeatedly try to get better at something you’re not good at. So don’t be discouraged if the room full of physicians is rolling their eyes at your atrocious speech.

Don’t quit.

Keep moving forward, keep learning, and keep growing.

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