Growing up I heard a lot about the importance of a good attitude and a strong work ethic. As a father I am passing down those life lessons to my children, carefully making time for teachable moments when their desire to play overshadows their responsibility to clean and prompts them to sweep their mess under their bed.
My mother continues to remind me that I used to hide all my toys under my covers when I had to make my bed. Despite my childhood lapses, I’ve always found it easy to work hard toward a goal or something that I wanted, but working hard and tirelessly on a seemingly meaningless task was something I found difficult. It wasn’t until I was in the Army that I found the secret—attitude. Attitude is everything, whether the task feels meaningful or it’s something that has to be done, but isn’t much fun, like cleaning up emesis from an unresponsive patient.
In aeronautics, attitude refers to the position of the nose of the aircraft in relation to the ground. The fuselage and tail follow the nose of an aircraft and wherever the pilot positions the nose determines the flight path. Likewise, wherever my attitude is, determines where my actions are going. Am I focusing on the problem, am I taking the time to complain about something that happened an hour ago, or am I making sure that everyone I have contact with knows how I feel? A positive attitude focuses on the solution, anticipates orders, has the time to listen to others, and continuously solicit feedback for improvement; focusing on the end goal and moving forward, like a pilot navigating through turbulence.
A positive attitude is a necessary component for professional athletes. Athletes must endure an unfair penalty, an injury, or a bad play call. Regardless of the adversity, athletes must pick themselves up and hustle back to the next play. Athletes must accept criticism and humble themselves to take directions from referees and coaches. When a poor attitude stands in the way, the morale and camaraderie of the team is compromised. Ultimately a poor attitude limits a coach’s ability to influence the team’s direction and hinders forward progress. The goal isn’t to focus on the individual play, but the entire game. A positive attitude allows you to get back up, seek feedback for continuous improvement, and move forward toward the goal.
JFK once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This simple question redirects a person’s attitude from focusing on the problem and their individual desires towards becoming part of the solution. Instead of meandering around the problem, one focuses on the solution, sparking a powerful paradigm shift. By incorporating a positive attitude, focusing on the task at hand, and tirelessly pursuing the solution, one can accomplish anything.
The right attitude doesn’t ensure success or eliminate problems. Similarly, it doesn’t end bad days or make someone a great person or nurse. The right attitude simply provides the path for a successful journey. The right attitude focuses on the future and where you are going, instead of focusing on past problems. A positive attitude provides a nexus for improvement. It makes forward progress possible by facilitating continuous momentum. Likewise, a positive attitude prevents superfluous expressions of discontent that can lead to gossip and deteriorate relationships.
Eric Keller is an RN in the emergency department at Cleveland Clinic Akron General in Akron, Ohio.