Part of my role as a nurse is to model healthy behaviors and choices. I eat a whole foods, plant-based diet. I am physically active every day. I keep boundaries around my work life. I don’t take antibiotics when I have a cold. I wash my hands in the room so the patient sees me do it. This stuff is personal, but it’s also performative. It’s a way of leading. Of saying, these things I am talking about matter, and they are totally doable.
Now, staying home is leading. Wearing a mask in public is leading. Getting a flu shot is leading. I think about how people form opinions and make decisions: they look to other people. If leaders do it, followers will do it. This is part of why the behavior of the president and vice president are so infuriating. Leadership, even as a goal, seems so entirely absent from these highly visible people. Can we find leadership elsewhere? Is it now disseminated to other levels, other contexts, as it wasn’t before? Are people looking for leaders in dangerous places? Is the leadership void creating opportunity for malicious actors? I worry.
When I feel this way, I seem to take absent leadership as a personal call to action. Something is missing, so I feel compelled to fill the void. This is usually a positive impulse and it’s rooted in a drive for service, not in ambition. I don’t mean I’m running for office, but I DO mean that I will try to more publicly model good behavior. I will give more advice to people and use my professional credentials, which I don’t often do outside of my job. I will try to find ways to stay sane and healthy and share them (like practicing meditation, running, staying in touch with friends, and getting fresh air). At work, I try to be calm and confident, while normalizing the abnormalness we’re sitting in. I feel there’s an acute need for this kind of presence. People desperately need to hear “this is not normal, but we can get through it, and here’s some ways to help”. Because I am a nurse practitioner and a teacher, I am often in the position of being the voice of reason and optimism, of practicality and normalcy and advice.
I wish I felt it more coming from others, because it is exhausting to be the adult in the room. I have days where I feel utterly demoralized. Sometimes, I just want to be able to lose my shit and cry for a while while someone else shows me how to be OK. But there aren’t a lot of places to find that these days.
Where do you find leadership and comfort now?