This was a year for the history books! As a perennial optimist, I'm always looking for the bright side of any adversity, and those of you with “glass half full” tendencies will join me in that quest. After all, the ability to instill hope is one of the leader qualities we've learned is important, and we even look for it ourselves from our leaders. Getting through 2020 challenged hopefulness over and over; despite that, we witnessed brilliant nurse leadership and extraordinary nursing again and again. Passion and toughness prevailed.
We innocently started the year in this column with a global call for celebration of the long-awaited International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, committing to the Nightingale Challenge to develop ourselves and others. In the next few months, we spoke about leading with our values and acting with moral courage, being #nurseinfluencers, and the importance of a healthy work environment to prevent burnout instead of relying on resilience alone. And that was before we knew COVID-19 would wreck our year, professionally and personally. It turns out those topics were critical in laying the foundation for what was ahead in 2020.
Then, of course, we focused on what we learned about pandemic leadership—the agility, calm confidence, ethical bravery, transparency, visibility, and abundance of communication and caring (yes, lots of caring) needed to surmount the COVID-19 war. Battle metaphors seemed totally appropriate to what we faced every day. This was what the Year of the Nurse brought us. We needed hope.
Compounding our stress, we faced the desperate need to address persistent racism in our country and the civil unrest that accompanied it. With overt public health consequences, as nurses and patient advocates we couldn't ignore its serious effects. We faced reckonings with our unconscious biases, health inequities, and uncertain roles in combatting racism. We vowed to “get in good trouble.”
As if that wasn't enough, let's throw in a presidential election at a time when the country is more polarized and divided than ever seen in our lifetimes. It doesn't feel good. At all. The board of the American Nurses Association decided not to endorse a candidate, focusing on information-sharing and getting out the vote. This caused strife between those who believe in the moral and ethical responsibility of nurses and those who believe a professional organization shouldn't be involved in election politics, dividing the membership. More discord, even within our own profession.
Are all these crises opportunities? The optimists and genius leaders say yes. We may be exhausted from 2020, but we can still approach each day with possibility, strength, compassion, and exquisite leadership.
Hope may not be a strategy for change; nonetheless, it's a strategy for looking forward to the future. As we close the books on 2020, I remain full of hope for all of us as we gingerly step into 2021 and beyond. Toughness and passion will prevail once again.