“I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.”
~ Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was an English social reformer and is attributed to be the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence as the manager of nurses during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Her nursing experience on this war front brought her face to face with staggering death tolls due more to horrid hygienic conditions in the field hospitals than any other cause. She took it upon herself to tackle this problem by lobbying the British government to fund the necessary changes and equipment. The results were nothing short of miraculous!
Born into a rich, upper-class, British family, Nightingale rebelled against her family’s expectations that she fulfill the traditional role of wife and mother. It seems that she did have more than one serious suitor during her lifetime, but it is believed she rejected marriage in order to preserve the integrity of her true calling to nursing. I’m sure that turning her back on her family’s wishes in order to pursue this very public life of service wasn’t easy for her in that time period. This was a half century before feminism took hold in England with the Suffragette movement prior to World War I. Some might want to label her a feminist, but I think that would be inaccurate. Nightingale was a social reformer, but her fight was not about the feminist struggle for equality with men.
“I never gave (an excuse)” are some of the words Florence Nightingale uses to explain her success. It wasn’t in her makeup to make excuses, because she was strong-willed and determined to achieve her goals. Was she seeking fame and public adulation? On the contrary, this woman fought hard to save lives by action among the sick and dying, in pressuring politicians who had the means to make the reforms she was advocating, and through educating others in the art and science of nursing. She was a woman who dedicated her entire life to the service of others. To make an excuse is tantamount to quitting! I failed because….
For Florence Nightingale failure was never an option. There are no insurmountable obstacles for an iron-willed person who is resolved to achieve a goal. When you look at her life, she wasn’t the kind of person who sought attention for herself, nor was she determined to win her battles unassisted. No, she marshalled her resources and those who had the power to assist. She believed in her mission and would not allow herself to be intimidated nor deflected from her goals. She saw obstacles as hills to climb, never as insurmountable mountains. Did she ever tire of the struggle? Was she ever tempted to quit? My guess is that she did experience these feelings, so her determination came at a price.
This begs the question: was she just an incredible hero that the rest of us can never emulate? Did she have an inner strength that the rest of us don’t have? Shall the rest of us sit back while the Florence Nightingales of the world get things done and just cheer them on? Good grief! That thought upsets me because… my life experience leads me to believe that is what goes on every day.
The back half of the quote: “… or took any excuse.” spotlights what is probably the best characteristic of a leader. As I said earlier, Nightingale was not a person to try to do everything herself. She didn’t clean up the field hospitals in the Crimea by herself. Clearly she was a true leader and insisted that the nursing staff under her authority be held to the same standard to which she held herself. In those circumstances, she and her team were dealing with life and death situations under the stresses of warfare. I can imagine how the feelings of fear and horror could tempt a person to throw in the towel and run to safety!
So where does this leave people like you and me? I am blessed as a Canadian, living in a rich, peaceful society where all citizens enjoy freedom, as well as democratic and civil rights that are protected by the constitution. Although our modern times are different, Florence Nightingale’s recipe for success is as relevant now as it was then. It matters not that her goals and mine differ; what matters is that if I wish to succeed I have to reach down deep within myself and find the courage to meet and overcome all the obstacles that life provides as challenges. I have to remember that I am not alone – unless I choose to act alone. A friend recently told me that she comes from a place of “yes”. At first I didn’t understand her fully… now I see that she’s echoing the attitude that Florence Nightingale lived by. Yes, I’ll meet the challenges. Yes, I’ll overcome those challenges. Yes, I’ll achieve my goals and lead my team to come from a place of “yes”.