Failure is not an option…or is it?


As a soldier, I arrived in Iraq in February 2004. The trip was exhausting but ended with the most spectacular sunset. It was absolutely breathtaking. The sky was like an endless pastel canvas for the stars to slowly settle down upon. The unobstructed view across miles of open desert created an astonishing vantage point for me to watch. As the day slowly turned into night, the nostalgia of the sunset was quickly forgotten, as gunfire subdued the night. It was the thrill of a lifetime, but the novelty of fighting faded faster than the sun, and the reality of the situation sank in even quicker. It was war, and it quickly became the most difficult time of my life.

In the Army I learned the value of hard work and what it means to never give up. Despite the challenges and adversities, soldiers are prepared to succeed. This is the foundation of the warrior ethos. It is an innate willingness to succeed at all costs despite the consequences, no matter how grave. Failure is not an option, it must be avoided to accomplish a mission.

Walking into a patient’s room may seem like walking into battle. The list of obstacles and challenges are endless, including facing enemy veins during cannulation, combative patients, and poor historians during medication reconciliations. Regardless of the education and preparation, new nurses are inundated with skills and procedures that will obviate one’s confidence. As a new nurse, failure must be embraced as an opportunity to elicit areas of improvement. In the patient’s room, competencies and skills provide a new type of battleground, requiring diligence, perseverance, and the right attitude to succeed.

Unlike war, when fighting the nursing battle, failure must sometimes be accepted…but how? The connotations associated with failure perpetuate fear. This fear perpetuates additional fear and can eventually develop into a fear of trying. It follows that a systematic approach must be adopted to embrace failure, accept its outcomes, and learn from it. Overcoming the fear of failure requires a paradigm shift; one that acknowledges the value of failure.

Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb after countless attempts and failures. His steadfastness was rooted in the pursuit of success and was not deterred by his failures, regardless of quantity. I sometimes feel like Thomas Edison in my pursuit of successful intravenous cannulation. As a new nurse in the emergency department (ED), I have had many opportunities to start IVs. However, like Edison, I have discovered countless ways that don’t work. Patience, perseverance, and a resolve to become proficient enables me to embrace my failures.

When I finally cannulated a vein successfully, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I was so excited that I almost shouted. I maintained my composure just long enough to apply the dressing and clean up the area, but inside I felt like I won the lottery. On the inside I was running victory laps around the ED, shaking nurses’ hands and accepting congratulations from the doctors. However, on the outside I still looked like a new nurse advancing through the battleground of patients, ailments, and procedures one day at a time. While the excitement and success warranted a brief celebration and congratulatory fist bump from my preceptor, I learned very little.

I encourage you to examine your failures and embrace them as opportunities to grow. Take a moment to reflect on what circumstances lead to the failure. It isn’t easy to be objective with yourself and you may want to solicit other views. As a new nurse I am constantly asking what I can do better and what areas are weak. Sometimes I make progress and other times I seem to move in the wrong direction. Working closely with an experienced group of nurses has provided me with the opportunity to grow and develop as a nurse. Identifying and embracing my failures has facilitated rapid growth. My military service has prepared me well for the difficulties of the nursing profession and the ED; requiring me to adapt to changes, overcome challenges, and pick myself up and brush off after getting knocked down. After all, failure is not an option…it’s inevitable! Embrace it and learn from it.


Eric Keller is an RN in the emergency department at Cleveland Clinic Akron General in Akron, Ohio.

The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.


  • Barbara Wesie
    March 29, 2018 12:44 pm

    This is such an inspiring story. Thank You for sharing.

  • Jon Templeman
    March 29, 2018 11:33 am

    Excellent article Eric! What you describe in your descriptive writing reminded me of the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle that I learned about through the Insititute of Healthcare Improvement. It is similar to our nursing process, as it is a constant, dynamic evolution in which we are assessing and trying different things to see what works.

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