March 9, 2009, 7:03 pm

Reflections from ENA: “Stop Counting Crayons, Start Drawing Pictures”

reno2I woke up early this morning, having changed my flight.

With the exception of a few glances out my hotel window, I had been incommunicado with the outside world for four days.

I had packed my sweatshirt, figuring I’d go from the shuttle to the airport to the plane and wouldn’t need it.

The casino was quiet. Not too many people up and about at 0630 on a Monday morning.

I checked out, headed for the revolving door and this is what awaited me outside!

A pristine blanket of snow, soft flurries falling sideways and dead silence.


I stood outside for as long as I could stand it and let myself get snowed on.



The title of this post comes from a story told by this man, Mark Scharenbroich.

Mark gave the keynote speech at the ENA Leadership Conference.

You can hear the original story right here on Mark’s site  I suggest you listen because it’s hilarious.

And profound.

My take on it is a little different than what Mark spoke of in his keynote. But not much.

Oh, and hey, Mark?  Nice bike.  Very nice bike.


My attendance at the ENA Leadership Conference confirmed one thing.

No way in hell am I cut out to be a manager.

Never. Nada. Not gonna do it. Don’t wanna do it. Never have wanted to do it. Never will want to do it. Don’t have the personality for it. Don’t have the stomach for it.

And I sure as heck don’t have the skills for it.

But thank goodness for the nurses who do.


As far as my managers go, I haven’t always been the easiest staff nurse to deal with. What? You thought I was the perfect nurse?

Well, you just keep on thinking that!

The reality of it is that sometimes my attitude really sucks.

It may come as a shock (not), but I gripe. A lot. Not necessarily to my manager, but being rather, um, verbal, the whole world knows exactly how I feel when I feel it and why I’m feeling it.

And griping begets griping. Before you know it, I’m ten times more ticked off than when I started, my blood pressure is sky high, I’m ready to quit (again) at 0700 and my co-workers are aren’t exactly uplifted.  Sometimes we feed off each other and have a regular group gripe session that lasts throughout the night.

On those shifts you would think we work in the depths of hell.


The truth is I don’t work in the depths of hell.

Here is where the crayons come in.

My department is like a very nice, brand new box of 8 Crayola crayons and at times it seems all I do is gripe that it doesn’t contain Cyan, Burnt Sienna, Magenta or Periwinkle.

If I stopped bemoaning what we don’t have and appreciated the primary colors we are able to provide, I’d be a lot less frustrated and my patients a lot more happy.

(And my co-workers very relieved!)

You can buck the system without getting anywhere or you can work within the system to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

It’s time to stop counting crayons and start drawing the best pictures I can with the colors at my disposal.


  • Candy

    March 10, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Very profound — and good for everyone to hear, no matter which unit (or company) they happen to work for. This is the “Bloom where you are planted” message that everyone forgets. Thanks for the succinct reminder — and I’m glad you didn’t freeze your butt off! Beautiful picture.

  • Nickie

    March 10, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Great reminder for everyone, nurses, patients and those in other professions. I know that I am going through a very dark time, and that not focusing on what I had, or solutions that I could use is part, though not all, of what got me there. Thanks for this reminder!

  • Judy@StrawCottage

    March 10, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Paragraph One-Why I moved from Reno!

    Paragraph Four-WE must be sisters separated at birth! That’s a pretty accurate description of me at times.

    Great post.

  • NPs Save Lives

    March 12, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Great post Kim! Nice pic of the snow but it’s too cold for me..I’ll stay here in sunny Florida for now. Pop over to my other site and let me know what you think..
    Give me a few weeks and I’ll host a better COS..

  • Strong One

    March 14, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Well said.
    A great twist to my ‘A Complaint-Free World’ support and new mind-set.
    Be thankful and grateful for what you ‘have’, not complaining of your ‘have-not’.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Shawn Kennedy

    March 21, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Hi there, I just went back to the ED where I stared some 30 years ago (I blogged on it at and was delighted that the most important things hadn’t changed – staff still griped and the head nurse saw herself as their advocate rather than an adminstrative pawn.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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