Part III: Six weeks later

“So 6 weeks after writing Parts I and II, I’m sitting on a plane, over the Irish Sea returning home for the weekend. I’ve been meaning to get this finished for so long. Some of it was business, or tiredness but a lot of it was actually making sure I followed the disciplines I set during COVID. 

  • Talk to your wife every night for an hour, even if its just mindless drivel. It helps
  • No matter how tired you are. Go for a walk and do your exercises
  • Journal every night
  • Eat good food
  • Take up an activity ( I chose golf and I’m failing at it, but I like it)
  • Do not let work over take your life ever again. 

How am I doing 6 weeks in? Okay. I guess. I’m not working nearly as much as I did. Flights to and from home are a big factor in determining my work week. I have managed to work one week from home in the 6 I’ve been away. I only worked one weekend and I’m generally only doing 11 hours a day. I don’t take my computer home in the evening, which forces me to do other things. Its not perfect and its certainly not the 45 hours work weeks I dream of, but its heading in the right direction.

I am a lot happier and, yes I have had some awful days when I feel worthless and hate myself and everything around me. But I tell somebody about it. 

I’m failing, I suppose we all are. But the difference now is….I don’t care if I fail, its part of growing and I won’t let the failure part of my career ever seep into the more important parts of my life, my family, my friends, my time. I suppose in that sense I’ve succeeded.

Thank you for reading. If there is one thing I have truly learnt about the last few months is. Talk and be honest with yourself. Your struggles are not personal, they seep into those around you. Pick up the phone to a friend, a family member. Talk to your significant other. Talk to a professional. But please talk. Take care and to borrow from my favourite TV Character…”Goodbye and Good Mental Health”.”

Part II: Lockdown

“I slowly learnt to love my self and to slowly fix myself. There are two pictures of me. Pre-COVID and just before I went back to work. My weight always formed part of how I felt about myself. I am not where I want to be physically, I’m certainly out of shape but I’m happy with how I look and more importantly feel

I didn’t do anything special; I didn’t join any crazy health plans; I certainly didn’t start running…seriously. Why?? I could not run bath and the phrase “running for fun” is purely oxymoronic in my opinion.

I downloaded a food app to track how much food I was eating, it also split the foods into Green (fruits veggies tea (THANK THE LORD) and whole-wheat grains), Yellow (Proteins, pasta), Red (Sugars, fats) and allowed me to adapt my food intake to suit my preferences. I also started walking and taking the occasional cycle ride, nothing too strenuous but just enough to get my heart rate up a little.

113kg to 94kg is a massive step. I wanted to be 90kg before going back to work, but here is the thing. Feeding my soul with daily walks in the sunshine and music, feeding my body with fruit and veggies, water and tea…I don’t care about not being 90kg. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, and I know I will continue to lose weight as I continue to feed these things into my mind and body.

I’ve also learned that just sitting is important. I am an “antsy” person, I need to be doing something most of the time, but sitting out in the sun, drinking tea just listening to the world around me, even if its just for 10 minutes, is worth 10 weekends away at a health-spa.

I’ve re-learned to “Mend & make do”, that no amount of money will buy you happiness. The simple pleasure of fixing a rotten and wobbly garden shed, cooking a meal from scratch, baking home made breads, building a wood store out of an old pallet or building a complex deck with curves and angles is more satisfying than buying replacements or getting somebody to do it for you.

I’ve also learned about time. Or to be more precise, how to see time differently. I work in an industry where time is critical, decisions need to be instant and results need to be perfect. Actually, this is all nonsense. I’ve spent a good potion of my lock down, “fixing” my garden, but gardens do not respond to instant request for perfection. Cutting back bushes actually makes the garden look worse than when you started but give it time and it will look better. Digging out a flower bed looks awful after its done, but rake it over , let it settle, plant a few things and give it a couple of weeks and it starts to look better.

Our garden will never be “complete”. My dear neighbours, have been doing theirs for 50 years and they still say its not finished or perfect. Accepting imperfections and ugliness is part of the growth of the garden and ironically, I’ve learnt this is also a metaphor for my own growth.

I’m lucky, I know that, by whatever grace you believe in, my life is a lot better than about 97% of the world we live in. If you are reading this far, chances are you are the same. I’m never going to take anything for granted again. My friends who I’ve “Zoomed” with, those who we had conversations across the garden fence. The world I live in, the countryside I am so lucky to be around me. My children, who are funnier and smarter and more sarcastic than I could ever have hoped for. My friends, who, however we kept in touch, are so special to me. My parents who, when we all came down with COVID took risks to their own health to drop off food (and tea), who have never left my side for one minute of my life and I know that now. My sister, who, even being 8000 miles away, we still prove that distance is immaterial and help will always be unconditionally offered in this family, without any expectation of payback. My neighbours, who we lost one only a couple of days ago due to old age. Thank you, you have made a small part of our world perfect. And last, but no means least. My beautiful, sexy, intelligent, kind, gentle, and, most of all, tolerant wife. She has been my absolute anchor; I love her so much and we move into a another phase of our “kooky” life together. She makes me want to be a better person.

The world we are moving into will be different, must be different. We have coped without needing “That thing” whatever it is, economic growth is not reliant on the human desire for things. It can happen just the same with the human desire to help others. The challenge I am setting myself is, do I need “that” thing? Or can I cope without it. Can somebody else benefit form things I no longer need instead of throwing them away. Can somebody you know be helped by posting a little bit of money to them to help them get through the week? Change and growth comes slowly, it takes time, it may require personal sacrifice, it may indeed look ugly during the process and change is never finished.

Thank you for getting this far. Stay safe, live life oh…and always, ALWAYS eat cake…unless it takes you over your RED food daily intake then grab an apple 😊 😊 😊. The challenge will be whether I can maintain this after I re-start work..  Read Part III next week to find out. ” 

Why Hospitals Don’t Learn From Failure

This is an excellent article by Harvard Professor, Amy C Edmondson. In it, she states:

“My central argument is that hospitals don’t learn from failure because of two interrelated organisational issues. Firstly, at the frontlines of patient care in hospitals the interpersonal climate often inhibits speaking up with questions, concerns, and challenges that might have contributed to catching and correcting human error before patients are harmed.2 Moreover, the culture of medicine more generally discourages admission of error, thereby greatly diminishing a given hospital’s potential to learn from mistakes, both consequential or not. Secondly, features of the work design and culture of most hospitals make workarounds and quick fixes the dominant response to failures, rather than root cause analysis and systematic problem solving,7 which contribute to organisational improvement and innovation.”

See the link below for the full article:

https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/13/suppl_2/ii3.full

Success comes from failing, well

The need to recognise our limitations, accept and face our inadequacy and vulnerability are sometimes the very things that create good leaders and long-term success. Although failure can lead to learning, it doesn’t automatically do so – we need to learn to fail, well. Check out this link for more:

Book launch speech, 29th June 2019: Caris Grimes, Consultant Surgeon and Author

Nobody in their right mind wakes up one morning and decides that they want to write a book on failure.  Now, some of you may doubt whether I have ever been in my right mind, but lets put that aside for now! 

The context in which I did so is this: 

In 2011, my marriage came to an end after 14 years which left me with a sense of failure. 

I then went through 5 years of being both single mum and fulltime surgical trainee and feeling that I was doing neither well.  I was not at home enough to be what I thought a good mum should be and I wasn’t at work enough to fulfil my own expectations of what a good surgical trainee is. 

I then became a consultant and had to start taking responsibility for my own complications and the impact of my decision-making.  

Then as special punishment for the new consultant, my department asked me to take on the role of Patient Safety Lead and Mortality Lead in General Surgery – which has ultimately led me to investigating Serious Incidents – such as potentially avoidable death. 

Then, if that wasn’t enough, I decided to set up a Bereavement Service, to allow bereaved families to come back and ask any questions or raise any concerns they may have. 

I therefore found that I was dealing with some aspect of failure fairly frequently, and did not feel that I really understood failure enough to do it well.

As a Christian, I also felt that God was calling me to write  a book on failure and I didn’t want to do it.  Every time I felt a little nagging – “write the book, write the book” I would say No.  I explained to God that there are many things that I would like to be known for and to be good at, but failure has never been on the agenda. 

It came to a head one evening when I was praying and I felt the nagging again – “write the book, write the book”.  In exasperation I said to God “OK! I will write this blinking book but on one condition. I want you to give me one example, from the Bible, of someone who did everything well and still failed catastrophically. Because if I’m going to write a book, I don’t want to just write in on error, I want to write it on that sense of failure you can have even when you are doing everything to your best ability.” 

I shut my eyes and had a sudden, immediate and clear picture of the cross of Jesus. I was gobsmacked. 

“Ok.., God…” I said, “Can I just clarify? Are we now calling Jesus a failure?  And if we are, are you asking me to write a book for which my non-Christian friends, family and colleagues are going to think that I am a lunatic, and my Christian friends, family and colleagues are going to think I am a heretic??” 

Ladies and Gentleman, friends, family and colleagues, I have been reassured that for those of you who know me that none of you can possibly think of me as any more of a lunatic or a heretic than you already do by me writing a book. … Which I guess is reassurance of sorts ! 

Finally, there are four take home messages for tonight on failure: 

1. Failure is everywhere. There is no part of our lives, no organisation and no industry that failure, feelings of failure or fear of failure does not effect from time to time.  And yet our bookshops are littered with books on success. 

2. Failure can be extremely painful. It can be associated with very strong negative emotions of shame, guilt and fear.  We need to support friends, family and colleagues who are experiencing these. 

From a healthcare point of view, no healthcare professional goes into work with the intention of causing harm.  And therefore, when a healthcare professional or professionals are involved in anyway in a failure, then there is no-one who can blame and condemn them for their role in that they themselves. Therefore, a culture of blame in our relationships or in our organisations is not just counter-productive, it stops individuals and the organisations learning. 

3. Failing Intelligently is hard. Failing well involves not being defined by your failure, but seeing it as separate from you and a tool to help you learn. It also involves taking responsibility for your part in failure, apologising and learning from it.  But this is difficult. It is difficult at work and it is even more difficult at home. I am sure that if you twisted my husbands arm hard enough he may just admit that, although I have written the book, that when we argue, I am not the best at failing well. 

4. Failure is important.  Research from organisations, education and individuals show a similar theme. That those that only ever succeed, ultimately fail.  But those that learn to fail well, ultimately succeed because failing well leads to adaptability, versatility and resilience. 

Please do buy the book. I have tried to keep it short and sweet.  My stubbornness and belligerence meant that I was not prepared to write a book more than five chapters long. I would love to receive positive feedback on the book. But I also need to receive the negative feedback too, because without this I cannot fail intelligently. 

Thank you.