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Living on the Edge

May 26, 2015

A guest blog by @thebestjoan

Hello my name is Joan, and I have a confession to make.

For years I tried to conform to the norm and suppress my creativity. But by doing that, I was trying to be somebody else.

I’m a very passionate and creative person and some days I can have millions of ideas. Most of them are crazy but a few of them are brilliant. I tried very hard to fit in. For years I did what I thought other people wanted me to do. But believe me, trying to be somebody else is one of the hardest things to do. I became very unhappy and my career began to drift; I ended up working as a bank nurse, where I became even more detached and unappreciated. Because of that, I felt emotionally drained and I started to develop negative attitudes and feelings towards patients; I was losing confidence in myself. On a more personal level, I also became depressed and put on a lot of weight. At my heaviest, I weighed nearly 20 stone. I was moody and impossible to live with.

But enough was enough and one day, I decided to do something about it. Like Forest Gump, I started to run. Running gave me confidence and gave me space to think. I took charge of my life. It was the first step to a new life. At the same time, I discovered social media. Finding that I wasn’t alone in feeling as I did was very comforting. I became involved with NHS Change Day and for the first time, someone told me that it’s OK to be different.

NHS Change Day and Twitter became my second family, and the 6Cs reminded me of the values I had lost along the way. It was this powerful combination that reignited my passion and my ability to go the extra mile. Through it, I’ve connected with like-minded people who share the same values: we care and we want to make a difference. And when you surround yourself with people who believe what you believe, something magical happens: trust emerges, and when we have trust we become more confident, we are able to take more risks and experiment and explore knowing that somebody in our ‘community’ will watch our back, help when we fall and be there for us. That is the true power of a community and I am a clear example.

After years of focussing all my energy on being somebody else, suddenly for the first time I felt that I was allowed to be myself. I was no longer using my energy to suppress myself and instead I used it to try to make a difference.

I do not fit very well into a hierarchical organisation. I need variety. I deliver results, but need the space to be creative and do it my way. I need freedom and trust – I call this ‘living on the edge’. The edge is a difficult place to survive. It’s like walking on a wire without a safety net. But – I would not want to be anywhere else. I have been there for three years now and the results I’ve produced are outstanding. My record speaks for itself.

But the edge has also a dark side – and I have experienced the dangers and their power. That’s why it’s paramount to build relationships in and out of your organisation. When you fall – and we all fall sometimes – think of them as your trampoline; you need them so you can bounce back. I am the worst nightmare of a hierarchical organisation: I like to question and push boundaries. But I’m proud of being a rebel because without us, the status quo will never change. Living on the edge is not easy but it allows me to be myself and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

But I was also angry, angry with a system that for years tried to institutionalise me. Angry about the years wasted on being miserable, the relationships broken and opportunities missed. It was like somebody opened Pandora’s box and all my energy was unleashed at once!! I started a crusade against hierarchical power. I rebelled against the system. I gathered supporters and in record time I found myself leading an army. I was told I was a front-line expert. In less than two years I went from being unemployable to suddenly being a role model. Two sides of the same coin depending who was looking at me.

The NHS needs more diversity of thought and people who have different points of view. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Success and competitiveness in any organisation depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and realize the benefits. A diverse workforce can supply a greater variety of solutions to problems adapting better to different demands.

Taking full advantage of the benefits of diversity in the workplace is not without its challenges. It’s not going to be an easy ride but I can guarantee it’s going to be an exiting one. Only when hierarchical power and horizontal power work together will they unleash the synergy necessary to cope with future challenges to care; because at the end of the day, we all want the same.

Living at the edge has lots of rewards but it comes with risks and you need to be prepare and accept them.

Here is my Ten Commandment survival guide:

1. Be genuine.
2. Accept failures as a part of the journey to success.
3. Learn quickly.
4. Never give up.
5. Keep asking. The more you ask, the more chance someone will say yes!
6. Accept constructive criticism.
7. Create a support network around you.
8. Ask for help.
9. Keep positive.
10. Have fun!

Here is where HCVoices fits perfectly. Unless we are less tribal and listen to more voices, NHS services will struggle to improve. As human beings, we tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us in appearance and opinions. It’s a basic instinct to be where we feel safe. If somebody thinks differently or dare to challenge us, we feel threatened and we push them away.

To take our health system to the future, we need to be committed to collaboration and cooperation with other people who we don’t normally associate with. We need to break barriers and start to feel uncomfortable. Organisations spent the 20th century managing efficiencies, now that’s not enough. We must spend the 21st century managing experiences. Co-creation is the future.

What we are trying to do at HCVoices is to create the space for people to feel comfortable to be themselves and express their ideas and opinions. To initiate a debate, to rock the boat and feel safe at same time. A space when all voices can be heard and valued. A space to co-create new ideas and collaborations, a space to share and celebrate our differences.

If we are to find a health system fit for purpose we need to think differently. If we’re all reading from separate recipe books, we can’t do a lot – but look what happens when you mix flour, eggs, sugar and a few other ingredients – a delicious cake magically appears and looks nothing like the original ingredients.

For me, HCVoices is the kitchen when we are all welcome to come and bring our knowledge, experience and voice and mix it with others. And who knows, something magical might happen…

Why not join us? For more info visit our website:
You can also follow us on Twitter at @HcVoices and join us on our next tweetchat. Why not like our Facebook page? or come along to our next event and start interacting with other people. Open your mind. You never know –  it might be the first step on an extraordinary journey.

It’s very easy to lose focus – but as they say in Sweden, it all comes down to one simple question: Is this the best for Esther?

  1. downssideup permalink

    Great post Joan, and wise words for all walks of life. It feels very vulnerable to dare something different, I understand that. But a mix of different ways is the only way. Hayley

  2. Barbara Bradbury, Halland Solutions permalink

    I enjoyed your post, Joan. I have lived on the edge throughout my nursing career, from being a first ward junior at age 18. I challenged from the start, at a time when challenging your seniors was absolutely discouraged. It’s not easy and often you can feel quite alone. However, for me it is about not compromising my values and principles, being an advocate for patients and understanding the true value that I bring as a nurse. It certainly leads to an interesting life! Keep up the good work.

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