Delayed Gratification–#TPSER8

By Stephanie Christians

Having been a part of the group hike both years I’d been a participant at Telluride, I know how powerful this ritual can be.  Once again, I made room in my suitcase for a dusty pair of Garmin hiking boots, in preparation for the hike.  Earlier in the week, when people brought up the Wednesday morning agenda, I enthusiastically shared that I planned on going on the hike, even trying to convert those who had other plans.  So it seemed strange that this morning – a gorgeous morning for a hike – I found myself manufacturing excuses to bow out.

Thankfully, I’m becoming more skilled at parenting my inner four-year-old.  First, I began with gentle pleading: “All your friends will be there!  You don’t want to miss out on that, do you?!”  Next came bargaining, “If you climb with the group, you can get ice cream after dinner.”  After those attempts failed, my inner mom rolled up her sleeves and got a little salty: “Stop hitting snooze and get your @$# in the shower.  Now.”  The internal tug of war continued until I joined my peers just as they finished up breakfast.

Within a few minutes of joining the group, my internal whining subsided.  Thanks to the honesty of my fellow travelers, I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling less than enthusiastic about the work ahead.  Yet, in between shortened breaths, we all expressed our belief that in the end it would be worth it.  Before I went up the mountain today, I would have said this was the perfect metaphor for what it’s like to push for improvements in patient safety: Difficult work that’s worth it in the end.  For good measure, I would have included the observation that some days you just need to get out of bed, lace up your boots, and put one foot in front of the other until the rest of your body (or your colleagues) decide to follow suit.

Yet, today was different.  For the first time, the journey was just as rewarding as reaching our destination.  Tracy and I started out on the trail together, and in less than five minutes of sharing our current work projects, I got goose bumps – the same response that normally accompanies the sense of accomplishment and awe I feel once we reach the base of the waterfall.   Sharing honestly from our personal experiences not only made the time pass by more quickly, it helped us make creative connections that we may never have made on our own.

It’s tempting to withhold gratification for the end – once we reach the patient safety summit.  While creating a perfectly safe environment is a noble goal, postponing satisfaction until we reach our destination likely guarantees we never will.  All week we’ve discussed the myriad obstacles to creating and sustaining culture change.  If we can’t learn to find the value and joy in the journey, it’s doubtful we’ll be able to maintain the passion and enthusiasm necessary to accomplish our goal.

As we get ready to leave the patient safety incubator here in Telluride, I can’t help but think about the reality that’s about to come rolling back in on us: deadlines, obstacles, and pockets of toxic culture.  It’s normal to feel overwhelmed: We’d be naïve to think otherwise.  However, if we stay focused on taking small, steady steps and continue to reach out to our fellow change agents, we will not only achieve more than we could have on our own, but hopefully we’ll find that with each patient safety victory, the journey was just as important as the destination.