Have You Acknowledged The Death Of Your Idealism?

5-year-old with pigtails: “I want to be an astronaut!”

Society: “Aww, that’s so sweet. You can be whatever you want to be!”


15-year-old with metallic blue highlights: “I want to be an astronaut!”

Society: “That’s nice. Maybe if you study hard in all the right subjects it might be possible, but you’d better have a backup plan. How about you stop dying your hair weird colors and think about being a secretary instead?”


25-year-old with a ponytail: “I want to be an astronaut!”

Society: “Get real. Only kids think about stupid stuff like that. Get a job, a mortgage, a car payment, and contribute to society like you’re supposed to.”


We nurse practitioners tend to be helpers and organizers. We had ginormous idealistic dreams when we were younger, wanting to help the entire world and all the people around us. However, as we grew up society and people around us firmly told us to put that idealism away, so we did. 

Slogging through the reality of nursing and medicine in today’s health care environment tends to squash that idealism even further. The squashing happens so subtly and slowly that we don’t even notice it happening until its decay is advanced, leaving us feeling drained, stressed, burned out and unhappy.

We do get to help people as nurse practitioners, but not like we thought we would when we were kids, or even when we were nursing students. We start to feel cynical and jaded and even trapped within “the system,” trying our damnedest to make a difference but feeling powerless because we often are simply not allowed to do so due to constraints by society, insurance companies, patients and administrators.

So what can you do?

Acknowledge The Death Of Your Idealism

We rarely engage in this kind of thing in US culture, as we love actions and “fixing” things. However, you have to admit the problem exists and give yourself time to process and grieve before you can fix it.

I realized my idealism was dead a couple years ago. I started to feel cynical, jaded and sarcastic. I started judging my self, patients and coworkers harshly, as well as random people around me. I felt excruciatingly frustrated with what I perceived as my inability to truly make a difference in my patients’ lives, even though I was working my tail off every single day. I was burning out and losing hope. I went through a many-months-long process to acknowledge and then rekindle my hope and idealism, and I hope to help you get there, too. Yes, you can have your spark back.

The first step in acknowledging the death of your idealism is to grieve your loss. We are trained as adults to see realism as correct, and idealism as foolish. However, when we lose contact with our idealism, a large chunk of our physical, mental and spiritual energy leave with it. This rapidly results in lack of meaning and purpose in work and life.

For example, remember what you expected your role/identity would be as a nurse practitioner would be back when you were a student? It turned out to be much different than what society, patients and clinics want you to be, didn’t it. The loss inherent in that rift hurts, and deserves to be acknowledged.

You don’t have to do anything fancy to acknowledge it. Just sit down in a quiet place for a few minutes and remember and imagine what it was like to be an idealistic student or new nurse, and how excited you were at the time.

Have a conversation with or write a letter to your younger self, expressing your grief at the loss of your innocence and idealism. Or think about it as vividly as you can, and allow yourself to experience the loss of your idealism fully.

The moment you admit to yourself how idealistic you aren’t, you connect with the fact that your idealism isn’t dead, just dormant.

Before you start trying to rekindle your idealism, though, give yourself time to sit with the acknowledgement. Some people can acknowledge something and immediately “own” the knowing of it, but most of us take some time to fully understand it. Go at your own pace.

Once you successfully internalize the knowledge of your dormant idealism, you are ready to start rekindling that idealism. I will discuss exactly that in my next blog post, to help you take the next step toward stress relief and healing burnout.

Take Care of You,





  1. gregmercer601 says:

    Mine has waxed & waned but is stronger lately than ever. It was hard to find my path, my causes. Sometime syou have to take multiple cracks at an important project to get it done.

    • Samantha says:

      I completely agree, Greg, and I also go back and forth. I am glad you have found your strength. What kind of things did you try to find it, and what worked?

      • gregmercer601 says:

        Change of scene, change of those around me, and/or change of tactics. Lots of experiments.

        • Samantha says:

          Well spoken, greg. Thank you for sharing your way. I agree that it takes lots of experimenting to figure out how to nurture your spirit.


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