Who's Driving the Bus?
Nurses, it's crucial for us nursing professionals to internalize the fact that being behind the wheel of our careers is paramount.
So many nurses I speak with feel constricted not only by the opinions of others, but also by the voices inside of their heads that tell them they're "less than" and unworthy. Whether these voices come from family, friends, colleagues, teachers, or the culture at large, your professional trajectory must be stamped with your imprimatur, your own self-generated sense of approval and self-worth.
Owning the notion of being "just a nurse" is only one of the many ways that nurses diminish themselves, demean their expertise and professionalism, and essentially put others in the driver's seat of their careers. Self-limiting statements and beliefs may include:
"I'm just a nurse."
"I can't be an entrepreneur; nurses don't own businesses."
"Nursing is a calling, not a career."
"Nursing is a calling, not a platform for business."
"Being assertive and forward-thinking isn't natural for me."
"Nurses aren't as smart as doctors."
There are plenty more self-limiting beliefs that nurses internalize, but you get the idea; such statements and beliefs weaken your ambition, convincing you that you're just stuck where you are with nowhere else to go.
Get Behind the Wheel
Getting behind the wheel of your nursing career looks different for everyone. For one nurse, it means putting her nose to the grindstone, and pushing forward consistently until she earns the PhD that's been in her sights for a decade or more. For another nurse, it's becoming a Legal Nurse Consultant and hanging a shingle as a nurse entrepreneur. For yet another nurse, it's opening a concierge nursing practice for the wealthy elderly in San Diego.
Whether it's entrepreneurship, scholarship, research, or clinical practice---each nurse has the power to decide for him- or herself on the most efficient and fulfilling path to get there.
Make A Plan
Getting behind the wheel and driving the bus of your nursing career means that you come up with goals and a plan. Those goals can't be amorphous and ambiguous, like "earn more money" or "be happier"; they need to be "SMART": specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
If you want to launch a business as a nurse entrepreneur, SMART goals can be very valuable in that process. And if you want to travel from being an ADN to a PhD or DNP, some prudent planning is definitely in order, especially in terms of finances, work load, and the path to that desired goal.
That said, "achievable" and "realistic" can mean different things to different people. If Steve Jobs had limited Apple's goals to the "realistic" column, we probably wouldn't have the iPhone or the iPod---or the entire smart phone revolution. And if Florence Nightingale hadn't reached beyond her "station" and convinced the field doctors in the Crimea to do things differently, medicine and the nursing profession would have been in the Dark Ages a whole lot longer, sacrificing many lives along the way. Jobs and Nightingale didn't think about SMART goals; they had a vision and didn't allow anything to stand in the way of its achievement.
Yes, realistic and achievable are generally good guidelines for steering the bus, but remember that we must also reach beyond our comfort zones at times; that can definitely mean playing your cards close to your chest when it comes to the naysayers who are just waiting to tear you down and disabuse you of your opinion that what you want is indeed possible.
Plenty of people will have opinions about anything you want to do with your nursing career. Some will urge you to keep your horrible job because of the health insurance and stability, and others will convince you that starting a business in the current economy is financially suicidal. This is usually a result of their fear of doing such a courageous thing themselves, and they'll readily project their fear on you.
Stick with the voices of people you trust, not the people who are "shoulding" all over you. Those "shoulds" are what's going to get in your way; kick those folks out of the driver's seat. In fact, why not kick them off the bus entirely?
Trusted advisers will generally steer you in the right direction, but make sure you vet your advisers for limiting beliefs that will slow you down or take you off course; even the most trusted mentor can allow his or her own fears and projections to color their advice and support.
Nurses, take charge, empty the bus of the unhelpful voices, and seize the steering wheel now. This is your journey, my friends; make it your own and play full out.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.
Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AUSMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, American Nurse Today, NursingCE.com, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and their adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. (You can find George on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe.)