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I've worked with hundreds of nurse clients over the last decade, and I've seen everything from utter defeatism to those whose optimism and drive are quite something to behold despite tough odds, personal struggles, and a highly competitive job market.
It's crucial to acknowledge that many people face untold challenges in their personal lives that absolutely color the ways in which they do or don't face the job market and the growth of their nursing career. I've engaged in coaching with clients who struggle with mental illness; those overcoming grief and tragic loss; individuals with disabled spouses or children; and still others who shoulder personal or familial burdens that might break the spirit of others less determined and spiritually hearty.
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Most of us need to work in order to put food on the table; and whether we're living through a pandemic like COVID-19 or times of social unrest like the growing Black Lives Matter movement in response to police brutality, the need to feed, clothe, and support our families doesn't change.
Thus, despite personal circumstances, vicissitudes at home, and the often difficult zeitgeist of the world around us, when you need to find work or move your career to the next level, you need a mindset that will propel you forward rather than hold you back. This is where the hard work often lies.
Digging Deep in Order to Move On
The things that can stand in the way of your career are countless, and your approach to those potential road blocks or speed bumps is as individual as you and your idiosyncratic circumstances.
Studies have explored the connection between nurses' codependency and history of being born into dysfunctional families, as well as the patriarchal healthcare system's fostering of codependency in nurses. Caffrey and Caffrey wrote:
Can nurses practice caring within a healthcare system that promotes codependency? Caring promotes mutual empowerment of all participants while codependent caring disempowers. Nurses are expected to practice caring with clients, The authors contend, however, that nursing, as historically and currently practiced within bureaucratic/patriarchal organizations, is founded on a value system that fosters codependency. Until nursing is practiced within the context of caring organizations and a caring healthcare system, nurses will continue to be powerless to shape their own practice and careers, and burnout will continue to be a problem.
Meanwhile, Biering's conclusions offered hope:
A hermeneutic phenomenological study was conducted to explore how eight professionally competent nurses experienced and evaluated the relation between their childhood adaptation to dysfunctional families and their nursing careers. From the participants' discussion of this topic, the following themes emerged: escaping difficulties by becoming a nurse, coping roles guide nursing career, sensitivity to the untold, transforming dysfunctional responses, and wounded healers. The study did not support the view that children of alcoholics seek careers in nursing to meet their codependent needs for self-esteem, control, or belonging. Instead, its findings indicate that some children of alcoholics become competent nurses by finding positive application for the coping skills they learn in their families. This indicates that, when working with individuals from dysfunctional families, nurses could support them to create new avenues for their coping skills instead of trying to "exterminate" them because of their "codependent" nature.
When clients come to me with personal issues clearly beyond my skillset and the scope of coaching practice, I urge those individuals to seek out an appropriate psychotherapist or counselor with whom they can dig deep into the realms of the psychospiritual and psychoemotional. When such a client engages in the highly valuable work of therapy in tandem with goal-related coaching strategies and support, so much can be accomplished.
Some nurses come to me having been bullied, burned out, mistreated, laid off, fired, downsized, injured, or otherwise spurned. Nurses can suffer innumerable slings and arrows in the workplace, and the roles of burnout and compassion fatigue cannot be overestimated.
If you find that you're coming from a place of fear, anger, or depression that cloud rational thought and action, those must be overcome to be truly proactive and make good career choices. That deep soul work can move the needle and help you bring your whole self to the table.
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An Attitudinal Approach
When an attitudinal adjustment is made, facing the tasks of updating a resume, writing a cover letter, and prepping for a job interview can seem less daunting. And when self-esteem and self-confidence are bolstered and you feel ready to proudly paint a picture of who you are and why your skills, experience, and expertise matter, you can more readily tackle these tasks more boldly.
Of course, feeling like you're simply the best and that the world owes you something isn't the right tactic. The magic comes from a balance of self-confidence laced with humility. There's no place for excess hubris; rather, a realistic sense of personal pride and purpose will serve you well.
We nurses can easily fall into what I call Nurse Martyr Syndrome or Self-Limiting Nurse Syndrome, and we can avoid these pitfalls by mitigating our sense of victimhood, worthlessness, and lack of confidence with a conscious strategy of attitudinal self-discipline and empowerment.
If you fall into the trap of victimhood, self-limiting beliefs, and martyrdom, you can push back in many ways, including but not limited to:
- Buttressing your professional confidence through coaching
- Addressing the root of your deeper issues through skilled counseling or psychotherapy
- Developing a stronger sense of personal boundaries by nurturing the ability to say no to overwork, bullying, mistreatment, poor workplace conditions, etc
- Owning your worth by unapologetically acknowledging your strengths, gifts, expertise, and experience by learning the art of the humble brag and being able to clearly verbalize your value proposition
Feel Your Worth and Personal Agency
Being able to deeply feel and clearly verbalize your value is a skill that, once learned, is crucial to your success. Knowing that you're worthy is something that may necessitate overcoming a lifetime of messages that have told you otherwise.
As Biering offered in the aforementioned quote, some nurses can transform their history of family dysfunction into a strength for helping others without codependence; and Caffrey and Caffrey concluded that a caring organization and healthcare system can foster healthy nurses.
You can make it your mission to find an organization where professional growth is fostered and your needs are met. You can become more assertive, make your needs known, and vote with your feet if an employer doesn't measure up. And if circumstances warrant, you can follow in the footsteps of other nurses by becoming an entrepreneur or consultant and removing yourself from the traditional workplace in order to have more control over your life and career.
One of the most important lessons to internalize is that the development of a sense of assertive personal agency is key. This means knowing who you are, recognizing where you've come from, finding as much clarity as you can about where you'd like to go, and then asking for what you need in order to get there.
As a nurse, owning your worth and having the strength to stand up for your needs and beliefs is central to a sense of professional and personal satisfaction. It's not always easy, but this journey of personal and professional development can add great meaning to your life when you meet the challenge head-on and hold steady to a vision of your ultimate contentment and success.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com.
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, NursingCE.com, American Nurse Today, 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 adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. You can follow George the Cat on Instagram using the hashtag, #georgethecatsantafe.