Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nursing and Happiness Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Many recent clients who have come to me for coaching are curious how to actually get what they want. Sometimes it seems we nurses are simply convinced that we need to work too hard for too many hours without being happy. This seems like a given in the profession, and some nurses see no way to create satisfaction and balance in their personal and professional lives. So is it possible to be happy as a nurse?

I've been a nurse since 1996, and I've been relatively happy for most of my career. I say that I've been "relatively" happy because I experienced burnout approximately 10 years into my career, and that turning point was the moment where I was no longer willing to sacrifice my happiness and well-being for the sake of my "noble" profession.

The Myths That Haunt Us

There are many myths that haunt the nursing profession, and these include the myth of the angelic saint, the myth of the sexy nurse (portrayed at many a Hallowe'en costume party), and most powerful of all--the myth of the Nurse Martyr (or Wounded Healer).

The Nurse Martyr is the nurse who never takes a break, gives her "all" to the point of pathology, and otherwise crucifies herself or himself on the unforgiving altar of caring for others.

The Nurse Martyr may actually receive secondary gain from her sacrifices, enjoying the praise of friends, patients, family members and colleagues who laud the nurse's apparent "selflessness" and "saintliness". Who doesn't enjoy being the recipient of unqualified adulation?

However, martyrdom has its costs, and at a certain point, the Nurse Martyr may wake up one morning filled with resentment rather than a burning desire to save the world. That resentment may actually be the wake up call that things need to change, and a nurse in pursuit of health and balance will realize that his or her own happiness is actually as important as that of anyone else. And if one can rise above the myth, breaking out of the false archetype of the martyr, then happiness may be possible.

The Soul and Self-Compassion

When the nurse can accept that his or her health and happiness is important (and that being healthy and happy will, in reality, improve the quality of his or her professional life), then care of the Self becomes a central theme, even as that nurse continues to provide the best care possible for patients and clients.

Nurturing of the nurse's soul and true self-compassion are an inside job,  and while focusing one's attention on the self may be a challenge at times, the prudent nurse in pursuit of personal healing and life satisfaction (in and out of work) will realize that this is one of the keys to creating a balanced life.

Nurse + Self Care = Happiness

Does the equation in the preceding line seem far too simplistic? Perhaps it is, but there's a simplicity in learning to care for yourself.

I sincerely feel that--for nurses as much as anyone else--a focus on the self and on one's own happiness, health and satisfaction (what you might call a "healthy selfishness"), is one of the keys to personal well-being and overall balance.

Tending to One's Own Garden

Many of the nurses I speak with are overworked, underpaid, unhappy, under stress, out of balance or otherwise stretched in their lives in myriad ways. These nurses are parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and partners. They have multiple demands being made on their time, and they have a multitude of responsibilities which they tend to with amazing grace and aplomb.

However, nurses need to tend to their own garden as much as that of others, and their own health and happiness must be central in their mind. Be it yoga, gardening, writing, eating well, exercise or time with friends and loved ones, the nurse in pursuit of health and happiness will pay as much attention to her needs as that of the patient in the ICU bed on a vent (though not at the same time, of course!)

Nursing and happiness are honestly not mutually exclusive, and I know more and more nurses who are realizing that their career of choice simply can't be allowed to take over their life, and that they are deserving of a life that is satisfying on all levels.

Life isn't easy, and it's often a bumpy ride, but it's also possible to manifest a lifestyle and a workstyle that welcome the best of all worlds.

Tend to your own garden, nurses, and then reap the rewards of caring for yourself as you care for others. It's one of the greatest choices you will ever make.

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