Monday, March 22, 2021

The 10,000-Foot View of Your Nursing Career

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a career coaching client, and we were discussing how scary it can be to make a big change. In talking about the minutiae as well as the big picture, I encouraged her to always come back to the 10,000-foot view. "However," I said, "while the 10,000-foot view is a great thing to keep in mind, it can also give you vertigo."
Clouds, thousands of feet over Santa Fe, NM by Keith Carlson

The Details

When contemplating your career, there's a lot of detail to consider: your resume, cover letters, thank you letters, Linked In profile, interview skills, the employers you're interested in contacting, etc. These details can feel overwhelming, and you need to tackle them one at a time. Otherwise, the breadth of depth of your career to-do list can feel like too much of an uphill battle that even Sisyphus would consider avoiding.

For some, the details are a comfort. One day, you tackle the resume; the next day, you make sure your cover letter is flawless. And the rest of the week, you begin filling out the new job search spreadsheet that you created to track your applications. Don't have one? Better get started!

The Big Picture

Meanwhile, while we may or may not be enjoying our slog through the details, we also need to periodically take a step back and consider the big picture, which is often referred to as "the 10,000-foot view."

The big picture of our career and professional trajectory doesn't necessarily eschew things like resumes and job applications, but it considers the broader agenda, including short- and long-term considerations.

The wide view of Monument Valley, Arizona, by Keith Carlson

The 10,000-foot view examines where you've been over the arc of your career, where you currently are, and where you may want to go, no matter how circuitous or confusing the potential path (or paths) may appear at this point in time.

From this larger perspective, you don't just ponder how much you like or dislike your current job or area of nursing specialization. Rather, you examine:
  • Where you'd like to be in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, or beyond
  • Your level of satisfaction with your career so far
  • The overarching feeling of accomplishment that you've experienced
  • The things you still want to accomplish, no matter how seemingly far-fetched
  • Your career "exit strategy"
  • What you hope to gain from this career path over the years to come
  • And so much more
In your need to pay the bills, put the kids through college, pay off student loans, and get enough sleep, the 10,000-foot view may be more than you're willing to take on right now, and that's fine. However, bear in mind that it's always there waiting for you, even if you ignore it. The bigger perspective can't really be dismissed forever, even if you keep your eyes covered or your head under a rock. 

So, Where's Your Devil?

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "the Devil's in the details." Well, if you consider both the details mentioned above and the 10,000-foot view, where's your devil located? Are you overwhelmed by the day-to-day minutiae, preferring to daydream about the future? Or does the big picture scare you to death, with your fear keeping your head in the sand of the day-to-day?

Some people's Devil may definitely be in the details, but some people actually may find comfort in the task-orientation of those details. And since we're nurses, tasks and to-do lists can be our modus operandi and raison d'etre, thus details are a way for us to absolutely avoid the big picture! 

Meanwhile, the person who's "big picture-friendly" is happy to daydream about the future, making plans that won't come to fruition because he or she is unwilling to dig into the details, those things that need to happen on the ground in order for the potential plan for the future to move forward. This person's Devil is certainly in the details, and this individual will stay in daydream mode for as long as possible so that the details remain comfortably amorphous.

Don't Avoid the Big Picture

If you're a detail person, then the big picture may be easy for you to avoid. Those details can keep you busy, with your nose to the proverbial grindstone, and that tends to keep the big picture at bay.

Monument Valley, Arizona by Keith Carlson

However, when we focus only on what's at hand, we may lose sight of opportunities that might make themselves known if we were a little more open to the insights and intuitions that feed the 10,000-foot view.

Sure, the details are great, but if we continue to slog away at something we don't like to do---either out of habit, comfort, or some combination therein---we may very well be imprisoning ourselves in a career that's frozen in place, pigeonholing us into a professional identity or role that's not very fulfilling.

The 10,000-foot view can certainly give you vertigo. If you let your creative mind wander freely, it may deliver some ideas that are pretty scary. Your creative professional mind may come up with an entirely new career path, a need or desire to return to school, a brilliant business idea, or something entirely novel and altogether frightening. When you set your mind loose, there's no saying what can happen.

Then again, if you stay in your small, cozy nursing corner, your dreams and aspirations will remain dormant, and you may slide into professional ennui, boredom, lassitude, and maybe even burnout.

Free Your Mind

If I hadn't freed my mind, I would never have taken a chance and begun this blog back in 2005, when blogging was a new phenomenon that very few of us knew anything about. Without my creative side waking up and smelling the roses, I wouldn't be a freelance nurse writer, a professional nurse podcaster, a Board Certified Nurse Coach, or a public speaker at nursing conferences. Sure, I may have been happy staying in my small nursing corner, but I listened to the small voice inside of me, and that voice clamored more and more loudly for a wider breadth of action and exploration.

Not everyone wants to be a coach, writer, podcaster, or blogger, but many of us have aspirations to move beyond where we are. And to see the forest for the trees, we need to climb to the top of the tallest tree and take a look around.

So, nurses, free your mind, allow yourself to consider the 10,000-foot view, and enjoy the potential expansiveness that you experience, even if you have to tolerate some career vertigo along the way.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind

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,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog,, 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.

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