Monday, September 05, 2022

Be Yourself, Nurses; Everyone Else is Taken

Owning and stepping into your own genius as a nurse is important; and genius is, of course, relative for all nurses. At times, we can lose heart and feel that we just can't become the person or professional we thought we could be; however, seeking our own individual path is paramount when it comes to creating a career that feels tailor-made just for us, and not just a path someone else said was the best one to follow. 

Whether you feel like an impostor or your career has grown stale, there's nothing you can be other than yourself; and if you're trying terribly hard to be just like someone else (or do what others tell you is right), you may end up missing the mark altogether.

Oscar Wilde Had It Right

When Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken," he wasn't kidding. If you haven't read any Wilde since high school, you might want to revisit his work or find one of the many movies or books about his life. Failing that, simply taking this excellent advice to heart will be enough to potentially imbue your life and nursing career with a more solid sense of self à la Wilde. (On another note, when on his death bed, Wilde reportedly said, "This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the end. Either it goes or I do.")

Emulate, But Don't Ruminate

Many of us have mentors or people who we look up to; a role model is a wonderful person to have in your life, but when we fall into negative rumination about our own shortcomings in comparison to our role models, we can get into trouble.

Comparing ourselves to others is a double-edged sword; the comparison can sometimes galvanize us into inspired action and forward movement, but if we instead fall into despair via self- comparison with our heroes, we can devolve into rumination, self-doubt, and a cessation of progress in the right direction.

We can emulate others whom we admire, and we can even attempt to duplicate the steps that they took in order to achieve success. However, we must watch for the trap of comparing ourselves from a negative viewpoint, which may cause us to deflate in response to the steep climb ahead, believing that our role model is luckier, smarter, more attractive, or just plain old better than we are. If you're in that kind of headspace right now, there's no better time to stop that line of thinking immediately!

It's All Relative

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the relativity of genius, and how we all have our own areas of strength and expertise, and none is better than the other. In a companion podcast episode, I spoke about owning your genius, internalizing your own value and worth, and creating a personal brand that's emboldened by that which makes you unique.

Previously, I've written about being bold and assertive, as well as identifying if you're a true nurse polymath. Nursing can sometimes feel like it's made up of silos that are unequal in value (e.g. school nurse vs ICU nurse); we have to push back against the notion that a nurse who cares for the critically ill has more relative value than a nurse who monitors students' medical conditions closely enough so that they can participate fully in their education; it's the old apples and oranges conundrum.

If we can accept our own worth and value, we can begin to believe that our own unique career path has merit.

The Iconoclast Nurse

An iconoclast can be defined as a person who goes against the grain, rebels against convention, or otherwise subverts the dominant paradigm in the interest of marching to his or her own drummer. Picasso was assuredly an iconoclast, and there are plenty more to choose from in the arts, sciences, and other disciplines.

When I graduated from nursing school in 1996, I announced to my classmates and professors that I was not going to pursue a med/surg position; rather, I was choosing to sink my teeth into nursing at an inner city community health center providing comprehensive care to underserved populations. I was told that not seeking an entry-level nursing position in the hospital was professional suicide, and that my career would be doomed from the start. Needless to say, I rejected all such opinions, took the position in the health center, and created a career trajectory that was completely removed from acute care and the world of hospitals. That was an iconoclastic career move, and I've never looked back during the last two decades.

Making The Choice

You may have a very distinctive and out-of-the-box vision for your nursing career; whether you're just out of school, or you're preparing for a mid-career shift or retirement, you may indeed make a choice that throws your colleagues for a loop and makes them question your sanity.

Oscar Wilde would have a field day convincing you about your worth and the value of being yourself; sadly, he's not around, so unless you want to get out the Ouija Board, you might as well just take his advice to heart and cajole yourself to follow your bliss without Mr. Wilde to read you the riot act. 

Nurse entrepreneurs can feel like they're out on a limb starting businesses when their friends are in the ICU or ER. New nurses can feel deep self-doubt when they choose to not take the tried and true route of med/surg (even when there are no med/surg jobs to be had). And a mid-career nurse ready for a major change may also receive feedback that she's throwing it all away for a pipe dream when she should just be staying where she is instead.

Iconoclasts and those of us who write our own career scripts must develop thick skins, powerful bullshit detectors, and the ability to forge ahead based on our own innate wisdom and inner compass. Sure, we may sometimes fall on our faces or fail miserably, but staying in a silo just because everyone else says you should isn't necessarily the life many of us want to lead.

Making a choice to change lanes or abandon the road altogether isn't easy, and you'll suffer some slings and arrows for doing so. But you know, Oscar Wilde and Pablo Picasso did it, and so can you. So be yourself, nurses; everyone else is indeed taken.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at

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. written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University,, 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. 

Living in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Keith shares a magical life with his partner, Shada McKenzie, a gifted, empathic, and highly skilled traditional astrologer and reader of the tarot. 

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