Monday, June 04, 2018

Nurses, the Best Selfie is Internal

At a time in history when "selfies" are dominant in the depiction of our lives (and the potential measurement of our worth), the most important selfie for a nurse to take is on the inside, not the outside.

Selfies are part of our 21st-century culture, and there's no denying their popularity. In essence, it's our way of presenting a self-portrait to the world just like Van Gogh or Rembrandt would, except we can  effortlessly make dozens per day that can potentially be seen by hundreds or thousands of people. 

We have the habit of posting photos of ourselves having dinner with friends, walking on the beach with our dog, or relaxing on the hammock with a book and a glass of wine. In terms of our personal development and how we see ourselves as nurses and human beings, what if we shifted to taking "selfies" of what's going on inside of us? Rather than focusing on the outward appearances of our lives and careers, what if we delved more deeply into our motivations, fears, and joys? What if that which made us tick -- rather than the brightness of our smile or our curated life -- became the measure of our lives as nurses, human beings, and citizens?

more than just selfies
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Inner Selfie

An inner selfie is the way in which we process our internal experience and learn from aspects of our personal and professional lives. Just as you might not post a selfie that shows you crying and sad (although some people choose to do so), your inner selfies don't need to be shared with the entire world. You can be selective about what you do with this exploration of your inner life, some of which may remain completely private.

In this ultra-busy world where information overload is common, we can feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up with the people and organizations we follow online. Meanwhile, we can also feel overwhelmed by the prospect of curating our lives in a way that puts our best face forward on social media and how to walk the tightrope between our privacy and our chosen level of transparency online.

Enter the inner selfie, a means by which we can check in with ourselves, take a long, hard look at our lives, and make decisions based on what we see and feel in the midst of that process. An inner selfie may look like this:
  • A series of selfies that you take with your phone, no matter how you're feeling. Whether sad, crying, elated, or anxious, these selfies can be an entirely private way of mapping your emotions. This can be paired with journaling if it might be helpful.
  • Your inner selfies may be entirely based on the written word. Writing privately or publicly about your life as a nurse may reveal some deeper work you may want to do on yourself. Sometimes a journal is all you need to dig into the various truths that underlie your life.
  • If you're fairly transparent on social media (eg.: Instagram, SnapChat, or Facebook, for instance), you might post a series of photos or videos with captions that explain what's going on for you emotionally. I've seen this type of open sharing result in followers feeling like they've been given permission to also share their grief, anger, or other challenging emotions. This can be very healing for everyone, but it's only for those of us who feel comfortable wearing our heart on our digital sleeve, so to speak.
  • I've also seen certain public figures do snaps, Instagram Live or Facebook Live broadcasts that share very personal stories with those who choose to tune in. Sometimes, there's comfort in knowing that a highly personal Instagram story or snap will disappear rather than remaining in your feed permanently.
  • Several nurses have chosen to start blogs that tell the story of their work lives in gory details. Others have written books that do the same. Do you have a book inside of you? 

Andy Warhol self-portrait

Just as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Frida Kahlo used their self-portraits as a means of expressing their deepest innermost feelings, struggles, and challenges, you can also do the same in whatever form feels right for you.

Van Gogh self-portrait

Inner Exploration

Carl Jung was one of the true miners of the human psyche -- he encouraged his patients, readers, and the world to dive deep into the things that made them tick. Our most sacredly held motivations, desires, grief, and joys can be bound up with what we have and haven't accomplished or expressed in our lifetime, as well as with the circumstances that have directed the course of our lives.

The Mind Unleashed reflects on Carl Jung's influence in this way:
Lying behind much of the way we talk about the inner life today is the work of the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung. He revolutionized how we discuss dreams and archetypes and gave us our words “introvert,” “extravert” and “synchronicity.” However, what made him a true psychological pioneer was that he looked inside himself in a way that is still unique today. 
Tending to the unconscious, to dreams and to the inner voice are the acts that define Jungian psychology, but it’s not just the act that’s definitive, it’s the attitude. Jungian psychology recognizes that we’re more than just our ego and that there is more to the psyche than just the conscious mind. With this in mind, engagement with the inner voice is pursued not as a form of inner housekeeping, but rather in the humble service of the development of a relationship with an intelligence present within us but greater than our own. Committing to that service means relating more deeply to our inner nature; its only end-goal is the whole-bodied, whole-hearted, full blossoming of who we really are. 
I love this quote, however I disagree slightly in that I believe inner exploration is indeed a wonderful form of inner housekeeping. What types of inner exploration have you taken part in? Have you journaled, engaged the services of a psychotherapist or counselor, or written a book about your life or career? Are religion, spirituality, yoga, or Tai Chi the doors that open your inner world? Do you record your dreams, share openly on social media, or paint self-portraits? Have you used certain types of substances (e.g.: psilocybin, marijuana, ayahuasca, etc) to seek a deeper vision of your inner life?

The fact is that you have an interior world and what you do with it is entirely your decision. Oftentimes, a crossroads or life milestone can spur a period of introspection. The ending of various decades of life (the 20s, 30s, 40s, etc) can be the spark that lights the fire of inner exploration, as can a sense that you and your life have radically changed due to marriage or divorce, a baby's birth, retirement, graduation, or other momentous events. These moments can be powerful fodder for a plunge into your innermost psyche and experience.

A Word of Caution

In the course of exploring ourselves, we can feel compelled to share our experiences with others. In this digital life, we have to be mindful of what we post online -- even if something only lasts 24 hours and then disappears, we always have to bear in mind that anything posted online probably still lives somewhere -- you can never truly delete something from the Internet.

When contributing to the global online conversation, consider how comfortable you are with anyone in the world seeing your video, blog post, story, etc. If you feel fine about it, then go for it. If you have trepidations, consider the best course to take for your own comfort and privacy.

Setting an Example

Members of the public often look to highly trusted individuals or groups for examples of living well. Since nurses are the most trusted professionals in the United States (according to the Gallup Poll), we can influence our patients and others by dint of our own lifestyle and workstyle.

Some nursing and medical bloggers use the power of their digital platforms to implore readers to engage in particular behaviors, whether it be natural childbirth and breastfeeding, eating a plant-based diet, or staying fit. As a healthcare provider, you can serve as a trusted voice for those who need such support and encouragement, and in this process, your own personal journey may provide profound lessons for both you and your readers/viewers.

Jamie Katuna, a medical student who is also a spoken word performer, uses her platform to communicate her vision of what medicine can actually be.

Theresa Brown, one of the most famous nurse authors in the world, has shared many of her nursing stories on the New York Times Wellness Blog and her various books, including "Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between".

It's All About You

In the end, it's all about you. Your exploration of your own motivations, desires, passions, loathings, and fears is a personal journey that can be shared with an audience of one (yourself), an audience of millions, or a private group of followers or friends.

Over the course of your life and nursing career, many lessons worthy of a closer look will arise. You may come face to face with the demons of your childhood, experience epiphanies about your thoughts on nursing and healthcare, or learn some very unexpectedly profound life lessons.

What you do with your lessons and epiphanies is up to you. Whether your memoir makes the New York Times Bestseller List or sits in a private folder on your laptop for your eyes only, the experience of writing it remains yours. The act of writing, performing, or thinking deeply about your life can be just as therapeutic as sharing it with others.

I cajole you to be open to your inner landscape and how you might choose to process what you see, think, and feel. Use your feeling nature and your intellect to express what's inside of you, no matter who will or will not see it.

There are all sorts of selfies, and taking an internal selfie can be incredibly revealing and eye-opening. What's happening for you on the inside? What's going on that's just below the surface? How is your personal life impacting your nursing career, and vice versa?

In his transformational seminal book, "Leaves of Grass", Walt Whitman famously said, "I am large, I contain multitudes." What multitudes are within you? What aspect of your largeness is waiting to be expressed? Embrace your multitudinous experience and open to what's inside of you -- there's much growth to be had, and a plethora of stories to tell.


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

As of May of 2018, Keith is the host of Mastering Nursing, an interview-style podcast showcasing inspiring, forward-thinking nurse thought leaders and innovators. 

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, 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 lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George.

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