Monday, September 17, 2018

Nurse, Throw Your Hat Over the Wall

In your nursing career, have you ever wanted to get something done but never had the gumption to make the commitment and just do it? Well, there's an old Irish proverb that says, "When you come upon a wall, throw your hat over it and then go and get your hat."

In the context of your nursing career, I like to think of this saying in terms of you putting some skin in the game and making a commitment to do what needs to be done, no matter what obstacles may appear to be in your way. What are you avoiding? What are you waiting for? Is there a deep end you just need to dive into?

throw your hat in the air

The Deep End

Many of us have a history of playing it safe in our lives in one way or another. Maybe you went to college right out of high school because it was what you were expected to do, even though it went against every fiber of your being to do so. (This is my story, for sure.) Or maybe you're too scared to pursue a nursing certification because you can't make up your mind whether it's a good idea or not.

the deep end of the pool

As a child, I hope you weren't aggressively thrown into the deep end by your father so that you could have the chance to either sink or swim -- that's generally a cruel thing to do to an innocent and frightened kid. However, now you're an adult with a very grown up career in nursing, many responsibilities, and important decisions to make at every juncture of your professional and personal lives. Avoidance won't cut it in the long run, so is there a proverbial deep end you need to dive into?

Your deep end may be graduate school (also my story!), a certification, starting your own business (this used to be my story), applying for a promotion, or asking for a raise. You may be scared to death of having your first patient on a vent, or maybe it's your first shift as charge nurse and you feel like a total impostor and phony. Whatever it may be, sometimes the best recourse is to take a deep breath, plug your nose, and jump.

Throw Your Hat

Let's say you have some interest in computers and software, but you know there's a lot more to learn. You're afraid to be seen as incompetent or not tech-savvy enough, especially because you're a Millennial who's not as comfortable with tech as some of your generational peers who can seemingly navigate any tech issue without a trace of stress.

To continue the story, let's also say that your nurse manager asks for volunteers for a program to create a small army of EMR super-users in your facility. Your first thought is that you'll be found to be an impostor and that you should avoid that program at all costs. On the other hand, you realize that you could simply raise your hand and volunteer before your better judgment kicks in -- this is a prime example of throwing your hat over the wall and then going after your hat.

Several months ago, I was contacted by a very large law firm here in New Mexico who wanted to hire me to present a workshop for lawyers on the savvy used of LinkedIn. Now, I know absolutely nothing about the world of attorneys, but I knew that this gig could open some interesting doors. Despite my misgivings and fear, I just said yes when they asked if I could deliver what they were asking for. I had to work very hard to educate myself about what lawyers need to know about LinkedIn -- it was a learning curve that took me out of my comfort zone, but I'm glad I did it, and I can now chalk that one up to experience.

My friend and colleague Donna Cardillo, one of the most successful nurse entrepreneurs in the world, has told many stories about the ways in which she has thrown her hat over the wall on numerous occasions. Donna's modus operandi is just say yes and ask questions later, including figuring out how to do what she already said she was fully capable of -- scary, isn't it?

For you, simply going to nursing school may have been a matter of throwing your hat over the wall and then chasing it. Perhaps you never felt qualified to be a nurse and you figured they just made a mistake when accepting you. Your fear may have held you back from taking initiative for a very long time. In fact, your fear may still be holding you back in this very moment.

How many times in our lives do we just decide to do something despite our fear and perceived limitations? How often do we hide our light under a bushel and stay in the shadows? In your nursing career, I can guarantee that nothing very exciting will happen when you do this. The nurses who do cool things are doing so because they took risks -- where can you take a risk right now, personally or professionally?

Hiding Your Light

When your light is bright, you're visible, approachable, and owning who you are and what you're all about. When your light is hidden away, people can't see who you truly are, and your talents and skills are remain obscure and in the shadows.

Don't hide your light
Photo by Julia Florczak on Unsplash
In your nursing career, the last thing you need is to make yourself invisible. You may feel the need to do so, but in the big picture, you want to be seen, heard, valued, and understood -- this takes a willingness to demonstrate your passions, your strengths, and your failings and foibles.

Being vulnerable certainly opens you up to criticism, but staying small doesn't necessarily serve your goals and what you're wanting out of your career. Do the people who keep themselves small get recommended for a promotion? Are people who hide their light away seen as natural leaders? Is the person sitting in the corner not voicing their opinion going to be asked for their thoughts? In all of these scenarios, the answer is by and large no -- those who hide away will stay hidden until they step out of the shadows and own who they are.

Playing Full On

At this point, I want you to ask yourself some questions:
  • Is there is a wall I failed to throw my hat over? 
  • Have I shrunk from an opportunity and played it safe when I could have taken a risk? 
  • Where in my nursing career do I keep my light hidden away? 
  • Am I not allowing certain aspects of my professional self to be seen? 
  • Where and how do I need to step out of the shadows? 
Depending on your answers, you may have some major personal work to do in terms of your self-confidence as a professional, or maybe you've realized that you already play full on in your career and you're going for it in a really big way.

Here's something to do:
  • Decide where you are in terms of owning and maturing into your professionalism and expertise
  • Choose an area where you've been keeping your light hidden and haven't been challenging yourself 
  • Create a conscious plan to bring more of that hidden part of yourself into the light of day
  • Find a friend, colleague, or family member who can act as your accountability buddy regarding your goal(s)
  • Check in on a regular basis about how you're doing
Playing full on is a choice and it doesn't necessarily happen overnight, especially if you've been keeping things hidden away in the shadows. Be patient, kind, and compassionate with yourself. Set goals that are measurable, realistic, relevant, and time-dependent. Assess your progress regularly. Rinse and repeat.

When you throw your hat over the wall, you're taking a calculated risk. Take the risks that make sense for you, your career, and the life you want to lead. You'll know when you're on the mark and stepping up to the plate in profound and important ways.


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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