On episode 72 of The Nurse Keith Show, I discussed how your nursing career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to go about it in your own idiosyncratic way and at your own pace. Now, here on episode 250, I discuss this matter further, especially in terms of how the most unassuming and unexpected peopled actually finish marathons, often many, many hours after the others have moved on to celebrate their completion of those sometimes grueling 26.2 miles.
Tuning into the news coverage of the recent 2019 New York Marathon, I heard stories of participants who didn’t finish those 26.2 miles in the few hours it takes the fastest runners who lead the pack; in fact, some of the people participating took 10 or more hours to finish. In 2018, a young woman who fell off of a cliff in Thailand trying to escape a would-be rapist completed the race on crutches in 11 hours despite her long recovery from a spinal fracture sustained in the fall.
Whether finishing a marathon on crutches, with a hand-cycle or in a wheelchair, those who don’t bother themselves about how long it will take them to complete the course in comparison to fully-abled marathoners are a testament to the grit and determination of the human spirit in action. It’s also a reminder to us that anything in our lives worth doing can take as long as we need it to, no matter what others do, think, or say.
I’ve heard from nurses in their late 20s who have Master’s degrees and many accomplishments under their belts, but they still feel they’ve fallen behind their peers who finished college earlier in their 20s. These young nurses think they’re “too old” to be completely successful in life and career. I’ve also spoken with middle-aged women entering the profession in their 40s or 50s who talk about how they’ll never measure up. Others push themselves through multiple degree programs and certifications too quickly and actually miss out on the joys of learning since they’re just focused on accumulating pieces of paper that tell the world what they’ve accomplished.
If you truly want to be happy in your nursing career, there’s no timeline to adhere to. I only had a high school diploma until I graduated from my ADN program in 1996 at the age of 32. I see nurses become APRNs in the 50s and 60s, and I’ve spoken with young women who’ve finished their NP programs before they hit 30. Is one journey somehow better than the others? Of course not, but we humans are bound to think that others are doing it better and faster than we are.
Sprinting through your nursing career can prevent you from stopping just long enough to smell the roses; it can also blind you to opportunities that you may otherwise have noticed had you taken the time to be aware of your surroundings and slow down.
For those of us who live with mental illness, a history of trauma, or physical disabilities, the simple act of completing a nursing program or certification is a major accomplishment that should be celebrated, not questioned in terms of how long it took us to get to the finish line. In a world where faster and younger are almost always seen as somehow better, we have a job to do, and that’s giving ourselves a break, cutting ourselves some slack, and doing what we want on our very own personal timeline, free of comparison to others. We need to remember that comparing ourselves to others often leads to despair, and we all need a lot less despair in our lives — despair is debilitating and totally unnecessary, especially if it’s born from us wishing we could be as good as everyone else appears to be.
So, how do you slow down and go at your own pace in your nursing career?
- Get another degree when and if you feel it’s best for you
- Pursue a certification or special course of study on your own timeline
- Understand that your journey is idiosyncratic because it’s supposed to be; as Oscar Wilde once famously said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken“.
- Understand that your life experiences, history, personal makeup, health, and general disposition will to some extent determine how you advance through life and career; some people take more circuitous paths, and that’s really OK.
- Give yourself a break from comparison to others’ expectations, including the so-called “experts”; those experts don’t know you and your story.