The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines agency as “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.” Isn’t personal agency and power what we all want in our nursing careers and personal lives?
On January 24th, 2017, I published a blog post entitled, “Nurses, Microscopes, and Telescopes.” In that post, I discussed the need to seize hold of our careers while maintaining a sense of both the macro and the micro aspects of our nursing career trajectory, even when others are attempting to impose their own will on our choices and direction. I wrote:
Some nurses appear to use a microscope when looking at their career options. If we take the microscope metaphor further, picture a glass slide being placed on the apparatus upon which the nurse has placed a solution containing her limited perception of what she can do with her career. What will she see? Only what she knows she is able to see.
On the other hand, picture the Hubble Telescope; it searches the known and unknown universe for what we already know is there, as well as what we don’t even yet know exists. Can we view our nursing careers with the same grand vision?
This search for meaning in our careers is existential, and also practical; we need to earn a living, find fulfillment, seek out opportunity and advancement, and feel good about what we do. I wrote further:
When we’re stuck in the micro, it’s as if we can only see what’s on the slide under the lens while we ignore the larger organism that we’re allegedly studying in minute detail. And when we focus solely on our grander visions and goals, we sometimes forget that the down and dirty work is often small and tedious, necessitating a sharpened ability to focus on the small steps that eventually lead to our overarching sense of accomplishment or success.
You see, that need to look at both the micro and the macro is informed by who we are, the choices we make, and the exogenous messages that impact how we feel and think about our nursing careers.
A potentially dynamic career such as nursing need not feel like a ball and chain, or simply a form of drudgery serving as a tedious means to a financial end. Many nurses give voice to their higher natures or their inner voices, at times expressed in a desire to be of service and contribute to society and the well-being of others. Some of us need help finding that place of satisfaction, especially since many work environments in the healthcare sector leave much to be desired on multiple levels.
You don’t need to be a clinical genius to be a happy nurse. If burying your nose in statistics and research is your idea of a good time, there are ways to make that the focus of your work as a non-clinical nurse researcher. Some nurses find their bliss in hospice, and others find it in educating and inspiring other nurses or nursing students. Still others carve out paths that are stunningly out of the box, devoid of the trappings of what we think a nurse “should” be; nurse entrepreneurs, nurse journalists, and nurse consultants are indeed still nurses, bringing the nursing process and critical thinking to the worlds of tech, small business, or even the corporate milieu.
Having said all of this, the pressures from outside can have the effect of stripping us of our personal agency, potentially robbing us of our ability to create the career we truly want. Those voices — both internal and external — can have a chilling effect on our career growth and personal mastery, not to mention our sense of true personal agency.
Here’s a final quote from that blog post:
Remember to keep your microscope and your telescope on hand throughout your nursing career; these are complementary tools that will serve you well as you travel the nursing path.
When you find yourself confronted by individuals or institutions who are attempting to strip you of your own personal vision in deference to theirs, recall that individual career agency is born of an ability to hold all aspects of your vision in focus, even when focus seems to be furthest from your grasp. Advice is fine, but if others’ advice feels like a “should” or an imposition of their will over yours, then you have some work to do in order to stand your ground and act according to your own desires and motivations.
Cultivate your individual personal agency in regard to your nursing career. Bear in mind both the macro and the micro, and create the career that brings you fulfillment, satisfaction, and a feeling of lifelong accomplishment.
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Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.
Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith was previously the resident nursing career expert at Nurse.com.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and has written for Nurse.org, Nurse.com, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online platforms.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur.