In the midst of my mid-life crisis and career transition, I have found myself at a crossroad or two. I struggled with my transition away from the hospital not only from the time that I chose to leave it, but from the moment I entered it. I knew from the beginning that my professional longings lay elsewhere, but once I entered the nursing profession I found that my passion for other avenues came with an overwhelming amount of stigma. “RN” stands for “Registered Nurse”. In eat-your-young terms, “RN” might also stand for “Real Nurse”. Per stigmatization, “Real Nurses” have a higher level degree and work in the hospital. Fall outside of that, and well… sorry not sorry.
I struggled with this. Struggled hard. Because I worked my booty off to get my nursing degree, worked my booty off for my first two years in the Pediatric ICU, and would continue to work my booty off in whatever role came next. Also, I’m competitive. I don’t appreciate being sought as “lesser”. But what was fulfilling to me and what was fulfilling to a, said, “Real Nurse” wasn’t exactly match.com. I loved my patients, and I loved my experience – don’t get me wrong. But I wasn’t being more of me. I was being more of them. Whoever ‘them’ is that is making up these unsaid rules. When I left the hospital my exit interview explanation was that who I was and what I did were not in alignment. Yes, working nights was excruciating. Yes, working in PICU was exhausting emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Yes, taking home hard cases ate me alive. But none of that directly correlated to my leaving. Because maybe, just maybe, if who I was and what I did fully aligned I would be able to work through those things. Maybe I wouldn’t, but maybe I would. I wanted so badly for that to be the case. But it wasn’t, and so I couldn’t. Only a handful of friends in the profession, if not less, genuinely understood.
And so I left. With no plan. I just walked out the door one day. And I want to say that it was a moment of unwavering clarity, the holy doors opened wide, and I found a deeper sense of myself immediately. A fairy tale ending. But truth be told I was in a very dark space when I left. I was weighed down by the stigmas accompanying my decision. I was only leaving one role in the profession, but some days it felt like I was leaving the entire profession. I no longer mattered. I was insignificant now. I was no longer a real nurse. These are the limiting beliefs I told myself. They’re the same limiting beliefs I told myself OTHERS would think, too. And so the days felt grim and I felt awfully confused. One night I found myself in pieces and knowingly unable to put them back together alone I called my family. Crying on “hello” the only words I could get out were, “I’m struggling really hard” followed by sheer slice-right-through-you silence. If you know me, you know just how pained and mutilated my inner self felt in order to have this conversation. I don’t call ANYONE EVER to cry and tell them I’m in a state of suffer. Even though I always advocate for others to. Contradicting, I’m sorry.
But my parents said something that night that I carry with me every single day. They said,
“Heather, we don’t care if you’re a PICU nurse. We don’t care if you’re an ICU nurse, a clinic nurse, or heck… we don’t even care if you’re a nurse at all. We love you because you are Heather, not because you are a nurse. All we want you to be is happy and healthy“.
A few small sentences. One short paragraph. Immense power. Category 5.
When we are young we are asked over and over (AND OVER) again, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” And the answers are something like: a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a preacher, a baker, an astronaut, a photographer, an engineer, a police man/woman, a professional athlete, etc. I’ve never once asked a 10 year old what they want to be when they grow up and received answers like: a loving wife/husband, a good friend, a genuine human being. For good reason, because if I met a 10 year old who said something this advanced I’d probably get freaked that maybe they’ve already done this life thing a time or two. But this makes me wonder about how often we as adults are then asked the question, “what do you do?”
Okay, so we have it all figured out now. We’re now the grown ups we wanted to become. We made it. This is who we are. We are doctors, nurses, teachers, preachers, bakers, engineers, astronauts, photographers, police men and women, professional athletes, and so much more. But maybe we’re looking at it all wrong. Maybe we’re being shallow. Career is important, no doubt about it. It sustains us financially and motivates us through life’s unrelenting curve. Because it consumes so much of us, we often use careers to help us internally process what kind of a person someone is. Different career paths require different personalities and perspectives, and so we utilize this as a form of insight. But what if we really answered the question.
WHAT DO YOU DO? WHAT MAKES YOU, YOU? Is it only your career? Are you a product of your work and your work only? I hope not. Reframe. What do you ENJOY doing?
For example, I would now say, “I am a school nurse”. And that translates to band-aids, ice packs, and an aggressive amount of winter vom. Okay, great. But what do I (enjoy) do(ing)? What makes me, ME?
I enjoy helping others, especially young others.
I enjoy loving others unconditionally.
I enjoy the uncertainty of weather.
I enjoy the inherent perplexity that comes with life and with death.
I enjoy meeting others where they are instead of where they ‘should be’.
I enjoy the way the sun rises and falls the same every day.
I enjoy having genuine, thoughtful, and sometimes really painful conversations that stem from a persistent “stomachache”.
I enjoy expanding my mind, and thinking critically.
I enjoy watching clouds float, tides change, and plants grow.
I enjoy asking, “why” and “how”. A little too much and a little too often, even.
I enjoy being challenged by both myself and others – to a healthy degree.
I enjoy being trusted and valued in the same respect that I enjoy trusting and valuing others.
I enjoy big, open-armed hugs and vulnerable conversations.
I enjoy transparency.
I enjoy being milk burped on by a bald headed baby, and purred on by a stray kitten.
I enjoy a clear balance of peace and serenity intertwined with hustle and bustle.
I enjoy eating the cake batter more than I enjoy eating the cake.
I enjoy strong handshakes and strong relationships.
I enjoy the firm roof above my head, the safe water out of my spout, and the everlasting freedom to be who I want.
I enjoy crisp air, dewy grass, and an unhealthy assortment of Target blankets.
And yes, oddly enough, I enjoy the puzzle that comes with cleaning and wrapping a wound in a difficult crevice.
I really, really love my career at the moment. And I am thankful for those that walked with me, and continue to walk with me, in the transition. It’s a path I couldn’t wander entirely alone. Dramatic. Honest. But if there is one thing I have learned thus far it is that you are not your job. You are not a product of your job and your job only. Even though society tells you to find your dream job, work relentless hours, and hustle hard to “make it”, please know you are you. And by being you, you have already made it. Do not let a job define you, allow it only to enhance you. Whatever that may look like to you. LinkedIn headlines aside, you are already so significant to this universe.
I’d love to know, what do you do?
Light & Love