The notion of pivoting in your nursing career isn’t a new one, and that readiness to pivot can emerge from having a nimble mindset and a willingness to read the tea leaves of your career. Nurse, are you nimble?

Being nimble in your career means you’re willing to think beyond what’s right in front of you. It also means preparing and paving the groundwork for something you want – and if you don’t know what you want, you’re at least asking the right questions.

Many nurses settle into an area of nursing, rest on their laurels, and think less of the future than they should. These nurses don’t necessarily think a great deal about what they may want in five or ten years; thus, when they’re suddenly feeling unhappy and itchy for change, there’s much more work to be done due to the years they’ve spent avoiding any forward movement or thought for the future.

Listen to the voices that you hear. Pay attention to the ever-evolving zeitgeist of your industry. Know what other people think, and if you work in an evidence-based profession, follow the evidence when it pertains to you and your area of expertise.

The Consequences of Non-Action

In Buddhism, the concept of non-action is an important one. You know the adage, “Don’t just sit there, do something?” In certain circumstances, it’s sometimes better to turn that around and say, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” However, when it comes to your career and its ongoing trajectory, I prefer action, even if that action is listening, thinking, and asking salient questions.

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Let’s say you’re a nurse like me who worked in home health for the first decade of your career. You’ve never worked in the hospital, and while you love home health, you’ve been feeling called to finally take the plunge and enter the world of acute care. This may be a tough row since you’ve been in outpatient nursing for your entire career, but there’s no saying it’s impossible.

During these past ten years, when you’ve been focusing exclusively on home health, you haven’t done any networking, your resume is a mess, and you have few contacts beyond your small universe of home care colleagues. All along, you’ve never considered that any of the hospital staff you’ve met could be helpful to your career, so you haven’t connected with anyone on LinkedIn, built relationships, or otherwise laid the groundwork for the future.

In your mind, you’d like to jump right into the ICU, but common sense says that without any hospital experience since nursing school, you’re going to have to pay some dues, prove your mettle, and begin with a position in med-surg, step-down, or a sub-acute floor. Sure, you’d love to land an ICU position, but you don’t have the nursing skills or the connections to get you there. Your road will be challenging, but it’s not impossible – it’ll just take time and diligent action.

Reading the Inner Landscape

Being nimble of mind means being open to possibility. It also means that, in terms of your career, you’re steeped in curiosity and expansiveness rather than wearing blinders.

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As a nurse who is nimble of mind and quick to grasp the opportunity, you read your immediate surroundings, the healthcare landscape around you, and the landscape within your heart and mind.

If there’s an inkling in your head or heart that what you’re doing now won’t hold water for you in a few years, now is the time to take inspired action in a new direction. That inspired action can simply be chatting with a nurse or manager who you know and trust, reaching out to a career coach for inspiration or ideas, or seeking informational interviews with professionals who are holders of information that may be helpful to you.

If you maintain awareness of how you feel about your career and work life, you’re more likely to take preemptive action that will incite change rather than being reactive when the going gets tough.

Remain Awake and Aware

We can all get sleepy and lazy at specific points in our lives. We feel comfortable, settle into the status quo, and conveniently forget or ignore that we may want something more down the road.

You must remain awake and aware of the possibility, understanding that every colleague you meet could be a source of brilliant information that will wake you up to something new. If you’re feeling complacent in your career, there’s no time like the present to do something about it and take a forward step.

As professionals, there’s always the micro and the macro. The micro is the minutiae of the day-to-day, the details of our lives and work. Meanwhile, the macro is the bigger picture, the bird’s eye view, and this is where we need to keep at least a little attention. Getting caught up in the web of details is easy, but those details can close your eyes to the broader career horizon.

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Being nimble and quick doesn’t necessarily mean turning on a dime or being blown in some new direction with every wind that comes your way. Being nimble and quick means that you’re listening, willing to change, and quick to perceive that change may be in the air.

Is your workplace unstable? Do you need to be happier in your role? Do you feel limited or stuck? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do as a nurse? Is your current specialty area drying up and being supplanted by new technologies or skills?

I’m glad these questions make you uncomfortable because a bit of discomfort will galvanize you toward change if change is what is called for.

Nurse be nimble, nurse be quick. Nurse, consider your future, and keep your eyes wide open.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.

Keith Carlson
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