When Socrates famously said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom,” and that the unexamined life is not worth living, he certainly wasn’t thinking about the 21st-century nursing professional. Still, these Socratic axioms’ universality applies to anyone who breathes air.

Amid our busy and complicated lives, knowing ourselves can seem like the last thing we want to add to our already crowded to-do lists. However, we need to know ourselves and understand what makes us tick to make the best choices to move our lives in the optimal direction.

Your nursing career may currently feel like it’s on the right track, but when life throws curveballs, and we need to pivot or make adjustments, having the most significant possible level of self-understanding is a means to approach those moments with grace and self-assurance.

Take a Deeper Look

There are many paths to deeper self-knowledge. Some will pursue psychotherapy or counseling, some will attend personal growth workshops, and others will read self-help books, learn to meditate, study T’ai Chi, or join a church or spiritual community. Life coaches, career coaches, and other professionals with specific skill sets can also offer unique tools that could move the needle for you. There’s no right or wrong path to self-knowledge, and your chosen combination of preferred strategies will be unique.

When examining your life in the context of your nursing career, it’s not just your job that tells you something about yourself — it goes much deeper than that. In considering the current state of your nursing career, increased self-knowledge could be a central key to understanding what you want out of life, where you’re headed in your professional journey, and what you might need to do to move things toward your next career and life chapter.

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If you want to get the self-examination ball rolling, consider these questions:

  • Why does my current job work or not work for me?
  • What choices did I make to get me to where I am now?
  • Have I made any mistakes or miscalculations that have thrown me off course?
  • What, if anything, would I have done differently if I could go back and try again?
  • Is the work I’m doing now aligned with my values or philosophy?
  • How do I see myself as a nurse and healthcare professional?
  • Have I become the nurse I envisioned when I first entered nursing school?
  • Is there any way I’ve lost my focus or compromised my values?
  • Am I living the kind of life I can be proud of?

When we ask ourselves probing questions and answer as honestly as possible, we might be surprised at the answers we receive. Some of us can do this on our own, but many of us might need the help of a counselor, mentor, or coach to guide us in our explorations. No matter how we approach it, compassionate self-assessment should be the cornerstone of this type of inquiry to steer us from going down the road of self-recrimination and regret.

Compassionate Self-Assessment

It’s inevitable that when he admonished his fellow citizens to know themselves, Socrates wasn’t telling his followers to blame and criticize themselves in the interest of self-exploration and self-knowledge. That said, we can probably surmise that he was pushing us to be honest, to take a deep, hard look inside, and to honestly examine and admit to our basest motivations and fears, not to mention our loftiest ideals and aspirations.

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Self-compassion is an excellent place to begin if you strive for a life of open self-examination and optimal self-knowledge. We all want to live our very best lives, which means making prudent choices, living as closely as possible according to our personal ideals and values, and hoping that our work reflects the core or essence of who we truly are.

When you arrive at a crossroads, when life seems uncertain, and you have no idea where to turn or what to do next, where can you go for self-reflection and inspiration? Whether it’s the Bible, your therapist, or some other avenue to self-knowledge is beside the point — the critical part is that you’re making a concerted effort to know yourself more fully.

Nursing and healthcare aren’t easy, and we can sometimes lose ourselves amidst the stress of work and the pace of our personal lives. If you can somehow slow down, take a deep breath, find a way to look inside, and dig deep for that core of your true self, you may unlock the door to the next iteration of your life and career.

Whether you’re a nurse who’s one hundred percent thrilled with your job or miserable, self-knowledge will come equally in handy. So, nurse, consider Socrates’ axiom and strive to know yourself, and you never know what magic might happen as your self-knowledge, self-compassion, and self-understanding grow.

Keith Carlson
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