Change, Meaning, and Your Nursing Career 

Change, Meaning, and Your Nursing Career 

There are countless reasons why some of us fall into nursing. And when we choose this particular professional journey, all types of motivations keep us in the game.

For many of us, a family member who was a nurse inspired us to continue the tradition. For others, it was witnessing the nursing care of a sick or dying loved one that opened our eyes. For still others, nursing seemed like a flexible, well-paying job that could support a family, especially since nurses will always be needed (until the robots take over).

But we all change, as do our lives, and this begs the question: if the nature of your life and your reasons for being a nurse change over the years, how do you continue to find meaning in what you do?

How it all Began

You became a nurse because your grandmother and mother were both nurses. Your grandmother told fascinating stories about being a nurse during World War II, with air raid sirens, soldiers missing limbs, and lives lost and saved all around her. Your mother also had good stories, though maybe not as romantic as grandma’s.

You could have finished high school and gone to nursing school, launching your career at 22. Or your story might involve, like yours truly, spending your twenties doing all sorts of different jobs and arriving at nursing in your early 30s when you had a family to support and a pre-adolescent son to set a good example for. And there are also those who come into nursing after an entirely different career: FBI agent (a true-to-life story I recently heard firsthand), accountant, office manager, etc.

No matter how you find your way, you have a story that includes the motivations that led you there. Maybe you truly felt a calling, or perhaps you just needed a reliable job. Whatever the vehicle, it delivered you to the door. But what happens when that original vehicle eventually pulls out of the parking lot, and you’re left wondering why you’re still here?

When the Sands Shift

The sands of your life can shift for many reasons: having children, getting married or divorced, finding a new passion, aging, getting bored, or moving to a new state or country.

The sands of your career and the healthcare industry can also change. Here are some observations I’ve heard from nurses I’ve spoken with:

  • Healthcare is becoming more corporatized, and the healthcare business feels more focused on money than human beings.
  • The bullying and incivility at work is terrible and demoralizing.
  • Nurses are subject to an unprecedented amount of on-the-job violence.
  • Unsafe staffing consistently puts our licenses at risk.

And the list goes on.

What do you do When things change— inside of you, in the world around you, or likely both? If your motivations for being a nurse feel different than they used to, you’re not alone. And if you’ve lost your motivation and passion entirely, how do you continue?

Acknowledging and Accepting Change

For some nurses, when the world shifts around them, they bury their heads in the sand, perhaps doing okay for a while. Others become bitter, burnt out, and resentful, and may themselves become bullies who make the lives of those around them miserable. Either that, or they fall into depression, anxiety, or addiction.

You may also arrive at a place where your kids have left the house, and you have the freedom to explore. You can study massage therapy, learn astrology, write a book, or become a podcaster. It’s all valid, and the world is essentially your oyster.

But the original question remains: how do you continue to find meaning in your actions?

Much of this comes down to your core values. The Barrett Personal Values Assessment and the Schwartz Portrait Values Questionnaire are both valid tools for identifying your values. You can also work with a mentor, faith leader, therapist or counselor, career coach, or other trusted individual to help you uncover what’s currently most important to you.

Aside from your values, you also need to examine the current state of your life:

  • What are your needs?
  • How have the nature of your home life and relationships changed?
  • Do you have more people dependent on you, or are you more independent than ever?
  • Has your health changed over the years? Do you have less physical stamina? Have you developed chronic illnesses?

Acknowledging the changes in your life, your family structure and relationships, your body, and the world around you is one of the keys to examining what’s currently making you tick and how to continue.

Based on what’s changed over the years, there may be a way for nursing to continue to be a natural fit, but you may also find that nursing no longer offers the fulfillment it used to. Being honest with yourself is an excellent place to begin since a critical assessment of your life and career must start with clarity.

As you examine your values, the current state of your life, the things that feel important to you, and your needs, things will become more apparent.

If you began your nursing career because of grandma’s inspiring stories but now find that the inspiration is no longer there, it’s not shameful to acknowledge the truth and seek other career options. And if nursing is now simply a job and no longer feels like the calling it once was, you may still be able to continue.

However you move forward, keep in mind that change is the only true constant, and the path that you once traveled may need some readjusting. Be patient, have self-compassion, and forge ahead towards whatever the future may hold.

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