When people in their 80s or 90s talk about their experiences, they may often refer to being in the autumn or winter of life. We can also think about our nursing careers in the same way. If you were to reflect on your career in terms of its various seasons, how would you describe where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re heading?the-seasons-of-your-nursing-career

The Promise of Spring 

Graduating from nursing school is when your career begins formulating, with taproots making their way into the fertile soil of possibility. As you achieve landmarks like passing the NCLEX, getting licensed, and landing your first job, those taproots begin to take hold.

With the accumulation of new skills or knowledge, those taproots dig deeper, and your confidence in yourself as a nursing professional grows.

In the spring of your career, your trust in your abilities and knowledge increases with each successful patient encounter. Even though you’re a novice, with each blood draw, catheterization, medication administration, or correctly interpreted ECG, things begin to make more sense, and one day, you realize that certain things have become second nature.

The spring of your nursing career feeds on the moisture, nutrition, and compost of accumulating experience and confidence.

Sailing into Summer

You practice many skills entering the summer of your career with great certainty, and you may feel ambitious about your plans.

In the summer of your career, you begin to feel like a true professional. You know what you’re doing, and if there’s something you don’t understand, you can usually figure it out using your increasing powers of critical thinking. With more experience under your belt, the summer of your career is marked by a sense of increasing belonging and ease.

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We must remember that things can get stormy even in the summer. You may be challenged by something you’ve never encountered, which may lead to temporary lapses of confidence. If you’re unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of bullying or incivility, you may not be as confident as you would have been. If you’ve been employed by organizations with weak leadership or toxic cultures, these experiences may have stripped away some of the natural joy of maturing into your career.

In the best circumstances, the summer of your career means you can dig deep into what you know, apply your knowledge and experience, and be confident enough to turn to mentors for guidance when uncertain. Sometimes, being confident means knowing when to admit what you don’t know.

The summer of your nursing career may see you changing specialties, pursuing certification, or going back to school. During the summer, you’re filled with the promise of the future. If things have gone relatively well and you’ve had a majority of positive work experiences, you continue to mature and grow into your role as a nurse with each passing day.

Settling into Autumn

Autumn is a time of transition when the leaves begin to change color, and you may even encounter a certain level of decay. The autumn of your career could be when you find yourself at the peak of your powers, perhaps mentoring others or serving as a leader.

Like the autumn of our lives in our 50s or 60s, the autumn of our nursing career may be marked by a certain level of maturity and certainty as a nurse but also a sense that the summer has passed.

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This might be a time when some of the slings and arrows of the past come back to haunt you, and you feel somewhat bruised and battered by the experience of being a nurse. But in the best-case scenario, the autumn of your career can translate to knowing who you are, knowing what you know, and being aware that you’re an expert in your chosen area of professional focus.

The Quiet of Winter

In the winter of your career, you may experience a sense of winding down and completion. If you’re in a strong financial position, you may decide to work part-time, take a sabbatical, or actively plan for retirement.

If your economic situation means you need to continue working, you may choose a less strenuous position. Just as in the winter of life, your physical strength and endurance may be somewhat decreased, and you may be faced with the knowledge that the most productive years of your professional life are behind you. 

In the winter of your nursing career, attending conferences, gaining more certifications and skills, or returning to school may feel much less imperative. Then again, you may enroll in a master’s or PhD program more for your personal growth than for any professional gains that another degree could bring.

These later years of your career may or may not be about resting on your laurels and enjoying the fruit of your many years of labor. After all of your hard work, no one can argue that you don’t deserve it.

To Each Season its Time

Each season of your nursing career will not necessarily match the season of your personal life. Developmental life stages and professional development do not always happen in concert.

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For example, if another nurse began their nursing career in the spring of their life (her 20s, for example) and your career began in your 40s (which one might call the summer of life), your career experiences may have been radically different. That nurse in their 20s may have been single and childless, while you may have jumped into a new nursing career when your family life was in full swing with marriage and children, and possibly aging parents to care for, to boot.

Whether the seasons of your life and career are a perfect match or seem incongruous to those outside, the most important thing is for them to feel cohesive to you. No matter where you find yourself on the personal and professional continuums, your job is to find your natural place in those processes and make the best of each.

In every season, there is a time, and no matter where you find yourself, that time is now.

Keith Carlson
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