Catherine Kelsey shares some of her own experiences of how she has changed direction in her professional life, and shows you how with a little thought and commitment, you too have the ability to create change.
Nurses who want to make a positive change in their career often feel a lack of support keeps them in a state of constant flux. Despite the commitment, time and effort in pursuing such change, nurses can frequently feel that they have made little headway in their aspirations to climb the proverbial career ladder or change the way in which they practice. Many are fearful of what will happen if their highly sought-after dream becomes a reality. Making a big change can be experienced as a constant battle, where every step taken forward can seem like taking two steps back. Progress can be slow with the result that nurses simply give up long before the going gets tough.
In my nursing career I have never rested on my laurels for long and have made change a constant. This has enabled me to develop transferable skills that have led to a long-term career in occupational health as a specialist community public health nurse, a career I have loved, and more recently as a nursing lecturer, a career I also love.
Almost 20 years ago, when I was at a crossroads in my life - and there have been many - I was fortunate to meet a professional coach who helped me to determine what gets me up in the morning, what motivates me, and how my beliefs and values led to my career choice of nursing. Having gone through the coaching process on multiple occasions I have realised the personal benefit. So much so, that I have even undertaken professional training to develop the skills needed to help others. But coaching is not for everyone. Costs can be prohibitive and simply sharing personal and professional goals with a stranger can be too challenging for many.
Other ways in which you can develop such skills include reading coaching books, some of which you may be able to find in your local library or perhaps in your nursing library, if you are fortunate to have one where you work. I have used such books when I wanted to move forward, or sideways, in my career. Journaling can be a great way to help develop your thoughts and ideas. It took me a while to become a regular, but I have been journaling now for about five years. I have found the perfect journal, one that every time I pick it up, inspires me to write. Although I don’t journal daily, my successes and shortcomings are recorded frequently, as are my plans. In a way, writing it down makes me personally accountable to at least work on my aspirations.
Creating the Picture
One of the more famous habits ‘begin with the end in mind’, comes from the work of Stephen Covey and his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This habit encourages you to create a mental picture and then a physical picture of what it is you want to be or do in your life. Being able to picture myself in front of a class of students, who engage, smile and demonstrate a willingness to learn, is a picture that has never left me. Today, as a nursing lecturer I am still in awe of my role and what I have achieved so far in my career.
Creating the Plan
I didn’t just arrive at my point of success however, and ultimately success can be whatever it means to you, not to someone else. I realised that if I was to stay ahead of the game I needed to always know what my next steps would be. So I began to develop long-term plans. Even though doing this can seem daunting and, invariably for me, these plans changed, what was and still is important is what I acquired along the way. Making these plans can equate to new knowledge and new skills and ultimately a renewed sense of confidence. It is important, however, to understand how to plan to achieve your desired change. This is where creating an action plan, talking to colleagues and seeking the help of a mentor are invaluable. Whenever I have considered change in my life I have been most successful when I have developed some type of action plan, whether it’s by using a professional word document or simply developing a spidergram on good old-fashioned paper. By doing this I have stayed more focused, my ideas and plans have become realistic and timespans more reasonable to manage.
Whether you have a five-year plan to retire, become president of the RCN or simply take a slight change in direction, writing it down helps to create a sense of purpose. You could use a template that’s freely available on the internet or in many of the coaching books available or you could simply create your own. Don’t just keep it stuck in a folder on your computer. I keep a small notebook with me and write anything new that comes into my head. I can then digest it, explore the options available or simply decide it was far too wacky to be realistic. But isn’t that the fun!
I have achieved things beyond my wildest dreams. It all started with believing I could be a nurse; that I had the attributes and the capacity to develop the skills required for a career that has been challenging, with many ups and downs, but is one which I hope will see me through the rest of my working life.