When a garden is created, the labor involves tilling, planting, weeding, tending, and otherwise nurturing the process in the hopes of a plentiful harvest. Likewise, in your nursing career, you can plant and tend your professional garden with thoughtfulness and care, hopefully growing a trajectory that yields dividends far beyond your original expectations.
Most of us can get terribly distracted by the vicissitudes of life in this complex 21st century, yet with keen focus and determination, our nursing garden has the potential to feed us very well indeed for the entire course of our active career and beyond.
The Soil of Your Nursing Career
The soil of your nursing career is born of your many labors: nursing school, intensive study, continuing education, clinical work, and other pursuits that constitute the trajectory of your career as a nurse. You may be a nurse informaticist, researcher, school nurse, trauma nurse, or a nurse who owns and runs your own business. Whatever your path, you have chosen to till the soil of the garden you’ve cultivated, and that soil is where it all begins.
For most nursing students, a great many sacrifices are made in order to finally accomplish the goal of becoming a nurse. Missed special occasions with family and friends, countless hours of studying, and the blood, sweat, and tears of nursing education are just some of the ways in which your life becomes consumed by all things nursing. Farmers pour their blood, sweat, and tears into raising their crops from seeds and tender shoots to viable forms of marketable food, and the nursing student must handle their educational process similarly with thoughtful curiosity and clinical and intellectual rigor.
The soil of your career is further fed by your experiences. Witnessing human suffering and pain is fodder for your emotional and spiritual growth as a clinician and human being, and finding yourself present with death can be the next layer of enrichment of the dark soil of your nurse identity.
Every conversation, patient encounter, research project, article, team huddle, or patient crisis is further compost destined to become part of the soulful soil of your journey. Rich professional experience can yield rich growth in the various roles you assume, and your feet are always planted on the ground that you’ve created as the basis of your career
Measuring the Yield
Gardeners and farmers measure their yields in bushels, pounds, kilos, and other units appropriate to their endeavors. For the nurse, yields are measured in terms of accolades, rewards, educational attainment, certifications, salary, retirement savings, gratitude expressed by patients and their families, as well as personal and professional satisfaction.
Perhaps your greatest satisfaction is spiritual: you’ve worked with the dying, and this has led you to a deep spiritual practice that keeps you buoyed in even the toughest times. Maybe your greatest satisfaction is having written your master’s thesis or completed your doctoral dissertation; or perhaps recently attaining your associate degree brings a feeling of accomplishment and pride.
We all enter nursing for our own reasons, and we all must measure the outcomes of our labors in the way that feels best to us. Consider the ways in which you measure your own relative success.
Failed Crops and Locust Storms
When locusts come or crops fail, the farmer stands to lose a great deal. For the backyard gardener, the loss may not be as existential, but the disappointment can be great after much assiduous work.
For nurses who’ve slogged their way through their education and then, perhaps, frontline clinical work, many suffer burnout at, and perhaps you are one of those unfortunate enough to have lived to tell the tale. In fact, you may currently be in a state of profound burnout or compassion fatigue, wondering how to find your way out of the maze.
In order to not sugarcoat the profession, we must acknowledge that burnout, overwork, compassion fatigue, depersonalization, overwhelm, and exhaustion are some of the negative outcomes that nurses may experience at some point in their professional lives. Obviously, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on nurses’ work and personal lives, and many have paid dearly for the traumas and crises of the pandemic, and may continue to do so for years to come.
Just as a farmer may have good and bad years, a nurse may happily sail along in a job she loves until, one day, her beloved community hospital is swallowed by a giant corporation, and the workplace culture shifts from community-focused care to one seeming to only care about the financial bottom line. Disgruntled and blindsided, this nurse’s happiness plummets as the morale of those around her also takes a nosedive.
Taking a Bird’s Eye View
When sweating and swatting mosquitos as she weeds between rows of peppers, the farmer cannot clearly see how her entire crop is doing. If she was a bird, she could fly up above the entire farm and take in the bigger picture, assessing the overall state of her land and crops.
Similarly, a nurse deep in the weeds of the COVID unit cannot readily and realistically assess where his career is going when all he has the wherewithal to do is survive the current shift before going home to collapse in bed and sleep off his exhaustion.
No matter where you may find yourself in your career, periodically taking time to get a bird’s eye view is prudent. A break from studying for a walk in the woods and some deep thinking about your goals may be called for. A session with a trusted mentor or career coach might be quite efficacious if you feel lost after five years in the ICU. Or a long-overdue Hawaiian vacation may be what just your family needs in order to feel reconnected and rejuvenated.
The fruits of your labors are yours to harvest, and the weeds and dirt and sun and water are also yours to take ownership. Plant, tend, and cultivate with care, and enjoy the fruits of your labors when the time for the harvest arrives.
Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, and author.
With two decades of nursing experience, Keith understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s podcast, The Nurse Keith Show, offers inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful lives and careers.
Keith’s message of savvy career management reaches nurses worldwide and he can be found on social media, as well as at NurseKeith.com.