Monday, March 14, 2011

How to Find Your Forte

How to Find Your Forte
Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Friday May 4, 2001

Often I hear, "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up." No, I don't hear it from young children, but rather from experienced nurses who are trying to figure out where they fit in healthcare. Are you like those nurses, searching for your niche in nursing? Start with a journey of exploration and discovery about yourself and the healthcare system.

Many nurses think of their niche as being a particular job or a particular specialty. In reality, it's a specific place at a particular time that feels right. Whether you decide you were born to be a writer or deliver direct patient care, where and how you do that are likely to change over the course of your career. Finding your forte is more of a general direction rather than an actual place. It's a process that will continue to develop as long as you keep moving forward. Here's how you can start the journey.

Take stock, then take action. Do a self-assessment. Ask yourself what you're particularly good at and where your strengths lie. Couple that with what you enjoy doing, which isn't necessarily the same thing. Then think about the type of environment you'd like to work in. Also, consider those areas of your life that need improvement, such as computer, communication, or self-marketing skills. Write all this down, along with your dreams, ideas, and thoughts about the future. Then, start taking steps to develop the things you enjoy doing and work on the things that need improvement.

Start moving forward. You don't have to know what your final destination is to start your journey. Unless you already have an advanced degree, start making plans to go back to school. Don't agonize over which major to pursue - just start reviewing catalogs to see what's interesting and exciting, as well as conducive to your lifestyle (distance learning versus classroom learning, for example). If you have clear ideas about a business or an idea you want to pursue, start talking about it with trusted colleagues and friends. Discussing things helps make them real. You'll also get valuable feedback from others.

Have realistic expectations. Many nurses seem to think they should intuitively know which specialty to choose. Although some nurses do, that isn't the case for all nurses. Some nurses - even new graduates - think they should find their specialty within a certain time frame. Not so. Finding your niche is something that often takes time, even years.

I tried on many hats, both in and out of nursing, before I found my path as an RN. I worked in so many different jobs that my friends and family would say, "Can't you hold a job?" or "Don't you know what you want to do?" For the record, I'm not talking about job-hopping every six months: I stayed at most positions for a few years before moving on. I was on a journey to try as many things as I could until I found the right fit. At every job, I learned more about myself, the world around me, and the opportunities out there. I always wanted to see what was waiting around the next corner.

Take time to meditate. I don't necessarily mean the transcendental type. Rather, take some time to sit quietly and listen to your inner voice. Let the universe speak to you. Often the answer to, "What do I really want to do?" is just below the surface. We don't always allow it to come out because we're afraid of our own destiny. I'm amazed at how often nurses tell me they don't know what they want to do. After I ask a few questions about their background and interests, I have a few specific suggestions - and usually they'll say, "I've always wanted to do that." What gets in the way? Maybe it's a salary issue, or a preconceived notion of what others expect from us, or how we envision ourselves. Let your natural tendencies take hold. Stop struggling and resisting. Follow your dream. Do what you love, and the money will come. Remember that most, if not all, obstacles to success exist only in our own minds.

Make decisions. Get off the fence and get moving. Precious time is wasted while you obsess over which degree you should get or whether or not to take that job. As a result, you squander time in a state of indecision, which is nothing more than inactivity. It's just another excuse to stay put. On the other hand, don't act rashly. Take time to collect pertinent information, make a pros-and-cons list, discuss the situation with a trusted friend, and write in your journal. Then move forward. Often, we don't make decisions about our future because we're afraid we'll make the wrong one and have to live with the consequences. Remember, there are no wrong decisions, only bigger lessons to learn. It's important to try things, experience life, and see what you're capable of.

Take calculated risks. No one ever said the pursuit of true happiness would be easy. Often the path to your heart's desire requires taking risks. Stepping out of your comfort zone, making decisions, and feeling uncertain are all things that none of us relishes. But they go with the territory. If you don't feel anxious, then you're not challenging yourself. The bigger the goal, the bigger the fear. But once you've accomplished something, overcome that fear, or mastered a new skill, you'll be gratified and exhilarated and further along in your journey.

Have I finally found my niche in nursing? For now, yes. But there are still a lot of corners for me to turn. I'm still a traveler. Who knows where the road will lead me. Success is a journey, not a destination. Start the journey and the right path will eventually reveal itself to you.

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