In our nursing careers, we can often feel buffeted by winds over which we feel little control. We can feel like we "should" do this or that, make choices that others feels are best for us, or take paths that feel prescribed for us, not chosen by us. This career paradigm can indeed feel uncomfortable.

Who's driving the bus?

Your career is like a long bus ride that begins when you graduate from nursing school. In school, you were likely told that you "should" get a med-surg job immediately, as well as other things that your professors said were paramount to launching your career.

Once you're an established nurse, you can still feel highly influenced by others, and you may even feel that you're not truly behind the wheel of your career. You may feel somewhat railroaded by what you think you're "supposed" to do, and those internalized messages may add to the notion that your career is controlled by outside forces.

So, if you're not really driving the bus of your career, how do you get behind that wheel and take over the itinerary of the trip?

Taking control of the wheel

Taking control of your career means deciding for yourself the direction in which you need to move. If there are ghosts of past nursing professors driving your bus, you need to kick them out of that driver's seat, leave them at the side of the road and continue on without them. If you feel haunted by previous messages that you've received about what you should be doing, those messages need to be replaced by messages that speak to who you are and what you're all about.

Your nursing career is a singular experience that no one can have for you. There may be requirements that make sense (e.g., earning a master's degree in order to serve as a nurse practitioner), and there may be some that appear to be judgments (e.g., "You should get that certificate, because no one will hire you, otherwise").

Taking control means deciding for yourself. Doesn't it feel good to do that?

The bus is yours to drive

The bus of your career is yours to drive, and being in that driver's seat can be an empowering experience.

When I graduated from nursing school, I announced to my professors and classmates that I wasn't going to pursue a med-surg job. Instead, I was looking seriously at a position at a community health center where I felt I would get the experience I really wanted. I was told not getting a med-surg job was "professional suicide," and that my ability to build a career without that experience would be powerfully diminished.

As it turns out, I've been gainfully and happily employed in various ambulatory care nursing positions for almost 20 years. Though I never did get the med-surg experience everyone said was necessary, my career trajectory has been exciting, varied, interesting, remunerative and exactly what I've wanted it to be.

You see, I've been driving my career bus pretty much the whole time, and while the circuitous route I took wasn't what others had in mind for me, it has gone well, and I have no regrets.

Enjoy the ride

In the bigger picture, enjoying the ride is what it's all about. If you do the type of nursing others thought you should do, chances are you may not be happy. And if you chose your specialty based on the opinions of your mother, your spouse or your professor or colleague, perhaps you didn't follow your heart.

Work is something that most of us have to do because we need to put food on the table. However, that doesn't mean that we can't have fun, do what we love and ensure that nursing is a satisfying and meaningful path.

So, take control of the bus, get behind the wheel, reject others' opinions that seek to place you in a box that doesn't suit you, and drive in the direction of your ultimate career as a nurse. This ride is supposed to be fun and satisfying. And when you're in control, the potential for satisfaction and happiness is exponentially increased.