How to Find Your Forte

By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

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 so likely are to change during the course of your career. This is especially true because we’re all living and working longer than ever before. Not only that, healthcare and nursing is in the process of completely reinventing itself with new and emerging specialties, opportunities and trends. So 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.

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 and the future direction of healthcare. Consider any areas of your life that need improvement, such as computer, communication, or self-marketing skills. Write all of 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 what major to pursue – just start reviewing catalogs to see what’s interesting and exciting and 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. You never know from where the spark, idea, information or opportunity might come.

Have realistic expectations. Many nurses seem to think they intuitively should know what specialty to choose. While some 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. And with new opportunities presenting themselves all the time in nursing, something may develop that you haven’t heard of yet or previously considered.
I tried on many hats, 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 members 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, 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 about which degree you should get or whether or not to take a 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 doing.

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 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 a fear or mastered a new skill, you’ll be gratified, exhilarated and further along in your journey.

Have I finally found my niche in nursing? For now, yes. But there still are 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 eventually will reveal itself to you.

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