By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN
Do you wake up each workday with a headache or a knot in your stomach? Would you rather do anything than go to work? Do you feel disdain for your coworkers, supervisors and employer? Are you focused on the injustices and inequities of your work environment? Do you no longer get satisfaction from your job? Have you simply been in the same place too long and crave a change? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time for you to move on – or at least start looking for another job.
Nurses stay in unhappy work situations for a variety of reasons. Some stay because they’re afraid of making a change. They know they’re in a rut, but they don’t want to leave the “comfort zone.” Others feel they have no options and therefore no place else to go. Some assume that in a tight job market they’re better off staying put, which is not necessarily the case. Many of us exist in a self-imposed prison, serving a sentence for a crime we never committed.
Staying in a bad or unsatisfying situation – whether it’s the work, the people or the environment that’s getting you down – is not healthy. It takes a toll on you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It erodes your self-esteem, and if you stay long enough, the damage can be irreparable.
Years ago, I worked for a miserable man whose wife also worked in the office. He regularly spoke in an angry, degrading tone to her and others in the office. One day, I heard myself using an expression of his that I hated. That scared me. It was then that I admitted to myself how unhappy I was with the job. Staying in that environment had a negative effect on me, and I’d been taking it out on my own family and friends. I realized it was time to go.
Why it’s so hard to make a change
It’s human nature to resist change. We want to maintain the status quo. When we have to step outside our comfort zones, we get nervous and anxious. While making a change, self-doubt creeps in. We start thinking of our own perceived inadequacies and ask ourselves, “Who else would hire me?” Or we think, “I’m not qualified to do anything else.” We imagine no one else would give us the same compensation or schedule and find many other excuses to stay in an undesirable situation. But face it, it’s our fear of change or our own feelings of inadequacy that are holding us back.
You owe it to yourself, your friends and family and the clients you serve, to find the right kind of work in a setting that’s appropriate and comfortable for you. Today, nurses have many choices in traditional and nontraditional settings. Many positions pay well, provide good benefits and offer a selection of work schedules.
Making a change, sometimes just to another department or another facility in your same specialty, can make a world of difference in your attitude. Of course, change for the sake of change is not enough, so don’t be rash in making a move. Take time to consider where you want to go. Then ask around to see what facilities and companies have a good reputation for treating their nurses well. Find out what companies are offering the position and the circumstances for which you’re looking.
Get started now
Because fear of the unknown is a powerful force for resisting change, your major objective in considering a move should be to make the unknown “known.” Build perspective by doing the following:
- Update your resume. Make sure it focuses on your accomplishments and shows a diversity of experience. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, and you want to be ready.
- Brush up on your interviewing skills. There are many good books, including “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses” and articles on the subject online and in libraries and bookstores. Polish your skills by reading and going on a few interviews to “test the waters.”
- Launch a massive networking campaign. Start attending professional association meetings, career fairs, conventions and recruiting events. Make connections and see what else is out there. Talk to people from other facilities and specialties and see what they like and don’t like about their job and employer. Set up a LinkedIn account and use social media.
- List your strengths and assets. Take time to write down your strong points. Think about what you’re good at doing. Everyone has special talents. Look for jobs that will give you an opportunity to develop yours.
- Think about what you enjoy doing. Some nurses jump from job to job in pursuit of the elusive “niche.” Give some thought to what you love to do. Is it teaching, direct patient care or working with computers? The key to being happy in your work is identifying what you love and then finding a way to make that work for you.
- Get motivated. Listen to your favorite motivational tapes or read motivational books to get yourself pumped up. This is important, especially in a time of anticipated change. Go to the library and borrow some books or tapes on the subject.
- Don’t burn your bridges. Even if you can’t wait to get out of your current situation and never want to look back, ease out with grace and style. Anything else will come back to haunt you later. You’ll feel better about yourself, too.
- Do some soul searching. Examine how your state of mind is affecting your personal life, self-esteem and physical and emotional health. Decide whether there are things you can change in your work situation to improve your outlook, sense of purpose and job satisfaction. If so, by all means try them. If not, or if you just don’t have the energy or desire to try, then it may be time for a change.
Start looking into your options and get yourself prepared for a change, even before you’ve decided that’s what you want to do. Life is too short, and the nursing profession holds too many opportunities to get stuck in a rut. Change can be frightening, but it also can be exhilarating.
Stay or move on – the choice is yours. But remember: The door is always open.
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