No matter who’s currently signing your paycheck, the reality is that in the big picture, everyone is self-employed. One way to think of this is that you’re renting your skills out to your current employer.
This can sometimes be an odd idea for those in the nursing profession to come to grips with, because you’re trained to think of yourself as being part of a helping community. And that’s true, you are. But it’s also true that every aspect of the profession has been affected by financial realities that lead to mergers and management changes, budget constraints, and occasional staff cuts and layoffs.
While it’s not personal, it is reality
Understanding your need to take responsibility for your own career outcomes – and to act on that understanding – is one of the most important career competencies you can develop. That’s not because employers don’t care about your well-being, but rather because your nursing/healthcare career can’t be their highest priority. So it has to be yours.
In order to get used to this take-charge approach to your career, it’s important to master some key concepts that will help you focus on opportunities rather than waiting to be blindsided by unforeseen workplace changes. For example:
It’s not (necessarily) personal. Your employer’s responsibility is to make the best use of the organization’s resources to support its key mission or strategy (and survival). Both missions and strategies may change over time, and your skills may no longer align with the new direction. This is how most layoffs happen.
But even if it is personal, if your boss has it in for you and has been actively undermining you prior to a termination? The reality is that there are some truly awful people in the world, and it’s likely you’ll end up working for at least a couple of them throughout your career. It’s crummy, but to the best of your ability, let go of your anger and focus forward – specifically, on what you’d like your next steps to be.
No one can get you unstuck but you. Pretty much everyone dreams about their perfect job, preferably one that lands in their laps and pays a lovely salary. But even though it may not have landed yet, that doesn’t mean that you still can’t work your way into that perfect (or close to it) job. If you’re feeling stuck in a less-than-fulfilling job, you’re the one who can change that – because you’re the one in charge of your career. What research do you need to do, what people to talk to, what questions to ask, to figure out what you might rather be doing and how to make that happen?
Set your goal, figure out how you’re going to get there, and then create your action plan. What steps will you take and when? Then what? And after that? This is both the exhilarating and scary part of being in charge of your own career – all of the decisions are yours to make.
Taking control means focusing on short and long-term opportunities. Once you realize that you’re ultimately self-employed, and the trajectory of your career is solely in your own hands, you start making decisions based not only on short-term considerations (for example, a higher salary) but also on long-term career benefits.
For example, what might you learn in a given job that could at some point lead to opportunities in a nursing area you’re particularly passionate about? What colleagues or mentors might you be able to build career-long relationships with by volunteering for a professional task force? What doors might open if you invested in further professional development in an area of emerging healthcare trends?
When you take charge of your career outcomes and frame them within a decades-long context, investing in your career starts to pay off with both short- and long-term benefits.
Embracing a self-employed mindset
If you’re not used to thinking this way about your nursing/management career, it can feel a bit unreal at first. And the longer you’ve been a professional (that is, you started working when employment was considered a fairly stable situation), the more disorienting it can seem.
The good news is that there are now a number of excellent books devoted to this topic, and they do a solid job of considering what the self-employed mindset means to individuals more comfortable with employment than entrepreneurship. Some of the best:
- Control-Alt-Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It / Mitch Joel, Business Plus, 2013.
- The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life / Kimberly Palmer, AMACOM, 2014.
- The Leap: Launching Your Full-time Career in Our Part-time Economy / Robert Dickie, Moody Publishers, 2015.
- Own Your Future: How to Think Like an Entrepreneur and Thrive in an Unpredictable Economy / Paul B. Brown, Amacom, 2014.
- The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career / Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, Crown Business, 2012.
People change, companies change, life circumstances change, and your career will change as well. The good news is that by adopting a self-employed mindset, you have a much better chance of creating a nursing/healthcare career that thrives through those changes.