Is Your Nursing Career on Autopilot? The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 104

Stagnation can be the death knell for nurse career satisfaction. Is your nursing career on autopilot? Are you coasting along without direction? Nurses, it’s time to seize control of your career and pilot your own journey. Are you ready to take control?  

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Back in March of 2017, I wrote a blog post entitled “Is Your Nursing Career on Autopilot?” and the response was very positive. We can all get into a place of complacency, but we also need to break out of that complacency in the interest of our nursing careers. 

I wrote: 

When your nursing career is on autopilot, you may be staying at a job you don’t really like because you don’t have the gumption or fortitude to think clearly about what you want. In this scenario, you’re stuck, but you may actually be kind of comfortable in your stuckness.

In autopilot mode, you’re coasting, going through the motions, and otherwise doing what you need to do to get through the day (or night), but there’s no longer any passion; in this case, nursing has definitely become just a job and an economic means to a financial end — you put food on the table by being a nurse, and that’s that.

There are times in our lives when autopilot is helpful and prudent. Perhaps your mother just died and you’re grieving deeply; the last thing you want to think about is the development of your nursing career. Or maybe you recently had a baby and you just want to do your three shifts a week and get home to that little bundle of joy, reveling in the joys of motherhood or fatherhood. This is normal, and autopilot works in these situations.

I also wrote about the fact that a new baby, a death, a divorce, or other major life changes can throw a wrench into the forward movement of your career; these are times when a self-protective quietude may help you to heal. 

On the other hand, the birth of a child (one more mouth to feed) or the death of a friend or family member can sometimes actually spur you on grow and change. Another child in the family might mean stepping up and finding work that will bring in a little more money or a more flexible schedule. A friend’s suicide could bring you to the realization that there’s no time like the present to quit that darn job and find something that will truly make you happy since life is so very short and unpredictable. 

Five Steps for Inspired Action

In the aforementioned blog post, I shared five steps for inspired action, and I’m repeating them here verbatim in order to cajole you to take notice of your life and make change happen when you need it most. 

1. Use journaling and writing to dig into the reasons why you turned on the career autopilot in the first place. Once you’ve identified those reasons, you can then explore how being on autopilot has served you and what you now want from your career.

2. You can reach out to a career coach, esteemed mentor or colleague, therapist, or counselor to help you unpack any resistance you feel to taking a step forward in your nursing career. Your motivations need to be understood, as well as what goals you may now have for yourself as a professional. Sometimes there are emotional blocks that need to be cleared; other times you just feel stuck and you need someone to hold your hand and guide you through the questions that will reveal the answers you need to move forward. 

3. Personality tests and other tools can help to reveal your motivations, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as what may bring you the most personal and professional happiness and satisfaction. Your original reasons for becoming a nurse may no longer apply, even though you haven’t yet verbalized what your new motivations are. We all change, and there are many tools that can help us assess our current state of mind, as well as what may fit best with our personality and current life stage. 

4. Talk with trusted family members and friends about where you find yourself. Hearing the heartfelt reflections of people who love you may be very revealing of things you just can’t see on your own. This is qualitatively different than talking with a colleague or mentor (see #2). 

5. Taking time away for a retreat or time of reflection may help you pry loose what’s going on deep inside you. A yoga or meditation retreat could be a good venue for this; you may also simply want to go camping on your own for a long weekend, or maybe take a long ride and clear your head on the open road. Basically, taking some space for yourself away from your day to day life may help bring some clarity to the path forward.

This list isn’t comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, but it can spark a flame of desire for a change of pace or the recruitment of the right assistance and support to fan those flames. 

When Autopilot is Disengaged

Disengaging your autopilot means you have taken control. In this scenario, you’ve turned off the complacency and ennui, and replaced it with a desire to move forward and take inspired action for your personal and professional satisfaction and career achievement. 

When you disengage the autopilot in your nursing career and professional life, you are honoring the part of you that wants change, novelty, forward movement, and growth. As mentioned above, autopilot can be self-protective at very pivotal moments, and then the time arrives for inspired action and disengagement from a period of professional cruise control.

Assess where you are in your career and whether some aspects of autopilot are operational. If this is the case, honestly ask yourself if being on autopilot is helpful or hurtful right now. If it’s helpful, that’s great; if it feels hurtful or limiting, decide what it will take to turn that switch off. Once you take that step, you’re on your way to making a conscious choice to elevate your career and jet towards your next destination.


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Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith was previously the resident nursing career expert at Nurse.com.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.”

He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and has written for Nurse.org, Nurse.com, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online platforms.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur.

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