We all know people who have become discontent with their careers. And we know people who remain energized, excited, and fully engaged in their profession. So what makes the difference? How can we all cultivate the self-care and consciousness to stay energized, centered, and engaged in nursing?
Three words: reflection, wisdom, and renewal. Nurses who engage in personal reflection are more likely to develop wisdom, which in turn leads to a sense of renewal and increased capacities for adapting, shaping, selecting, and influencing positive work environments. And renewal leads to personal and professional well-being.
Renewal allows you to balance your needs, your family’s needs, and your patients’ needs. Nurses with wisdom take care of themselves, so they can care for others.
What is wisdom?
Consider this definition of wisdom by psychologist Robert Sternberg: “Wisdom is the application of intelligence, creativity, and knowledge to the common good by balancing intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extra personal interests…through the mediation of values, so as to adapt to, shape, and select environments.” In other words, a wise person balances his or her own needs and the needs of others by choosing environments that are aligned with personal values, beliefs, and aspirations or by shaping the environment, so it becomes aligned with personal values and beliefs.
Four deadly fears
This definition of wisdom is connected with what career coaches Lieder and Shapiro discovered while working with their many clients. (See Digging deeper in the PDF file available by clicking on the Download now button.) The two coaches believe that everyone must confront four deadly fears:
• the fear of having lived a meaningless life
• the fear of being alone
• the fear of being lost
• the fear of dying.
Managing these fears requires inner work, and most often a balance of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extra personal interests. These coaches suggest four antidotes to the four fears. The antidote to the fear of having lived a meaningless life is work. The antidote to the fear of being alone is love. The antidote to the fear of being lost is place. And the antidote to the fear of dying is purpose.
In fact, Lieder and Shapiro define the good life as “living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” Achieving this good life requires using renewal strategies that support your personal and professional purpose, values, beliefs, knowledge-base, intelligence, and creativity.
Cycle of self-renewal
Dr. Frederic Hudson’s research reveals that self-renewing adults:
• are value-driven
• are connected to the world around them
• require solitude and quiet
• pace themselves
• enjoy contact with nature
• value creativity and playfulness
• adapt to change and pursue best options
• learn from down times
• keep learning new things
• are future-oriented.
Hudson’s cycle of renewal involves four phases. The go-for-it phase supports the heroic self and dreams related to work, purpose, goals, and achievements. As plans and experiences plateau, a person must manage the doldrums and sort things out. If disenchantment persists, inner work and cocooning are needed to reflect, make discoveries, and find new identities linked with renewed purpose and passion. Successful cocooning leads to a turning point that involves restructuring a current life situation or creating a life transition with a redefined purpose, passion, or dream. Attention to the cycle of renewal requires the cultivation and expansion of one’s own consciousness. (See Do you renew? in the PDF file available by clicking on the Download now button)
In A Whole Life’s Work, Lewis Richmond says that each of us is responsible for our own individual consciousness project and that we must develop awareness and consciousness in these eight areas: the earner’s work, the hobbyist’s work, the creator’s work, the monk’s work, the helper’s work, the parent’s work, the learner’s work, and the elder’s work.
• The earner’s work requires attention to precepts, principles, values, and beliefs in light of the greater good.
• The hobbyist’s work requires attention to vitality.
• The creator’s work requires attention to patience.
• The monk’s work requires attention to calmness.
• The helper’s work requires attention to equanimity.
• The parent’s work requires attention to giving.
• The learner’s work requires attention to humility.
• The elder’s work requires attention to wisdom.
Your whole life’s work is your unique consciousness project, which is grounded in reflection, supported by attention to renewal, and enhanced by your pursuit of the good life and of different ways of being and doing.
Wisdom unfolds as we use the antidotes to the four deadly fears and align our values and beliefs while adapting or selecting environments that support our quest for the good life. As we reflect on our actions, we become more aware of our complexity and appreciate the different needs and dimensions of our lives. To counteract discontent, we need to commit to the development of our own consciousness project and seek out resources that will help us learn and practice the wisdom of renewal.
Hudson F. The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass; 1999. Available at: www.hudsoninstitute.com/. Accessed May 30, 2008.
Kurth K, Schmidt S. Running on Plenty at Work: Renewal Strategies for Individuals. Potomac, Md: Renewal Resources Press; 2003. Available at: www.renewalatwork.com/1books.htm. Accessed May 30, 2008.
Miller T. Building and Managing a Career in Nursing: Strategies for Advancing Your Career. Indianapolis, Ind: Sigma Theta Tau International; 2003. Available at: www.nursingsociety.org. Accessed May 30, 2008.
Pesut D. Healing into the future: Recreating the profession of nursing through inner work. In: Chaska N, ed. The Nursing Profession: Tomorrow and Beyond. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage; 2001:853-867.
Sternberg R. A balance theory of wisdom. Rev Gen Psych. 1998;2:347-365.
Sternberg R. Words to the wise about wisdom. Hum Dev. 2004;47:
Daniel J. Pesut is Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis.