Face your fear, and go for it!

By Elizabeth Scala | 03/17/2016

Focusing on what is possible helps us move forward.

Picture of woman

Last year, a colleague who sits on the nominating committee of the American Holistic Nurses Association contacted me. It was her job to suggest ideal candidates for the upcoming board elections, and she reached out to me. At first, I thought it was a mistake. “Doesn’t she know I’ve been a nurse for only 10 years? Can’t she see from my CV that I have no prior board experience?”
 
Elizabeth ScalaStill, after our brief phone conversation, I was intrigued. I mean, if this experienced nurse with lots of power and connections thinks I am good enough to run for the board, maybe I am ready. Right?
 
To be honest with you, I didn’t believe it was possible. I went through the motions—you know, filling out the application, writing the personal statement essay, and getting letters of recommendation. But as I progressed through each step of the process, I kept thinking to myself, “This will never happen.”
 
So you can imagine my surprise when I received the email announcing I had been elected. Even more delightful, I actually received a lot of votes! Wow, I was feeling good. Right?
 
Wrong.
 
Now it was time to actually sit on the board. It meant attending meetings, being introduced to high-level executives, and representing a national organization. At this point, I wasn’t feeling disbelief; I was utterly terrified!
 
During the first board meeting, when we met at the annual conference last summer, I was quiet. I kept to myself. I didn’t know when to speak up or what questions to ask. Sure, they provided us with orientation and sent us to leadership training for new board members, but, for me, learning is more about experiences.
 
As nurses, we can look back on our careers and reflect on the “new” things we had to do that caused some fear: for example, inserting a Foley for the first time or suctioning a tracheostomy. Maybe it was telling a family member bad news or seeing a child pass away. Whatever we experienced as nurses, there was always a “first” to everything. And the first time can be scary, at best.
 
Fear: Paralyzing or propelling?
More recently, as a nurse entrepreneur, I have had to do a lot of things that invoke feelings of fear, self-doubt, and worry. Instead of allowing these emotions to hold me back, I have chosen the path of self-growth and discovery.
 
Last winter, I read the book Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. The main premise of this text is that fear is an emotion that will come up from time to time. When it does, we have a choice.
 
Do we let fear paralyze us and keep us from moving forward? Or do we acknowledge that it exists and tell it: “Thanks for showing up. Now that I am aware of you, I can deal with this and move on.”
 
Nurses who continuously look to develop as professionals choose the latter. Feeling the fear, acknowledging its presence, and using it to inform next steps are what help us grow into experienced, credible, and trusted nurse leaders.
 
Building inner strength
As nurses, we interact with people all of the time. Look around you. You have executives to report to, subordinates to manage, and peers to collaborate with. And there are always patients and their families to respond to. You have to be constantly “on” while at work.
 
Nursing is a profession composed of many different people, which can create challenges. Think about this scenario for a moment. You’re brand-new on your unit. The policy, as put forth by The Joint Commission, is to not have any beverages—including water—at the workstation. Yet, you know that staying hydrated will allow you to think clearly, stay energized, and help you be healthy. Well, what do you do? How do you find the courage to get yourself a drink of water from time to time on your shift? What can you say to your colleagues, who have been working there longer than you have, when you just need to slip away for hydration?
 
Somehow, you have to feel strong enough on the inside to go against the grain. You need that inner confidence to help you listen to and follow what you know is right for you. You’ve got to look out for and take care of yourself, as you’re the only one who can do it best. Here are a few things you can do to build inner strength.
 
Refocus. Have you ever heard of “monkey mind”? That’s the internal chatter that accompanies us all day long. Sure, it’s doing its best to look out for and protect us. Yet, at times, it does more harm than good. In the example above—finding ways to stay hydrated and healthy at work—you assume that your colleagues won’t understand your need for a water break. And that’s what it is, an assumption, a perception based on your “reality” and nothing else. We need to realize we are creating these stories in our minds, and when we find they do not serve us, let them go. Refocusing on what’s possible helps us move forward.
 
Speak clearly. If, referring to the scenario above, you simply said, “I need to go off the unit,” that declaration alone probably wouldn’t fly with your colleagues. If you clearly stated, however, why you need to leave, your statement would likely be accepted. Speaking up and stating with clarity, “I need to get a drink of water; I am feeling light-headed and worry that if I don’t hydrate myself, I will get sick,” will help your colleagues understand why you want to leave the unit.
 
Find support. Some days, you come across people at work who do not support your needs. Other days, you interact with colleagues who do understand. When you find nurses who lift you up and make you feel good, stick close to them. Nurture these supportive connections and establish collaborative relationships.
 
Pursuing career goals
Most of the above focuses on relating to people at a personal level—on the job. It is about facing our fears and communicating clearly with co-workers so we can perform daily tasks at optimal efficiency. But what about on the career front? Does the same advice apply to advancing professionally and achieving career goals?
 
I would argue that it does. The principles that promote positive daily interaction with co-workers can be applied to our nursing careers to help us advance professionally.
 
Refocus. Many times we make career decisions based on what others are doing. Think about it. Have you ever had a colleague go back for an advanced degree and you thought to yourself, “I should do that, too!”? Guess what? That is his or her career goal, not yours. Well, it may be your career goal, but if it is, it should be based upon your needs and desires, not someone else’s. Do those things that align with your vision. Make choices based on what you want your professional path to be.
 
Speak clearly. Or maybe I should say, “See clearly.” You need a clear vision for your career path. When you have a picture of what you want to do with your nursing career, it becomes much easier to set and reach goals. You will have more success when you are clear on what it is that you want. A clear vision will propel you forward, even through the fearful times.
 
Find support. To advance in our careers, we need mentors, advisers, and trusted confidants. Taking this a step further, we also need to be open to receiving their informed input. Although we may think we know what is best for our career paths, why not learn from others to avoid making mistakes?
 
When I was asked to run for election to the board of the American Holistic Nurses Association, my initial reaction was to reject the idea; submit to fear, self-doubt, and worry; and give reasons why I wasn’t qualified. But I gave it a shot and, looking back, I’m glad I took a bold step and submitted my application. It’s amazing what you can do when you face your fear and go for it!
 
Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN, is an author, keynote speaker, and online conference host. 
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