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4 Steps for Taking Charge of Your Career

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First I wanted to be a minister, then a religion professor. Bypassing these ideas and my childhood aspirations to become a police officer, fire chief or cowboy (well, I'm sort of a cowboy, if you ask my colleagues), I became a nurse. But then I had to figure out what kind of nurse I wanted to be. Nurses' lives reflect a kaleidoscope of goals. As professionals, they have career goals; as employees, they have job goals. Some professional and job-related goals are congruent, while others conflict. They arise, collide or harmonize. Some goals are important, while others are ill-conceived. And if you don't come up with your own goals, others will find them for you. But the most satisfied nurses follow a deliberately planned progression of objectives organized around a realistic, long-term, career goal of which they are in charge. Here are four easy steps to becoming one of those nurses.

Step 1: Find your dream

All of us had an idea of what it is to be a nurse before becoming one. That was your original dream, and it's a good place to start. Are you in that place? Or do you find that whatever job or role you're in seems like a way station to something else -- some job you have yet to conceptualize or that will indicate that you have arrived as a professional? You need to find out what that is because it's your long-term career goal. Ultimate career jobs used to be easy to find because they were limited to clinical, educational and administrative roles, mostly within a hospital, home care or school. But according to a 2013 National Workforce Survey of Registered Nurses, only 56% of American nurses worked in hospitals. The number of choices in settings and specialties has exploded. Nurses now commonly work within the post-acute industry, entrepreneurial realms and just about every business sector imaginable. And they are doing quite nicely and living their dreams. I know several nurses whose private companies gross more than $1 million annually, which means they are not only doing great things for patients and colleagues, but also are financially successful. With another nursing shortage looming, opportunities nurse leaders hadn't envisioned are starting to arise. So scan the environment and dream up a way to settle on a realistic goal that excites you.

Step 2: Determine what you have to do to realize your target career job

What education, credentials, jobs and skills do you need? While achieving prerequisites may seem difficult, it's actually never been easier. Opportunities for acquiring online degrees and certifications are more flexible than in the past, and you can participate at your own pace. Additionally, the nursing shortage will open up jobs to candidates who might not have qualified when there was a recruiter's market. As in past shortages, organizations will be forced to train some applicants that may not have made the cut when there was an oversupply.

Step 3: Plan your career progression

Skills, expertise and experiences only come by working the right jobs in the right order. Many ultimate jobs can only be realized after getting experience at previous jobs. Figure out what those jobs are in the correct order, and you'll be set on the career trajectory that will launch you into your ultimate job. And you may have to demonstrate the appropriate progression to the people who can ultimately hire you into your dream job. I'll tell you how in a future blog on resumes and curricula vitae.

Step 4: Evaluate your progression and reevaluate your goal

As you continue through your career, assess your progress toward your ultimate career job. Is it still what you want? Is it still appropriate? If you answer yes to both questions, evaluate if you're collecting the necessary qualifications. If your answer is no, you have some thinking to do. Hopefully you've acquired role models, coaches and a mentor who can help you reevaluate your goals and help you to find new ones. A career without a long-term goal is like a ship without a destination. You can always change your destination, but you must have one or others will find one for you. Only your mobility should restrict your career choices, not other people. Take a long, hard look at what you're doing and what you want to be doing. Don't be afraid to change course any time during your career. Make sure you're in a position that satisfies you, and you'll contribute greatly to our wonderful profession and your own life as well. To check out employment opportunities in your area visit Nurse.com/Jobs.