Monday, April 30, 2018

What Am I Doing in This Place? When Who You Are and Who You Want to Be Collide: The Writer Becomes a Nurse, Then a Writer

photo by Sergey Nivens via Adobe Stock
Have you ever had the feeling you're in the wrong profession? I have. In fact, several years ago I attended a writer's conference at a university in New Jersey, and for weeks later castigated myself for giving up my pursuit of a writing career to become a nurse. 

The hours spent meeting and talking with other writers. The workshops that inspired me to go after my dream. The buzz of adrenaline that ran through my veins when I thought, "I can do this! I can be a writer!" All of it was wonderful. I was excited to be back at school, even for just a day. Walking the halls of that fine institution felt so right. I wanted to stay there, to be a part of it everyday. For years.

When reality hit on Monday morning I felt deflated, forlorn, a fraud when I had to put away my work-in-progress to attend to the needs of my patients. Second thoughts about my career choices hounded me:  

Why am I spending the best part of my days in a hospital when I was clearly meant to work in an academic setting, writing, surrounded by books and learning? I should quit this job and do what I was meant to do: Get a Masters in English Literature or Creative WritingBecome a college professor. Or a librarian. Or get some job in academia where I'll be surrounded by books and learning, and people who love books and love to learn. Something, anything other than running up and down the halls of a busy medical unit with scarcely a moment to think of anything other than the task at hand. I'm a dreamer. I need time to dream. Not to be found in this place. 

Life often pulls us in directions other than where we're meant to go. For instance, I remember a meeting with my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Firing, in my senior year. He called me into his office to talk about my future. 

"What do you want to do after graduation?" he asked. "You can be a nurse, a teacher, a secretary."

"I want to be a writer," I said, full of the optimism of youth. As a young woman in the late 1970's, this seemed like a real possibility, but Mr. Firing just laughed. 

"You'd be a good nurse," he said. 

I told him I would NEVER be a nurse, and left his office in a huff. 

After college, English degree in hand, I pursued my dream of being a professional writer, a reporter, and worked for several small newspapers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But I couldn't land a full-time job, so, after two or three years of living on the poverty line, I decided to give up my dream of a big newspaper job and went into the non-profit sector. (I know, not much more money there, but it was steady employment with benefits and I was working for a good cause, the American Heart Association.) 

When that proved unfulfilling, I did some long and hard thinking about what I could do that would: a) satisfy my need to work in a field that helped others; b) provide a necessary service; and c) offer financial stability and great benefits. After much research, and to my chagrin, I decided that maybe Mr. Firing was on to something: Nursing might not be so bad. 

With my parents at graduation in 1992
And it wasn't. I sailed through the licensed practical nursing program, passed my boards on the first shot, got a job right away, quickly advanced in my field, and became a registered nurse five years later. I worked in a busy hospital, floating between units. I loved my work, but something was missing.

In the early 2000's I decided to write again, and took on the job of editor and lead writer for a newsletter published by the nursing department at my hospital. I wrote short essays about my nursing experiences and was published in a nursing journal. And I finally penned my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer's love story, which is how I ended up at that writer's conference that left me embittered about the career choices I had made. 

Life went on, and I managed to put all those negative thoughts behind me. But then something remarkable happened: A work-related injury forced me out of the job I loved – and almost out of the nursing profession. When I recovered enough to go back to work, I took a part-time position as a campus nurse at a community college. And there I was, working in an academic setting, surrounded by people who value education, and working to enable our students to reach their goals of earning an Associate's Degree, and in many cases, to become a nurse. I started writing again, and published that first novel, and a second. 

Living the author life!
So, it seems I've come full circle. I'm working as a nurse in an academic setting and I'm writing. I also took on the role of teacher in adult continuing education programs, and help others realize their own dreams of becoming published authors. I ended up exactly where I wanted to be, and recently celebrated the eighth anniversary of starting that job. And I feel pretty good about that.

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