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Is Your Nursing Career Close to Sunset?

By Keith Carlson via Multibriefs

As the baby boomer generation ages into retirement or semi-retirement, many aging nurses are facing the potential sunset of their nursing career. Having potentially worked decades in the healthcare arena, leaving the work that has held so much meaning for you as a professional can be a painful crisis of identity.

But what if your career as a nurse didn’t have to completely end and you could simply change channels and enter an entirely new iteration of what it means to be you?

The End of an Era Isn’t Necessarily the End

If you’ve worked as a nurse for 30 or 40 years, nursing is certainly a part of your identity. You may not have loved every minute of it, but if you stayed in the game that long you probably got something out of the experience (including an occasional bruising of your ego along the way).

No matter the details of your many years of service, you’ve been identifying as a healthcare professional for what seems like forever, and when you finally retire from the fray, you may feel like something inside of you has died. Whether your brand of nursing was in a school, the OR, or the outpatient dialysis center, there’s likely some further things you’d like to experience and learn.

Your retirement from nursing as you know it doesn’t have to mean you’re gone for good. In fact, so-called "retirement" can be a new lease on life in terms of grabbing the coming years by the bull by the horns and using your curiosity and creativity to formulate a new plan for what you want to do now that you’ve finally grown up.

The end of one era means the beginning of another, and your professional life is no different; what do you really want now that retirement from the life you’ve known is at your doorstep?

Follow Your Bliss?

The mythopoetic author Joseph Campbell once recommended that we all follow our bliss. However, while raising children, going to school, advancing your career, and taking care of countless other responsibilities, some of your bliss may have taken a back seat to necessity.

And now that things are shifting in your life, is there something you’ve been putting off for as long as you can remember, or is there something new in your orbit that you’d like to try on for size?

One retiring nurse’s bliss may be an around-the-world trip; for another, it may simply mean more time gardening, writing that long-aborted novel, or spending more time with the grandchildren. Still another nurse may want to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders and serve in desolate places around the world where her career of accumulated medical skills can best be used for the greater good.

For you, "retirement" may mean exiting stage left from full-time work without the luxury of no longer working at all. In fact, you may have new expenses you need to meet as you age.

There’s no one who can dictate what the autumn and winter of life should look like for you; in fact, you’re the only one who can, even if some uncertainty still lies ahead, like it does for so many leaving behind the work they’ve known for many years.

A New Lease

Leaving the regular workforce opens you up to many possibilities, and none of them need include playing bridge and joining a knitting circle or book club, unless that’s what you really want.

In terms of pursuits that a new nurse retiree may see as holding potential, a lifelong dream of being a life coach or career counselor may be just the ticket. Self-employment isn’t always feasible while raising a family and putting the kids (or yourself) through college, but using your hard-earned life skills and acumen to launch a business could be both intellectually stimulating and gratifying, especially if the imperative to earn a certain amount of money has eased.

Being an adjunct professor or part-time clinical instructor for a nursing program could be attractive to some nurses, as could the potential for being a substitute school nurse or camp nurse over the summer.

Just the Beginning

One nurse’s retirement heaven could be another’s hell, and these decisions are by nature highly personal and dictated by both financial and other circumstances.

Your retirement from a successful nursing career can be as idiosyncratic as you are. Embrace serendipity, explore your lifelong desires, keep an open mind about the possibilities, and consider how you would like to continue to live in this world and serve others while also caring for yourself. Old age may not be for the faint of heart, but retirement can be a new lease on life when you allow yourself to consider the depth and breadth of experience still waiting to be discovered.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway, a widely read freelance nurse writer, and motivational/keynote speaker. Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, a popular nursing career podcast. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

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