Here we are, friends: staring down a new phase of life in the face. It’s that time when fresh starts, big dreams, and a rejuvenated sense of motivation take center stage. Call me Type A, but I find it to be rather comforting to create a map of sorts at the start of something new. Where do you want to go? What are some stops you’d like to hit along the way, things you want to accomplish?
It’s fairly obvious how this “mapping out the journey” applies to the context of graduation, but what I really want to discuss is the crucial role this played into the start of my career—and the role it can play in your professional and personal life, too.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question we’re asked from the time we can talk, all through our adolescence. As the years go by, our answers may change, and the seriousness with which we regard this question increases as well. However, this can quickly turn into a stress-inducing question for many, and there can be an unspoken stigma surrounding possible answers.
So here’s my challenge for us: Let’s take away that stigma and that stress. Let’s broaden our view and make things a little more open for ourselves. Let’s shift our “future focus.” Let’s start asking “WHO do you want to be when you grow up?” Go further than just the “what,” and have this important follow up question in the back of your mind … WHO is this person?
Still confused? Sit back, relax, and let’s apply it:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be an actress!”
*Cue the stigma*
Nervous glances between listeners, quick to judge and slow to remain open-minded and dig deeper, they whisper “Will she make it?”
“What happens if she doesn’t?”
“Will she really find a job?”
Confidence cracks, doubt seeps in, and you start to grow weary, feeling like you need to justify your “what.”
HOLD UP, FRIEND! You just stop right there. Let’s rewind, replay, and reword. Let’s have a little more open-mindedness when it comes to one’s “future focus.”
“WHO do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be an actress! The kind of actress who uses her past experiences to connect with her characters and connect with her audience. I want to be a person who feels inspired and inspires others. I want to be an actress who reaches out to mentor young children interested in acting and helps them express themselves in a healthy way!”
See what we did there? By opening up our minds and shifting our “future focus” from WHAT to WHO, we encourage those we ask to get specific. They really think about the kind of impact they want to have, characteristics they want to exhibit, and values they want to hold no matter WHO they decide they want to be.
From around age 10, my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was “A nurse!” It never wavered, and my enthusiasm for my answer grew through the years. I would often receive this response: “It takes a very special person to be a nurse!” It was curiously vague and made me start to wonder … who was this person, in my eyes? What characteristics did they have that made them a nurse? What would it mean to say, “I’m a nurse”?
We talk a lot in this profession about how being a nurse really becomes a part of your identity. And to me, identity implies WHO you are, not just WHAT you are. So I wondered, how could I create an identity that was unique to me—not just as a nurse but as a whole person—an identity that encompassed both my personal and professional goals and values? WHO did I want to be?
Here I was, finding myself. I wasn’t just in school to learn the skills necessary to be a nurse; I wanted to take the time to start mapping out my career legacy. What did I want to accomplish as a nurse? Who did I want to be remembered as?
So I created a personal brand for myself, my own mission statement that could apply to both my personal and professional life. My mission and purpose is to heal, inspire, educate, and care. To stay inspired, and stay passionate, always. I don’t just want to be a nurse—I aspire to be the kind of nurse who treats her patients like individual masterpieces. The kind of nurse who has a deep understanding of the pathophysiology of her patients’ illnesses. The nurse who is known for her ability to educate patients and families with care and clarity. The nurse who passes her knowledge on to students and mentors new nurses with open arms, never forgetting where she started. The nurse who inspires her team, her patients, her families, and everyone around her to believe that, despite the most difficult circumstances, achieving their highest potential is possible.
Taking my “future focus” further from WHAT to WHO I want to be has helped guide me immensely. I feel a stronger sense of purpose and motivation with this overall “map” to my career. I feel a stronger sense of confidence that I am right where I’m meant to be at the moment. My current work is on brand for me, as cheesy as that may sound. I feel like what I do now is helping me become my own unique version of this “special person” who has what it takes to be a nurse.
Work to create this timeless brand for yourself, one that will segue effortlessly through the changes and growth you’ll experience in life. Do this by working to discover your true purpose in life, by digging deep and asking WHO you want to be. Let’s keep our minds open and focus less on WHAT others are but WHO they are. And let’s inspire each other: create your mission, your brand, and your vision for YOUR future and legacy.
Isabelle “Izzy” St. John, BSN, RN, is a pediatric intensive care nurse at Children’s Wisconsin and is currently pursuing her DNP. She is a member of Sigma’s Eta Pi Chapter at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in Wisconsin, USA. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog, The Wordy Nurse.