I’ve learned that much like romantic relationships, friendships, family, it’s important to set boundaries with work. It’s important to understand what works for me and what makes me comfortable. The keywords here are: what makes me comfortable. Boundaries, setting limits that allow you to feel safe, is a very personal thing. It’s not something that one can compare to others or use others to decide what will and will not be okay in one’s world. This is how we end up feeling very unsafe and get ourselves into trouble by losing touch with ourselves.
When I started nursing, I had very loose boundaries. My intention was to give and give and give until I had nothing left. I never quite understood what it meant to have one’s “cup fulleth over”. And in my ignorance, I often felt that one had to sacrifice all of who they were in order to be a “good nurse”. As time progressed, and as experience would have it, I burned out. Many times. This tends to happen when you don’t set boundaries for yourself. You reach a point where you have nothing left to give to yourself. It’s important that we take care of ourselves, particularly in a service profession. You need to take care of yourself first. I believe that it is from my ability to take care of myself first that I give my best to others, not from my inability to do so. I often think about all the safety videos they provide to us in hospitals. Before entering a patient’s room who is on airborne, contact, droplet precaution, it’s important that we first put on our own safety equipment. That’s a boundary. A very important boundary at that.
One of the things I’ve been examining over the last few months is why my boundaries were so loose with work to begin with. And one of the things that I came to realize is that I often time I proceeded to look for jobs out of a place of fear and lack. This is a big deal. It’s also very common for people to do. If you believe that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, if you believe that you will never again get the thing you want, then you hold onto it so tightly, give up so much of what you value, and compromise yourself in order to keep it. I didn’t trust in the process of life.
I’ll share my story here:
About a year ago, I decided not to purchase a house in an area I loved, in a state I adored and ended my travel nurse contract short so that I could take a position in the neonatal intensive care unit in my original hospital of employment. It was the first hospital I ever worked at. I cried. Despite desperately wanting a change from the world of med-surg, I knew I didn’t like working at this hospital. Every nurse knows about the variety of cultures that exist from hospital to hospital and from unit to unit. But I accepted the position because I really wanted to explore the world of babies. That was the start of the most difficult, isolating, and lonely year of my nursing career. I loved the babies and the NICU was no where NEAR as stressful as my experiences with med-surg. But I felt so incredibly alone in that place that I often found myself going home crying. I’ve written about my experiences with my preceptor when I first started and how it seemed to corrupt the entire space of the NICU for me. I trusted few, I spoke even less. During that time, however, I was able to get into graduate school. The school I originally wanted.
I truly believe that my experiences as a travel nurse combined with accepting the position in the NICU was exactly what I needed to get in. I was able to get a recommendation from someone at every hospital I worked at during that time. In addition to this, it gave me a reason to ask to cut my hours back to part time hours. But it wasn’t enough. I found myself still burning out. Though I wasn’t physically exhausted, psychologically, I didn’t feel right. I took myself to therapy. I told my therapist that the thing I have discovered the most about myself is that I have a hard time surrendering when it comes to work. I went over my entire process with her to fill her in on where I am right now. I told her that I have a hard time telling the truth about what it is I want with my work life because I’ve afraid nothing better will ever come along. I remembered praying and hearing the question: What would it take for you to leave this situation? I said “More money, closer to home, good benefits”. Within two hours I received a call from a hospital I had not applied to in 2 years. The conversation went like this:
Recruiter: “Hi, we have your resume saved on file and I saw written on our notes with you that you’re currently working in the NICU? We were looking for someone who was willing to cross train to labor and delivery and was wondering if you’d be willing to do that?”
Me: Well…(tell the truth) I’m actually looking to do something more in line with what I’m learning in school. I’d like to work in something like progressive care or telemetry…
Her: We actually have those! Let me pull it up here…What shift do want?
Me: I’m open to all shifts actually…
Her: Well, we have a day shift but we would be more than happy to have you do either/or or both. The only catch it’s that it’s not in the area near where you currently work. It’s actually located in _____.
Me: That’s actually 15 minutes away from me!
Her: Really? Awesome! Does that mean you’re interested?
Me: It sounds promising. But might I ask, what’s the pay like?
Her: It depends on experience. I see you have 4 years? So around __ an hour. And that’s the base rate. It goes up with weekends and night shift.
It was more than what I currently made an hour base rate. Almost $5 more!
She went on to explain the benefits and they were exactly what I looked for. I hung up the phone and I was in awe. How was this happening? I wanted to cry. I finally saw that I had options and didn’t have to stay in a situation that made me feel lost and confused. I felt empowered.Now, I didn’t take the position. What?! I know. But as my energy started to return I found other positions became more readily available to me, closer to home, more pay, greater flexibility. I took a different position. It was a huge lesson to me about trusting the process.
I’m at the point now where I no longer fear losing my job or letting a position go that isn’t conducive to my own health and well-being because I understand now what it means to trust the process of life. I’m also aware now of the difference between walls and boundaries. Walls are rigid entities that keep me in and everything else out. Walls keep me from learning and growing. Boundaries are flexible forces, they keep me (and others) safe while allowing me to interact in a healthy way with my environment. They are important. I understand now that trusting the process means moving out of a place of lack and moving forward even when I cannot see the path. It will be okay. I will be okay.