Last week, I had the opportunity to represent as a CRNA student at a middle school. In my preparation, I found a few inspiring talks about how to choose a career. I remember when I was in 6th grade, on my way home from swim practice, I broke down crying and asked my dad, “what’s the purpose of my life?” In retrospect, that was deep.
Anyways, Ashley Stahl, a career coach, said you should ask yourself three questions to choose a fulfilling career. This, hopefully, is a key factor for happiness.
- Who am I?
- What am I good at?
- What’s holding me back?
Who am I?
This question requires you to think about the most important values in your life. Everyone is unique in that they hold varying values more closely. Family, friends, the media, etc. can all affect your perception of what is most important to you. Ultimately, choosing the ones that matter to you the most is what will help you live your life the way you want. Values will determine your behavior and attitude and guide your life.
Remember, other people’s values can pull you away from yourself. ‘Lists’ of how to be happy don’t often work. However, living out your values will make you happy. While some people value family time, others may value individualism and climb the career ladder. Others may value both. This can cause an internal struggle, or it’s possible to create or find an organization that allows you to live out both values. Others may value education, etc. It is helpful to find a career and organization that most aligns with your values. Of course, some values may change over the course of your life, depending on the stage in your life.
Personally, I value education, optimism, caring, persistence, kindness, and traveling. I’m sure several of these values were pressed into me. Taking care of my education is number one because no one can take that away from me. Always trying to beat my personal best. It’s a competition with myself to push me to do better than the last time. And to reflect, what did I do well? What can I improve on?
When I don’t feel right, it’s because I’m not living out one of my values enough. When one value is lacking, it’s time to nurture it. It may be difficult to do if a value depends on others. For example, if you value being the best, and now you’re in school again (such as anesthesia school), and you’re back at the bottom of the food chain (in the OR), it will feel very uncomfortable. Either you shift your values (which can be difficult to do but a change in perception can help significantly), or you continue to struggle until school is over and you’re practicing on your own.
What am I good at?
This was one question that was hard for me to know, especially when I was younger. I expected everyone to be just as good as me in everything. Of course, this is not true. Ashley suggested that you can find your strengths by someone TAPping you… Teach, Advice, Praise. What are others asking you to teach them? What are others asking you for advice in? What do others praise you in?
Of course, you will realize that you cannot be good at everything and that you can improve your skills through practice, through visualization, through discussions. Tune in your natural abilities.
But how do you know? Through experience. My mom has always told me that any experience is a good experience (except drugs. Thanks for the advice). Anything that may pique your interest (or a part time job that will hire you) try it out. I recommend reading www.80000hours.org. It’s called 80,000 hours because that is the time you will spend in a career.
What’s holding me back?
Other people’s values and expectations of you will hold you back. Your fear of failing. Your internal talk saying, “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t belong here” or “I’m an imposter”. Yup, I’m guilty of this too. Several times throughout school I would question my ability. Do I belong here? To get myself out of this feeling, I used my value in optimism to take me out of the funk. “Jess, you are learning. You will make mistakes. Don’t be so hard on yourself. What can you do next time so you improve?”
When you are in a new situation, visualize the scenario. I remember my first semester of school when I arrived in the OR at 5:30 am to set up my room. It was certainly exhausting. How do I check out my machine? Which syringe size do I need for each drug? Where are the drugs? How much drug should I draw up, should I use? Which colored label belongs to each drug? Why aren’t all the blue ones, orange ones, white ones bunched together??! Where is all of the equipment, and which drawer? I physically walked from the door to the head of the bed and thought through my steps. Later, I had to think, how will I prone a patient? I physically held out my hands and pretended to move the patient’s head from supine to prone. Of course, later on I realized that I also had to be aware of all of my monitors and lines too. The next time, I was considerate of my lines. The next time after that, I became more and more aware of my surroundings and different cues.
What helps is having a clinical instructor, a mentor, a boss, a friend, an acquaintance, who can listen, see, and understand what you’re going through and guide you through those difficulties. What are failures they’ve encountered that would make it easier for you?
There are days when you’re harder on yourself, and days when a ‘superior’ – be that an instructor, or a senior, or someone up the hierarchy in some way – will tear you down. One day is usually ok. But when it’s a constant uphill battle, it can be difficult to mentally withstand it. From being in school where there’s an evaluation of your work everyday, I’ve come to appreciate resilience.
I remember playing Final Fantasy and as one of the stats was resilience. I thought, WHO CARES about resiliency? I want strength! However, now I believe that the ability to pick yourself up after being knocked down is so vitally important. What is your coping mechanism? Some turn to drugs, some turn to family time, some will need to vent to classmates, some need therapy, some will dive in deeper in their studies, etc. Ideally, don’t do drugs because you’ll go down a rabbit hole that may be hard to get out (of course, rehab is an option but if at all possible, you can avoid it, why not?). How can you pass the daily evaluations?
Daily evaluations can be tough because one bad one can lead you out of the program. The fear of failing out of the program is real. Getting into anesthesia school is a big ordeal for yourself and your family and friends. It’s almost ‘everything you stand for.’ Failing out can be detrimental not just for yourself but from those closest to you. For example, there’s a story about an anesthesia student who failed out and then committed suicide on the day of her ‘supposed’ graduation. Very scary!!) However, ultimately, it is about what your choices and how you deal with each situation. For me, I have plan A, B, C. Of course, I want plan A but if that fails, plan B kicks into place. For me, having a backup plan (a backup anesthesia plan and life plan!) was a sense of calm that I needed to reassure myself that I can do it.