You can go your own way and be your own person. Or you can be one of the sheep. The choice is always yours.
Don't get me wrong, I love sheep. Seeing a large flock of walking puffs of clouds over a rolling green hill is relaxing. They are cute (well, at the petting zoo for my kids, they were cute.) They make wool. I love a nice wool suit. And delicious meat (roast leg of lamb is incredible.) And they produces milk for cheese. They are...well, they are animals that graze and exist until we need some part of them.
They are a commodity. An object used to create something else for sale. And just about any single sheep can be replaced with any other sheep. They may have different personalities, but they are interchangable in their role within the drove.
That is a lot like people, in a way. People like to think they are irreplaceable in the job. But they aren't (and deep down, I think we all know it.) We are needed only because we can push the right button, or throw a football nicely, or sing a song beautifully, but in reality, many people can push that same button, throw a football, and sing that same song. In the workforce, people are commodities.
We are all just a very large, very fast-moving flock of people. Everything we do is a blur. Everything runs together, like a watercolor painting left out in the rain. We are all interchangeable. Oh, it may take some retraining to pull one person out and put a new person in their place, but that is the same as when you introduce a new sheep to the pasture. There are 7 billion people on the planet.
Or maybe there is just one person, but with seven billion different faces.
This is not what I normally write about, is it? Sort of grim. But wait, this is only half the story.
See, as a nurse, I am replaceable. Just about any nurse can be taught the skills needed on the job. As an instructor at my local community college, I am a little less replaceable, but only because there are less nurses with the right education credentials. But those can be earned.
So where am I going with this?
There is one way I am irreplaceable. Only one position that only I can fill. One area where I am not a commodity.
As a person, I am the only ME there is. So I need to make the most of it. While many people can do what I do, I am the only person who does it exactly I as do it. I am the only person with exactly my background and history. In all of the world, there is likely only one nurse who is:
- weight loss coach
- bartender (6 places)
- chef (2 places)
- a television guest chef
- fast food restaurant manager
- security guard,
- dairy bottling plant shipping manager
- direct salesman (4 companies)
- carpet cleaner
- grocery store clerk
- car wash attendant
- day care custodian/substitute teacher
- home brewer
- certified beer judge
- who is also a podcaster, blogger, and YouTuber.
That is what makes me separate from the herd. I am a herd of one (to borrow from a US Army slogan.) I use all those experiences to make me a better person at everything.
That does not mean I am an expert at everything. Heck, I'm not an expert at anything. I am gaining new skills every day. I will admit to making mistakes repeatedly, although I try to not make the same mistake twice.
This realization did not happen overnight. I'm 51 years old and it's only been in the past couple years that I have started to believe this. As an instructor at the college, it took more than five years to find my voice. There is working "outside your comfort zone" and "learning the lay of the land." I started teaching in January 2009, and it was not until this semester that I finally decided to remove parts of my mask and show the real me. Just yesterday, a colleague commented on how much more engaged I am, and my only response was I finally feel as though my real voice is taken as valid.
But the point is that I am finally being myself!
Stepping out, seizing your own space, using your own voice, those are all methods of being your own authentic self. And all of those can be intimidating. But until you take those steps, you are just another blurred face in the crowd.
If you don't use your own voice, if you don't act the way you truly feel, you are not loyal to yourself. You will change as the powers around you change. You will be a flag in a hurricane, whipping violently in one direction until the hurricane passes and then you will whip violently in the opposite direction.
In doing so, you lose yourself.
“If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything.”
Claude McKay, Jamaican-American writer and poet (1889 – 1948)
I'll leave you with a few questions. Please feel free to answer them in the comments.
Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you want?
What do you bring that no one else can? Do you use it, every day?
In researching this essay, I knew that a collection of sheep was a "herd", but was not sure about any other terms. According to the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center a collection of sheep can be called a "flock, herd or drove." I knew that elephants were a herd. Do you know the name for a group of apes? Badgers? Martens? Eagles? Starlings? Toads? Trout? Jellyfish?
(That is the sort of thing that interests us nurses who are guys that have experienced that list of careers above.)