How to Use Fear to Motivate Your Nursing Career


Published: 05 May 2019

When you applied to nursing school, you probably felt afraid that you wouldn’t be accepted. Once you were in school, you were probably afraid of sleep deprivation, failing an exam, or doing something wrong and somehow hurting a patient. After graduation, fears arose of failing your licensure exam and not being able to find a job; and once you had that job, you were then afraid of losing it. So, how can you translate your fear into motivation and inspired action?

Recognise and Name Your Fears

Generalised “garden-variety” anxiety and fear can’t really do you much good until you take the proactive steps of acknowledging that your fear exists and then consciously naming it for what it is. Fear can come in many guises, and depending on your level of emotional intelligence (EI), your ability to dig deep and directly face your fears may vary. Sometimes, when our fears are buried and we’re in denial or simply ignoring our feelings, our fears can make us lash out and project our fears onto others, or simply fall into depression and an utter lack of motivation. You may be very skilled at making honest assessments of your feelings and responding appropriately to them, or you may have the need to grows in the arena of emotional awareness and intelligence. A life or career coach, mental health counsellor, or psychotherapist may be able to help you move beyond your fears and forward in your career. Having said that, you may have a spouse/family member, colleague, friend, faith leader, or mentor who can support you in that regard. If you’re having trouble getting there yourself, make the decision to enlist the help you need.

Fear as a Motivator

Sometimes, fear can serve an important purpose in helping us avoid danger, injury, or death. Fear of falling keeps us away from the edge of a cliff. Fear of sharks makes us hypervigilant when swimming where those toothy creatures hang out. And fear of disease can motivate us to be more careful about our nutritional choices. There are no saber-toothed tigers in the realm of healthcare (with the exception of the mean surgeon everyone tries to avoid and that grumpy nursing supervisor on your unit). In the absence of actual predators, other career-related fears can rear their ugly heads, and you need to be aware of how they weigh you down and hold you back. Once you know what you’re afraid of, you can use that fear to positively impact the trajectory of your nursing career. Here are some examples of this process:
  • Are you nervous about performing your first catheterisation? Watch instructional videos, read your facility’s policies and procedures, and practice on a dummy if you have access to a simulation lab. When you’re ready, ask a trusted colleague to stand at your side and assist during the procedure. Learn from your mistakes, and then seek further opportunities to practice.
  • Do you fear job interviews? Utilise a career coach or read books and articles about common nurse interview questions. Then, practice until you’re ready for some real interview experience.
  • Is there a bully nurse on your unit? Get support from books, articles, and colleagues about how to handle them. Learn to bully-proof yourself and stand up against those who treat you wrongly; a smart career coach can help you transform your fear into empowerment.

Perfection isn’t Possible – But You Can Try!

No one is perfect, no matter how people’s social media feeds try to convince you otherwise. Your colleagues aren’t perfect, and neither are you. However, even as we deal with our own imperfections, we also need to celebrate our victories and see how we’re growing. Did you stand up for yourself against a nurse bully? Awesome. Did you master catheter insertion? It’s not so scary now, right? And did you overcome your fear and do really well at your most recent job interview? Great work! We’re never going to completely eradicate fear, and that’s OK — fear keeps us motivated, curious, interested, and open to new ways of approaching the unknown. And remember that if you allow fear to control you, there’s less room for other approaches. If you made it through nursing school and are doing relatively well in your career, congratulations. But now’s not the time to be complacent: identify your fears, seek the support you need, and then use your fears as a ladder to the next level of your career as a nurse.


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Keith Carlson View profile
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram - as well as at and Digital Doorway.