“Why am I so invested in my job, how can I care less about work?” If this sounds painfully familiar, trust me when I state that this is a common dilemma!
Eliminate the Question
Asking, “How can I care less about work?” is a misguided question that is irrelevant to the real problem (seePost #35).
“How can I care less about work” presupposes you should care in the first place. It implies you have an internal attachment to your external work – and this is dangerous. This question assumes that ‘caring less’ is the solution to your burnout, stress, or work frustrations.
Allow me to offer an alternative perspective. If you can open your mind and welcome new points of view, I would like to pose a different angle.
Before we get to that, the common work approach below may apply to you if you are trying to care less.
The Common Approach
Work does not exist for you to:
Care what others think of you or your output
Overwork to the point of missing out on real life
Worry about employment status
Ruminate over harsh words someone said
Be available at the employer’s beck and call
Fix everyone’s fires except your own putting your job at risk
Put your life on hold to aggressively travel against your will
The purpose of work is not to be emotionally tied to outcomes of your performance or to others’ opinions. This common behavior can surely lead you towards a meltdown if things go sour at work. Asking, “how can I care less about work” is a cry out for help.
“But I’m supposed to care about my work and performance … if I’m not emotional then it means I don’t care!”
Okay. I hear what you’re saying. I ask you to keep an open mind and read the next section. This is probably new territory for many of you, so notice if you embrace or reject these suggestions.
A More Practical Approach
Work does exist for you to
Use reasonable judgment to fulfill an employment contract
Attempt your best day in and day out
Recognize strengths and weaknesses
Fail, try, fail again, and try again
Understand your limits and set boundaries
Learn how to be resourceful
Expand your brainpower by developing yourself
Overcome interpersonal challenges by working with difficult people
Serve an organization utilizing supplied resources
Help others help themselves
Improve things that cross your path – projects, conversations, and people
Notice how this list is more flexible and forgiving. This list does not require you to have an emotional attachment to any particular outcome. It absolves you from having to cling to the job; there is no dependency on what others might think.
Therefore, don’t ask yourself, “how can I care less about work.”
Instead, ask yourself, “Did I try my best today considering the way I felt along with the information available?” At the end of the day, there is nothing more that any one person, including you, can ask of yourself.
When you know you’ve done your best per the given circumstances, all else falls into place.
Do you feel under prepared for the working world? Do the nuances of human nature, politics and bureaucracy leave you confused? You are not alone, because there is usually no corporate in the classroom!
The Hard Skills
Here’s the deal. You earned degree and you, along with most others, naturally assumed that was going to be enough. Yet, you (along with most others) somehow feel unprepared for the working world.
Here you are, a few years into your career … or many years into your career. You seem to have gotten a handle on the ‘hard’ skills. And if you don’t have a handle, you at least know how to be resourceful and figure things out.
Unbeknownst to you, this is exactly why you went to school… to learn how to figure things out. The purpose of college is not necessarily to ‘teach’ you how to be an engineer, a designer, a lawyer, etc. Rather, college forces you to learn how to learn in the context of your major. Yes, that’s right. College makes you face yourself at a deeper level so you can eventually learn how to learn in the workplace.
But, there is generally no corporate in the classroom, so what are the rules of handling quirky, difficult people?
The Interpersonal Skills
Whether college should teach the soft skills and the interpersonal skills is debatable. Surely, you did learn some of these things as a student.
However, the working world is full of humans outside of your major. The complexities of work are a completely different kind of beast. And since there is generally no corporate in the classroom, you must figure out how to work with difficult humans without scarring your career.
For example, it takes extreme emotional maturity to rise above others who tried to do you wrong. How about that ego? You must learn to keep that ego in check when it tries to blame others or talk behind someone’s back. Dealing with unreasonable people or moody bosses requires high levels of emotional intelligence.
I could go on, but the point is that there are an infinite number of interpersonal situations that can catch you off guard. If you’re not prepared, if you’re not emotionally agile, then all the hard skills in the world won’t get you far.
If you feel you’ve ‘earned’ your keep, if you believe they ‘owe’ you, then this blog post is a must read. Learn about the effects of entitlement at work and how you may be selling yourself short.
On a Macro Level
There is no doubt you are a hard worker. You go above and beyond if you can. Colleagues enjoy your camaraderie, the boss trusts you, and you know how to be resourceful. In some respects, you are every employer’s dream.
In return for being a wonderful employee, you may feel a bit of entitlement at work. After all, they should owe you for your strenuous efforts and for cleaning up all those messes you didn’t ask for, right?
Your version of entitlement may look like:
I deserve XYZ for all I’ve done
I performed better than so-and-so and they should recognize that
This company would be hurting if it weren’t for my efforts
They could at least say “Thank you”
I expect to be compensated for this
On a macro level, entitlement at work means you believe you have the right to something. You believe they ‘owe’ you.
On a Micro Level
Let’s dissect this a bit more. A person produces results ABC and consequently believes they are owed XYZ in return. This assumption presupposes there was some kind of per-arranged agreement or contract.
For example, you pay Amazon $10 as you place an order for a book. You are then entitled to that new book. In this case, they owe you the new book.
As an employee, you signed a contract to fulfill tasks associated with a job title. Thus, the employer owes you a compensation package as stated in the contract – no more, no less.
When you anticipate or expect entitlements at work, above and beyond your compensation package, you engage in career attachment. On a micro level, career attachment is when you rely on external outcomes (entitlements) to fulfill an internal, emotional need (See Post #35).
If you are attached to specific outcomes at your external job, then you set yourself up to be internally disappointed. The reason is because outcomes are beyond your control.
When You’re Missing the Point
What I’m about to state could pose a new way of thinking for you. It may frazzle your brain, so bear with me and try to be open-minded.
One purpose in life is to overcome obstacles so we can transform into a higher version of ourselves. A way to do this is through our job. It is virtually impossible to beat challenges and improve emotional maturity if you depend on certain outcomes (such as a promotion, a bonus, a thank you, etc).
It is possible to rid yourself of the desire for entitlements at work, i.e. to detach yourself from your job. Here is a brain exercise to get you started. These questions will help you shift focus away from the externals and toward internal recognition. Warning: answers require deep levels of thinking!
Can internal acknowledgement of your own work ethic and your own work efforts serve as your reward?
Is it remotely possible to remove the desire for external recognition knowing you learned some things and grew your intellect?
What if your spirit knew how hard you worked and that in and of itself is good enough?
What if you laid your head down at night with the visceral satisfaction of knowing you did the best job you could?
The conclusion, my friends, is that when you chase and obtain external rewards, they are often not ‘good enough’ and you will continue the cycle of chasing. The point of work isn’t to fulfill your emotional needs. The point of work is to face and defeat all the pains, challenges, and undesirable events to upgrade yourself.
Podcast Episode: Entitled Engineers
I experienced the phenomenon of expecting rewards during my days as a young engineer. I share my own pain and suffering due to entitlements at work in this podcast episode. Don’t make the same mistakes I made:
6:59 Why I felt like a “complete failure” after obtaining my master’s degree in engineering 13:00 Why I walked away from the life I worked so hard to create 18:03 When family and friends don’t ‘get’ your problems 25:45 The profound life question that haunted me as an unemployed professional 28:43 The dangerous disconnect between entitlements and reality 34:23 My best quote and one question for engineers who want to be happy
What are you attached to in the workplace, is there something they owe you … tell me about it!
What would you give to resolve those lingering work constraints that stifle your productivity … or your growth? Anything from management to politics can contribute to career constraints. Here are three common issues I hear about in various flavors.
You look around to see people your age with similar experience who are higher up in the food chain. Perhaps you’ve tried moving up (or around) only to find yourself stuck for too long. You can’t seem to gain momentum. And in fact, you may not even know what momentum looks like for you. This type of career constraint is all about stagnation.
Your intellect can also suffer from stagnation. If you’re bored, unchallenged, or getting dumber over time, it’s not just you! This is an all-too common phenomena in the professional workplace. It is quite possible you’ve lost more knowledge than you care to admit.
Nobody is exempt from career stagnation. It can follow you from job to job, industry to industry, or even into the classroom where the whole idea is to gain knowledge.
A critical reason professionals are feeling stuck is due to …
Do you wish you could just say NO at times? Or confront the customer who complains behind your back? Or tell your boss why they are wrong?
Low self-confidence is the single, most common issue that brings people anxiety and discontentment in the workplace. And low self-confidence may lead to an unhealthy and self0limiting dependence on your employer. I have come to this conclusion based on two observations: my own experiences as a former engineer, and my own experiences as a coach.
Self-confidence is not to be confused with arrogance. Arrogance requires comparison to others; self-confidence does not. Arrogant thoughts may include, “I am better, I am smarter, I make more money than….” Whereas self-confidence is belief in yourself despite what others do or say.
I share my favorite definition of self confidence with you: the willingness to feel any emotion.
The person with low self-confidence is much more likely to be employer-dependent, overworked, and overwhelmed. It is as if the employer exudes power or control over your life. And it doesn’t have to be that way!
Career Purpose & Fulfillment
“This is not what I went to school for … they give me work that isn’t fulfilling … I need a better job.”
Do these career constraints sound familiar? It might be tempting to believe that since you worked so hard in school and checked all the boxes, a nice reward awaits you. What we most likely didn’t learn in the classroom (I know I didn’t!) is that after checking all the boxes, things don’t always turn out as planned.
The problem is that we look to solve for purpose and fulfillment in the workplace. As odd as it may sound, employers are not required or obligated to fulfill the emotional needs of its employees. If you know of a company that does so, please let me know!
The reason this is a problem is because people look for solutions where they don’t exist (like looking for apples in the dairy section). After many futile attempts, people may become depressed, despondent, resentful or worse.
If you suffer from some or all of these issues, I am offering a fall course to help you defeat them: Overcoming Career Constraints – What College Doesn’t Teach You
Visit my Events Page to register FREE for Class 1 starting Sept. 15!
“My employer doesn’t value me” you declare! If you’re tired of being undervalued at work, this blog offers 3 key points to consider when contemplating a solution.
First: Don’t Overwork
Many have been in this precarious situation: we work hard, produce results, and expect additional monies or accolades. Come to find out, your performance review was not what you had in mind (amazing how you and management can’t see eye to eye). You believed a significant salary increase was coming your way. You believe “my employer doesn’t value me” after receiving a good old ‘nice job, we appreciate your hard work.’
The first key point to note is that you might be tempted. You may feel the urgency to work ‘harder’, do ‘better’, and bend over backwards hoping to earn that next significant raise. It might seem logical to expend extra work effort.
I’d encourage you to be aware of this mindset and stop yourself if you notice these behaviors. The truth is, your employer can always find a reason to submit an average performance review, deny you monies or worse. I’ve seen too people fall for the mind trap, “If I prove my skills and worker harder, they should reward me.”
As logical as it might sound, life doesn’t work that way.
So please avoid overworking or over impressing – you may find yourself on the path to burnout.
Second: Answer This
It’s awful to think “my employer doesn’t value me.” But prior to making a drastic move, consider the bigger picture.
The bigger picture includes a holistic view of your employment. Consider business strategy, management, colleagues, trainings or other opportunities your employer may offer. Also consider your salary, your vacation, years of service, etc. If you have not done so, assess whether current work benefits outweigh the downsides.
Another way to think of it is to decide whether it’s worth accepting the bad with the good
Before you decide it’s time to run away, answer this fundamental question, “How will I deal with this same issue in the future?”
Switching jobs, employers, or industries is a short-term solution that never guarantees against feeling undervalued
Third: Stay and Accept or Walk in Peace
Should you decide to stay, then do yourself a favor. Accept the terms, conditions and caveats. In other words, accept the bad with the good and be the best employee despite all the bad.
Should you decide it is time to go elsewhere, leave in peace. Do not burn bridges, do not leave projects or people hanging. And walk out as if you might someday be back … because as horrible as the place may seem, you never know! Returning to an old employer is a common phenomenon I observed in the workplace, so be aware.
The third key point here is that changing the circumstance will not solve your problem. You may move on to find the next job is worse. What do you do, then? In short, before changing the circumstance, dissect the way you perceive your situation.
Tip: One way to prepare yourself for chaos or uncertainty is to understand that your mental state follows you to each job. If you feel “my employer doesn’t value me” today, you will find reason to feel undervalued in the future. There are only so many times you can walk. Instead, I recommend you step up for yourself.
Investing in your mentality to deal with uncertainty and build resilience is a long-term solution. All of us can use some mental strength and conditioning. While it takes effort, it is the solution to an uncertain world outside of our control.
Do you look back on the days when your naive energy shot you out of bed in the mornings? Or dwell on the nights when you were too excited to sleep in anticipation of going to work?
If you no longer identify with these scenarios, or dread the thought of waking up to work, you might be burnt out, stressed out or you may lost your career passion.
There used to be a time your plans were strategically laid out to create a sustainable and fulfilling career for yourself. As you know, plans don’t always work out. But you also know this is okay, because you are resourceful enough to land on your feet. The point is that your career passion, once fueled by dreams and motivation, has dissolved into a pile of ashes you’d rather bury.
What happened – are you just unlucky, did you make a wrong choice or earn the wrong degree?
No, no and no.
What we know right now is that you are on a journey. This journey will involve nasty bumps, potholes and roadblocks along the way. Losing your career passion is a common roadblock. You’re stuck, unhappy, and you want a way out, yet fail to see one.
Once upon a time, you had a vision. This vision involved a superb education with fulfilling employment that offered meaningful ways to accomplish great things. That was your plan, your career passion.
However, reality has offered a different plan. For you, reality might include quelling administrative fires, accomplishing monotonous busywork, and satisfying management at all costs. Or, your reality might involve painting numbers, consistently looking over your shoulder, or spending endless hours on the phone with your foreign IT department.
There is a clear gap between your passion and your job duties. So, how do you resolve this gap? You resolve it by learning how to reconcile “the way things should be” (passions) with “the way things are” (reality). Not an easy thing to do!
But what might this look like?
First, consider the true purpose of work (contrary to popular belief, it is not money, titles or benefits):
Service: contribution toward something greater than you as an individual. Because as a collective, people make profound impacts as opposed to working solo. The next time you’re frustrated or wishing for more, think in terms of service: ask yourself how you can help others, how you can contribute, and how you can make those around you better.
Development: evolve your skills, enhance your character, and progress your brain. The way to do this is by defeating obstacles, challenges, and road bumps. One way to defeat obstacles, challenges and road bumps is to go to work. How can you rise above the difficult coworkers or incompetent management and perform your best despite their intentions? And this, my friends, requires a lot. It requires you to be a mature emotional adult.
Legacy: manipulate your strengths, maximize your output, and be a proactive change agent. This includes unraveling your authenticity, applying your strengths and seeking improvements. Always leave a position and leave a company in better shape than you found it.
Now that you understand your purpose for work, here is an exercise to help you start the process of reconciling the way things “should be” with the way things “are.”
1. Get clear on your reality.
In other words, learn to separate out your subjective narrative about work from the true facts. The facts are: you have a job, a boss, colleagues, customers and assigned duties. Other than this, all opinions and self-talk are subjective stories you tell yourself (i.e., “this isn’t what I expected, I’m in the wrong job, etc.”).
2. Get clear on your passions. List them on paper and describe what they should look like in your life.
3. Match numbers 1 & 2 as much as possible.
How can you find opportunities at work to apply your strengths in a way that satisfies some of your passions? How can you become more curious and explorative as opposed to just being diligent?
4. Look outside of your employment to fulfill the passions that employment can’t.
Your career, created by your employer and in your employer’s interest, exists because you are qualified to accomplish the tasks at hand. Tasks that were created specifically in conjunction with other people’s tasks to reach organizational goals. There is no guarantee that affords your passions to be fulfilled on the job. The employment exchange is that you provide value in return for compensation under the employer’s terms and conditions. That’s it.
Therefore, fulfilling a career passion is your own responsibility and you must take ownership. That usually means a proactive pursuit outside the workplace.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. In fact, you don’t have to suffer at all. Check out my course, Overcoming Career Constraints, to help you become the person who can reconcile “the way things should be” (passions) with “the way things are” (reality).
Do you work in a passionless career? Send me a note and let me know how it affects your wellbeing!
“I hate my engineering job.” The results of this Google search were staggering to me. And according to an ASME article, engineering is the second loneliest profession (behind law).
This article is not the end all be all answer, because the answer is overly complicated and cannot be resolved in one blog post. However, as a recovering engineer myself, I can offer information to help neutralize the pain.
In the Trenches
Of course, I know there are engineers who ‘hate’ their current role. For crying out loud, that is a large reason why I started my coaching business in the first place!
But, the agonizing responses after searching “I hate my engineering job” served as a painful reminder of my past life as an engineer working in the trenches:
I just started as an electrical engineer for a consulting firm just over a month ago. At first I was ecstatic, because I got a job and now all of that hard work over the last four years to get the degree will finally pay off. However I just realized the other day that I hate my job.
This is such a cookie cutter job.
I don’t like my first engineering job and I want advice.
I’ve been an electrical engineer for 33 years and just left the profession 2 months ago. Technically, it’s an “early retirement” but quite frankly I just needed to get out.
In particular, I’m in agreement with it changing from engineering > management, now to engineers being yanked all over the place due to management / politics and finance.
My love of the profession and my hope that I would one day become like my heroes were gone. I wasn’t solving problems or coming up with creative solutions for customers and colleagues. I was pushing paper and, as a lead, using the lash of my tongue on others to achieve the same exacting standards.
There is not adequate time or space here to delve further into the endless pit of career horror stories. But, “I hate my engineering job” is a very real syndrome among the STEM population. Allow me to sum up the most common reasons I could find:
No impact/no pride
What’s an Engineer to Do?
For starters, here are a few things you need to know that I wish I had known back in the day.
First – Did you realize you are not alone? Engineers tend to (there are always exceptions) allow emotional career frustrations to linger and fester inside, which results in two obvious drawbacks. One, the pressure keeps building over time until you find an outlet. That outlet could spontaneously combust and turn out to be a major regret in life.
Next, you portray the image that nothing is wrong. That you’re just going about your business… that life is swell. And do you know why that is not a good idea? Because other people around you (either physically or on the socials), might be feeling the exact same way. Then, they believe they are the only ones feeling down and out about their jobs because the other engineers they know are putting on a show. It becomes a vicious cycle where all parties suffer in lonely silence.
Second – Did you know that you don’t have to bottle up negative feelings and live a pretentious life? Let me guess … you never learned this in engineering school, did you. They don’t teach us that it is natural and human to experience a wide spectrum of emotions in our careers. We have not been told that it can be stressful and unhealthy to suppress one of our most basic instincts as humans: expression. In fact, I would argue, based on personal experiences, that the STEM world discourages human expression. You are to get the data … do your job … don’t cause trouble … rinse and repeat.
Third –Did anyone tell you that there could be a large disconnect between academics and professional reality? Both worlds can offer feelings of pressure and pride, and both worlds can offer opportunities for growth and challenge. However, the circumstances under which these features are offered can be vastly different. Some engineers do directly apply academics to their jobs – note, this is typically a given assumption for most young engineers. After all, why would you bust your rear end in college to earn a job doing anything else?
The sad truth, folks, is that many engineers do not require application of an engineering curriculum to be a successful engineer. Thus, you are left feeling bored, regret, hopeless, or worse. It’s no wonder you agonize over, “I hate my engineering job.” You should know, you must know, that there is often a disconnect between industry and academics.
Engineering school doesn’t teach you how to be an engineer; rather, it teaches you the skill of how to learn in the context of engineering.
Now what? Where does this leave you? For one, you can let me know about your frustrations and dead-end attempts at engineering happiness by sending me a note – let’s chat about it. For an additional thought-provoking insight into career despair, see Post #25, “How Long Will You Suffer from Career Despair?”
Do you feel misled? Are you getting more brain-dead as time goes by? Send me a note and let me know how you are affected by this industry-academic disconnect.
I spoke at a conference yesterday and struck a nerve. Attendees reached out to me with personal stories about career attachment, and how it caused havoc in their lives. They thanked me for the helpful information, and I gladly summarize here.
We work super duper hard to earn one of the toughest degrees around. As engineering students and as young professionals, we create visions of a fantasy career living life happily ever after. It includes wonderful images of promotions, accolades, benefits, and money. We start our first professional job ready to hit the ground running.
Naturally, you’d like to see your career thrive. You want to nourish it and feed it and watch it grow. This desire promotes a dangerous kind of bond if you are not cognizant – an emotional attachment to your career. It is as if your career is a child, which requires emotional bonding to thrive.
However, your career is not a child. You have possibly fostered an emotional bond to your career, and this career attachment grows with time (see Post #09). The problem? Your emotional health in this scenario is dependent on your job outcomes. In other words, your emotional quality of life is dependent on an external circumstance – your career.
This career attachment you have created can grow into a monster, because as the job rides a professional roller coaster, so does your personal life. It can lead to self-defeating activities such as overworking, lack of boundaries, burnout, or worse.
Self-Description is not Job Description
First, recognize that the things you DO in life are different from WHO you are. Your TITLE at work is separate from your IDENTITY as a human. Humans are uniquely authentic and inherently worthy. This means, despite your past, your successes, and failures, you are still a 100% worthy, spiritual human being.
Your career, on the other hand, is a tool to be used for the sake of evolving your life. It is fluid and unpredictable, you never know how it will morph from one day to the next. One thing your career is NOT: an indication of your worthiness in this world.
Secondly, breaking the career attachment habit requires high self-worth and self-confidence. This includes respecting and valuing who you are, despite your flaws and failures. It requires knowing yourself inside and out. The magic happens in life when you can learn to love yourself unconditionally!
Last, I offer my favorite definition of self-confidence: the willingness to feel any emotion. When high self-confidence allows you to embrace uncomfortable feelings, such as setting boundaries or saying No at work, your emotional health will vastly improve.
The main takeaway is that career attachment leads to an unhealthy, destructive dependency on your job outcome. Instead of relying on external outcomes to feel good, look to the inside and rely on your mentality.
Internal self-validation sets the stage for the way you experience life.
Are you attached to your career? Let me know what that creates for your life!
As you grapple with thoughts such as, “I’m not sure what I should do next”, or “I want a new job,” you may have considered hiring a career coach or a life coach. I will explain the main differences between my work as a life coach vs career coaching so you can decide which is best for your situation.
What is Life Coaching?
My function as an engineering life coach is to help professionals conduct a root cause analysis on their lives. I coach engineers through tough issues whether in the form of layoffs, career dissatisfaction, burnout, or simply feeling lost. Let’s dive into the two types of coaching so you can decide which is best for your situation.
The Life Coaching process is strategic and cognitive. It is applicable to you if you tell yourself:
I don’t know if I should go back to school, get a new job, get another cert, or start my own biz
I wish I weren’t so stressed all the time
I don’t have enough time for everything
As a life coach, I help you get to the root of your issues and problems so you can 1) understand their origin, 2) reframe your situation to a manageable state, 3) decide how to cognitively resolve your problems.
What is Career Coaching?
The Career Coaching process is tactical and operational. It is applicable to you if you tell yourself
I want to move to ABC location and find a job there
I want XYZ job title with a specific pool of companies
I would like help with my interviewing/negotiating skills
I’d like someone to hold me accountable in my job search
I’m quite sure I know which jobs I will pursue next
I’ve dominated my current position and therefore I’m ready to leave
I need someone to help me with my resume
I’d like someone to tell me what I need to do to secure a job
I want help with strengths-finders test results
A career coach is more appropriate for you if your goal is to be matched to your desired job, industry, or company.
The below is a comparison of the main differences between each type of coach.
A Career Coach Offers Tactical Steps Towards the Search for a Job
A Life Coach Offers Strategic Steps Towards the Search for Yourself
Refine your resume
Refine your mentality
External job search
Connect with industry
Connect with yourself
Plan your next career move
Plan your next life move
Negotiation and interview skills
Self-Confidence and emotional intelligence skills
Acts as accountability partner
Offers advice, suggestions, tips
Does not offer advice; leads you to discover answers for yourself
Matches you to an external (dream) job
Helps you create an internal dream life
Life Coach vs Career Coach
Last, I will state that as a life coach, the skills I teach are meta – they are applicable to any area of your life. Essentially, you learn the meta skill of emotional problem-solving and self-awareness, despite prevailing circumstances.
There certainly can be some overlap between life coach vs career coach. This blog explains the high level differences between the two. If you are interested in free life coaching to help with unresolved issues in your life, send me a note. Let’s chat!
It’s okay if you read this blog post, you’re not crazy. One of the most difficult revelations you can admit as an engineer is that you are in doubt. You doubt your engineering career. And it is agonizing. Given the student loans, diligent studying, and wishful thinking, your engineering path leaves much to be desired.
You had myriad expectations as an engineering student. Perhaps you experienced phenomenal internships with spectacular mentors. And it’s possible you landed what you thought was going to be your dream job. Or, maybe you didn’t land a dream job. Maybe your credentials allowed for an opening into your dream company.
Somehow, the honeymoon phase faded away and now you doubt your engineering career. Your day-to-day is mundane without a clear future among too many supercilious people. The little secret you carry around is that your disappointment has led to job hunting.
Heaven forbid certain individuals find out, i.e. your colleagues or your boss!
This scenario is not what you envisioned years ago. You always believed your engineering career was going to be fulfilling and exciting, with much opportunity for growth and advancement (seePost #25). Now, you painfully doubt your career choice and contemplate moving on to greener pastures, if only you knew where to find them.
A Painful Way to Live
Believing you worked so hard only to question your choices can lead to a bitterly exhausting life. However, the first thing you ought to know is that this is a common dilemma among many engineers. You are not weird. There is nothing wrong with you. Many engineers question their purpose and their future. At times, they blindly throw darts and hope to hit something of value.
Secondly, it sure is tempting to switch jobs, careers or even industries. There are many opportunities out there and you may feel like you are missing out. The logical urge is to leave your current situation behind in search of a better life.
You don’t know if the grass is greener until you get there. Then, what will you do if the grass is brown? How many times will you start over in search of a better outcome?
Third, and most importantly, is that career doubt is a derivative of self-doubt. When you doubt your engineering career, you are placing blame. Regardless of who or what you blame, this career doubt correlates to your being out of touch with yourself. The question is, how much?
If you can better understand the reasons why you do the things you do, the reasons why you think the way you think, pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. Career doubt is simply the symptom of a bigger issue.
Maybe engineering isn’t where you belong, maybe it is. My function is to help you figure this out. Do not delay any longer. Send me a note about your contemplation, and we can work to figure out how engineering should fit into your life: email@example.com.
You cannot enjoy the Sunday afternoon game; in fact, you enjoy almost nothing about Sundays. Because Sunday is the precursor to another 5-day work marathon. No sooner when you make the Monday morning trek to your computer does the dreaded wait until Friday afternoon commence.
No Way Out
It’s not that you dislike your job, your colleagues, or your customers, necessarily. On average, you job is okay. It may not be the most exciting but certainly, it could be worse. And it’s better than no job at all.
Your first consideration: the obvious solution is to find a new job (see Post #29). Shake things up with a new boss in a new department or find a new employer altogether. The problem with that tactic … you’ve tried it before. Of course, a new environment will offer temporary relief. However, you eventually reach the point of dreading your Sundays due to the gloomy Monday mentality: “it’s a dreaded wait until Friday afternoon.”
Your second consideration: this is the way it is. Some people get lucky and love their jobs. But you tell yourself you’re just not “one of those people.” How can you possibly enjoy Sunday through Friday when they are associated with work? There doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to the unavoidable, ‘dreaded wait until Friday afternoon’ syndrome.
If this describes your work-life situation, I must share two items.
First, the situation will not get better on its own. Things don’t magically become less miserable over time. The more you wish for things to be different, the more you suffer. Imagine the person wanting to lose 30 pounds. They cannot wish those pounds away, nor can they hide the pounds by constantly switching clothes. You have work to do if you want to improve the situation.
Secondly, misery compounds when you doing nothing. If you wait for things to change, if you wish for things to change, it means you are resisting. The longer you resist, the sooner your energy dissipates. This is a sure fire way of burning out! Imagine holding a beach ball underwater. You can do it for a bit, but your energy will wear. It is not a sustainable activity. Neither is a life whose purpose is to ride out the dreaded wait until Friday afternoon.
We know a job change or an environmental change is not a permanent solution. So, what is? There exists a common root among the folks who cannot wait for the freedom of Friday afternoons: their mentality.
You can change as many circumstances as you’d like. Unless you work to reframe your situation and change your perspectives, the same mentality will follow you everywhere.
Adapting yourself to your world is much more sustainable than waiting for the world to adapt to you.
Earlier today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Stephanie Slocum, Founder of Engineers Rising. Stephanie is an engineer-turned career coach, similar to my path of engineer-turned life coach. We chatted about some of the most pressing issues young engineers face in their careers. I am going to summarize some of the germane points here because so many of you will benefit from this knowledge.
When Management Expects too Much
Many of us believe in the concept of job security and career fulfillment. It’s not our fault; this is the way society grooms us. The first problem with this belief is that there is no such thing as job security. The second problem is that careers don’t fulfill people. Fulfillment comes from within.
The ideas of job security and career fulfillment can be negative motivators. You may feel obligated to work overtime all too often. Or, you may feel the necessity to check your email during evening hours instead of spending time on you. These are the kinds of activities that lead to burnout.
If management knows you are a people-pleaser, you allow them free will to overwork you. If you are afraid to set boundaries or to say no, you might suffer from people-pleasing. The reason you are eager to please is due to insecurities within yourself. I promise, if you can clean up your insecurities, you can confidently learn how to say “No.”
Hard Work Equals Higher Worth
It is no doubt engineers and many technical professionals are very proud. And this is fine, there is nothing wrong with being proud of your occupation. What gets people into trouble, however, is when they cannot separate self-identity from job identity.
Too many professionals equate hard work with worthiness. “If I work harder, I’ll be more worthy” is a common belief. The problem with this belief is that people apply it in an attempt to control the future. If only you work harder, you’ll have a better reputation, make more money and hopefully never fall victim to a RIF.
Hard work does not make you or anyone more worthy (see Post #09). As humans, we are all 100% worthy no matter what. Employment is simply a temporary part of your human experience; it does not define your being as a person.
Job Description does not equal self-description!
The Purpose of Your Job
Your job’s job is not to make you happy. It is not to fulfill your needs. This is a foreign idea to many of you as we have been brought up in a society that teaches us otherwise. Happiness and fulfillment come from within, and it is your own responsibility to create those outcomes for yourself.
If this is so, what is the purpose of your job? The purpose is for you to show up daily, do the best work you can with the knowledge you have, fail along the way, learn from mistakes, and grow yourself. The purpose of your job is to amaze yourself with extraordinary accomplishments. Just as importantly, the purpose of your job is to present challenges and obstacles that evolve you into a higher version as you conquer them one by one.
Did you perform your best today, on your own behalf, given all circumstances? Will you lay your head down tonight knowing you gave it your all? If so, then congratulations, you have realized the purpose of your job.
You may long for the days when your professional life was easier, the days when you excelled. Others referred to you as the ‘expert’. Thinking back, it seems like you had it made. Today is different. You feel out of place as unfamiliar exposure follows you amidst a new bureaucratic maze. The job isn’t what you expected, and you lie awake at night thinking you made a terrible mistake.
You see what you believe. It is a concept referred to as confirmation bias. For example, if you believe your child is the best child ever created, you will accumulate evidence to prove this belief true. Over time, you will have made numerous mental notes of all the reasons why your child is the best. And you ignore evidence that disputes this belief. Therefore, if you consistently tell yourself the job isn’t what you expected, your brain will work to find all the relevant proof … and it will ignore the rest.
Confirmation bias is a critical reason why self-awareness is germane to your well-being (see Post #05). When your brain reinforces negative beliefs, it is creating stronger neural pathways that over time, become easier to access. This is how you create new habits. Therefore, it is your job to filter your thoughts and beliefs. Hold on to those that are working well and discard the self-destructive statements that serve no purpose.
First thing is first: self-awareness. Recognize the self-destructive chatter such as, “I think I made a mistake … It shouldn’t be this difficult … I must prove myself … I miss my old team … people think my job is a joke … I hate the environment … I don’t want this, etc.” You may wonder, “How can these be self-destructive thoughts if they are true?”
Great question! This leads to the next step: analyze how your thoughts enhance your life. Create 2 columns on paper and try this exercise. Column 1 is labeled ‘Thought’; write down your thoughts. Column 2 is labeled ‘Positive Results.’ For example, perhaps it is true you don’t like the new environment. What positive results are created in your life by this thought – how does it move you forward? If this belief does not support your well-being, it’s time to toss it.
In other words, you will contribute to your own agony by focusing energy on the negative beliefs.
Perhaps the job isn’t what you expected. Many jobs won’t be. Lots of things in life aren’t as expected: relationships, plans, children, etc. The question becomes, whodo you want to be when expectations are not met?
You left your previous position knowing the grass was greener. And you also held the same belief 2 or 3 jobs ago prior to moving on. Here you are again, different job, new environment, and you still suffer from career despair. Why can’t you seem to find content?
It All Adds Up
You can easily point to the things that are wrong around you. Some colleagues are unresponsive, others may be too responsive. Customers are unrealistic, management expects miracles and you’re trying to please everyone. Why can’t people give you a break and realize you are doing your best under prevailing circumstances?
Adding salt to the wound is your lackluster salary, which doesn’t justify your pain and suffering. You are quite the asset to your employer, and in fact, to a fault. Previous attempts to switch roles have gone futile because the organization won’t ‘let’ you leave. Hence, you feel punished for doing your job well. And just because you do it well does not mean it is the right one for you. If some of these scenarios are too familiar, it’s no wonder you suffer from career despair.
How long will you proceed with status quo until your sanity dwindles (SeePost #10)? Changing jobs or employers was not a long-term solution because the grass didn’t sustain its color. Earning another degree or certification didn’t solve the problem of dissatisfaction. Leaving the company only to return a few years later quickly lost its shine. All the meanwhile, energy drains from your being as you seek elusive career contentment.
May I suggest the problem is not external in nature. Rather, you have been carrying the same mentality with you to each job. And each job leaves you more vigilant than the previous, because you’re desperate to avoid the same scenarios. This vigilant desperation enables you to absorb flaws and all things that are wrong. It’s a vicious cycle that begins with your thoughts and beliefs.
Unless you change your beliefs and attitudes about how things should be, you will continue to suffer from career despair. Your tunnel vision will continue to haunt – this tunnel vision is your root cause. It is easy and tempting to point the finger at externals. However, if you continue to wait for the externals to adapt to your preferences, you will be waiting forever.
Why do you do what you do, i.e., are you fulfilling your why? I dare you to write down your answers. Do your answers feel good? Perhaps they bring about genuine sadness … or a sense of longing for something more. Maybe your answers are superficial enough that you don’t recognize the person who wrote them.
The Negative Build Up
If fulfilling your why is compatible to, “This is my passion … it is fulfilling … there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing…”, congratulations, you’ve made it!
However, if your answers are less than thrilling or flat-out depressing, then let’s take action (see Post # 05). Because if you don’t process the negative emotions of feeling stuck, bitter, confused, etc., then you may continue to ignore. When you continue to ignore, the negativity builds and eventually combusts in one form or another.
Reclaim your WHY
Perhaps you can acknowledge you are suppressing your feelings and sweeping them under the rug. Now what? I will offer that you don’t have to change your job (or your circumstances) in order to be happy. This may be a new concept to you. But the source of your unhappiness or negative feelings is not due to your job, your boss or any external entity.
Rather, your ways of thinking, i.e. your beliefs, are causing you to feel negative emotions. It’s tempting to blame your career or an external entity, but the root cause of most problems derives from your belief systems. Blaming external causes for your feelings depletes your wellbeing because it makes you feel powerless.
A significant life coaching lesson to my clients is that the sources of our pain are not other people, our jobs or external circumstances. The source of our emotional pain is due to the way we choose to label the world around us. How do you choose labels, and how do those labels influence your why?
Maybe you’re contently performing your very first professional job. Perhaps you’ve been around the block having worked for many employers under many job titles. Or, you’re somewhere in between. But there’s one thing you’re sure of: someday you will land your dream job.
Boundless marketing messages feed into the idea that your dream job is awaiting your much anticipated arrival. Colleges love to brag about high job placements for their graduates into happily-ever-after occupations. Social media bombards with promises to help you find your dream job. Recruiters, career coaches and career strategists like to boast about placing people into their dream jobs.
If you noticed, I am referring to your dream job as an ‘idea’ (see Post #17). As mentioned above, this idea is rampant in our society, as if your dream job truly exists (you just have to find it). After all, it sounds completely reasonable, and even expected, that many working professionals feel entitled to that one dream job.
What’s the problem with all this fluffy messaging? The problem is that maybe there is no dream job out there. In fact, I would state most professionals I’ve encountered have never found their dream jobs. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some people who do. I’m afraid they are few and far between.
So, if you are on the hunt, if your mission is to find that dream job, you may be searching for a while. The ideal job may not be out there. I’m not wanting to crush your soul or make you feel regret, despite my sounding like a pessimist. Rather, I’m offering a valuable truth that I wish someone would have shared with me. It is a legitimate possibility you’re looking for something that does not exist.
Which naturally leads you to the next question: “Now what?” You suspect the next best thing may be to find a job that’s close enough to perfect. It is a reasonable and logical guess, but it is not the best long-term solution.
You find yourself less than satisfied at work. But your boss wouldn’t trade you for the world. Despite your stellar performance, you’re not loving the work. There’s a lingering thought that won’t go away: “This work matters to my boss, but it doesn’t matter to me.”
I challenge you to think about the purpose of your job – of any job. Is it to fulfill your intellectual desires, to promote your professional development, to produce results in exchange for benefits? Let’s suppose the purpose of your job is to complete X, Y and Z. In return, you receive a paycheck. Is that not the deal you made with your employer when you accepted the offer?
If you find yourself less than satisfied at work despite your boss’ praises, the solution does not start with finding a new job; it starts from within. I guarantee if you were to brainstorm ways to become more creative, more resourceful, more engaging, and most importantly – more giving, you would start a personal and professional transformation.
If you are less than satisfied at work, first, try to think from an alternate perspective. Imagine providing a service out of your desire to serve. “How can I serve my customers/colleagues today, how can I go above and beyond, how can I meet someone new today, how can I engage with the person who avoids me, where are gaps I can fill, how can I help the new person, what can I learn today that will allow me to contribute more…?”
Secondly, investigate your WHY…why do you choose to currently exist in your job (see Post #12)? If you perform a mental deep dive, you will find your WHY is proportional to your satisfaction. To gain more fulfillment and/or happiness, you must first understand your WHY. Then, you can work towards accomplishing it.
In conclusion, if you are less than satisfied at work, help yourself by redirecting your focus. Mentally perform from an attitude of serving, and investigate a powerful WHY that resonates with you. It is a start towards permanent job satisfaction.
You earned one of the most difficult bachelor’s degrees. But you wanted more challenge, because more challenge equals more reward. Therefore, you earned a master’s degree. Now, after years of professional experience, you’re telling yourself, “this job is not what I signed up for.”
Been There, Done That
You did exactly what you thought you should do. Your vision was crystal clear back in the day. Its been years since you started your profession, but you’re not satisfied. You feel deceived, resentful, perhaps regretful. See Post #13.
But, something plagues you and it’s frustrating because you can’t precisely verbalize the problem. Then, the lingering voice haunts you: “this job is not what I signed up for.”
What you do know is that you’ve sacrificed a lot. You’ve been there done that enough to know the payoff is not what you thought. You achingly wonder, “Did I get the wrong degree? Did I go to the wrong engineering school? Can I really do this the rest of my life?”
The Life of Luxury
Family and friends don’t understand the dissatisfaction with your day-today. They unintentionally make you feel guilty with innocent statements like, “You have such a good job! You make such good money!” As if you’re living a dreamy, luxurious life.
But, they don’t need to understand you, because I do. I know where you’re coming from, and I’m here to tell you it is not your fault.
So, you do not have to blame yourself for past decisions, just as you do not have to feel guilty for your career despondency. Many engineers and technical professionals suffer the same dilemma: “this job is not what I signed up for.” My purpose is to help you strategize an end to your professional suffering and learn how to thrive.