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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.