“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.
Four million people quit their jobs in July 2021, the year of the ‘great resignation.’ Of the 4 million, how many are unhappy with their jobs, their employers and their lives? Why you need to know the difference between the great resignation and the great escape from work.
In the context of this article, resigning is a productive, self-serving process wherein you seek self-improvement. It is an action one takes out of self-respect and a desire to evolve. A healthy resignation comes about from a coherent, calm mentality that looks forward to a deliberate future.
Escaping, however, comes from a desperate, urgent or resentful energy. It is driven by an urge to ‘get away,’ a desire to seek something better. The energy behind escaping feels more like a forcing function rather than a thoughtful, intentional plan.
Note that I am not advocating one method over another. Only you can decide what is best for your particular job situation. Without a doubt, I experienced many a great escape from work during my engineering profession. It led me to maneuvering my way through a job scavenger hunt (not fun!).
It is helpful to know which scenario applies to you for the following reason.
The Escape Cycle
More than likely, if you escape in search of something better, as opposed to a healthy resignation, you will set yourself up for another escape.
The reason is because you avoid the difficulties, the road bumps and the difficult people, thus,taking that same lack-of-skillset with you. By avoiding the situation in a great escape from work, you may feel instant relief and comfort. In the process, you close opportunities to grow and prepare yourself for future difficulties.
Running away may seem like the obvious choice, or the only choice. Yet, in doing so, you run away from yourself. Escaping a situation, in general, will not turn into a long-term solution. But hear me loud and clear: some of you may need that short-term solution now! I get it, I’ve been there!
If you choose to make a great escape from work, proceed with caution. Because next time you will be forced to decide: do I escape once more and start the cycle over … or do I do the necessary work on myself?
Again, I emphasize that one scenario is not necessarily better or worse than the other. If you feel the need to escape, recognize that it is a short-term fix.
Resigning or Escaping?
The table below offers examples of an escape mentality vs a resignation mentality. I hope it helps you understand the underlying reasons for your desire to seek other employment.
“My potential in this job has been maxed out”
“I want a better career”
“My values do not align with my employer’s values”
“My employer is terrible or unreasonable”
“I gained crucial knowledge and met fabulous people in this job”
“This job is not my passion”
“The things I’ve learned about myself and about life are priceless”
“I deserve promotions or more compensation”
“Despite management imperfections, I do my best”
“Management is incompetent”
“I’m familiar enough with this world that I know what I’d be leaving behind”
“I don’t relate to these people or to this environment”
“My performance here is truly good enough for me”
“They don’t appreciate my work”
The great escape from work is a temporary solution. If you run from something once, you will generally continue to run until the cycle is stopped.
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!
People talk at work. The boss is unreasonable. Your customer complained about you. What do you do? If you are lacking self-confidence, it can haunt your professional life in myriad ways. Here are three pivotal reasons you should work on building it.
Blending Self and Job Identity
This is an insidious combination of two separate items that people tend to not recognize.
To blend the self with the job identity implies your job is part of your being. It means your existence is reliant upon your duties, job title or employer. When this occurs, life is grand if the job is going well. However, it also means that when the job goes south for whatever reasons, so does your life.
There are two problems when we blend work with our self-identities. First, you are relying on externals, almost completely out of your control, to feel confident. When we rely on external situations to make us feel good or confident, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
The second problem is that you tend to forget that careers are only one slice of life’s massive pie. People who depend on careers for their wellbeing are likely to forget there are significant, more important things to life.
Think of your job (and your career) as a tool. It is simply a tool that changes over time, morphs into something you may or may have anticipated, and acts as a springboard to your next job.
Jobs and employers are not the end all be all, as much as they may seem. If you suspect you are blending self and job identities, answer the question, “In what ways am I lacking self-confidence?”
Job identity is not self-identity!
Failure and Leadership
You are a leader. It does not matter if you started your first job today or if you’ve been at it for years. Despite your role on the organizational chart, you are a leader and I will tell you why.
First, others depend on you. Your colleagues and your management depend on your results and productivity. You are filling an important void the company needs to thrive so it can serve its customers. Therefore, your employer is heavily dependent upon your good judgment, which leads to reason No. 2.
Second, you are not just a leader in the workplace. You are the CEO over your own life. And do you know what CEOs do? They:
make decisions even when it is terrifying
are future focused and do not dwell on the past
view mistakes as information, not failure
try, fail, get up, try, and fail again until they figure things out
do not need a checklist, instructions, or directions; they eagerly learn as they go
Defeating obstacles and challenges helps you remove barriers that block you from knowing how exceptional you are. If everything were easy, you would remain stagnant.
Learn to lead yourself before you attempt to lead others!
Do you work extra hard or extra-long to keep others off your back? Do you say “okay” when you really mean “no?” People-pleasing can take many shapes and forms in the workplace; this is a sure sign you’re lacking self-confidence.
It is tempting to overwork or create perfectionistic tendencies when the pressure is on. After all, what will others think if you don’t do a great job? But here is the people-pleasing dilemma: you either satisfy others, or you satisfy yourself. Which is more important?
A people-pleaser would rather make others happy over making themselves happy. The root of people-pleasing is fear: “I might be the next to go; I need this job; I have to do everything they tell me to do; it’s too hard to find another job right now, etc.”
It’s not difficult to imagine how a people-pleasing mindset can enable toxicity. Confident people know how to choose themselves and their wellbeing over others (yes, including the boss). The person with high self-confidence realizes their employer needs them more than they need the employer. Confident employees know how to set boundaries and gracefully say “no.” Perhaps most importantly, the highly self-confident person is not beholden to their employer!
People-pleasers choose to not please the single, most important person alive: themselves!
Are you lacking self-confidence and ready to do something about it? Visit my Events Page to register FREE for Class 1 of my upcoming fall course starting Sept. 15, which teaches confidence and life skills for a healthy, sustainable career!
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!
Whether novice, veteran or somewhere in between, listed here are 5 critical workplace lessons for optimal career health and professional success.
No. 1 Employers Don’t Guarantee Happiness
One of the most impactful workplace lessons for you to know is that employers don’t ‘make’ people happy. Employer roles do not include cultivating nor sustaining your happiness..
The role of your employer is to provide work instructions so you can fulfill part of their business objectives. You produce output and they compensate. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement to create a working partnership.
At no point in time, at least not that I’ve ever heard, do employers promise happiness. To further this point, they are not responsible for your development, your growth or your professional status. Once you sign on the dotted line, you agree to fulfill your employee role; they agree to pay based on their own standards and criteria.
Hence, it is a grave mistake for anyone to assume or expect an employer keep them happy. As I’ve exclaimed before, “it’s not your job’s job to make you happy.”You will only set yourself to be disappointed!
No. 2 Rely on Yourself, Not Your Employer
Referring to Lesson No. 1, your employer’s role is to compensate you for your output, subject to their definition of compensation.
They unfortunately have no obligation to inform you of upcoming RIFs, transformations or new business objectives. Therefore, it is great habit for you to rely on YOU in case work goes south. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself out of a job, a reliance on yourself will provide a healthy, practical activity that is completely within your control.
Therefore, be more proactive in your career journey. I recommend Blog #33 about your Employability Vault. This article spells out a strategy and steps to help you get started with proactive preparations as a fallback plan.
I have seen too many devastated faces at work. You never know what is going on behind the scenes. The Employability Vault is your go-to mental workout, whether work is going great or not going at all.
Lesson No. 3 Behaviors Project Self-Worth
This perhaps may be one of the best workplace lessons for your self-confidence. The lesson is that other people, in general, say and act in manners that reflect the way they feel about themselves.
This is important for two reasons. First, when others point fingers, talk smack, or berate colleagues, they are exposing their insecurities. An individual who is disappointed or unhappy deep down will project this negativity onto others through their interactions. Similarly, a person who is highly confident and appreciative of who they are will treat others accordingly.
Secondly, this applies to you, too! How you feel about yourself is an indication of the most important relationship you will ever have – the relationship with YOU.
Therefore, what others think about you is really not about you. It is more about their own personal experiences, successes, failures… and what they believe about themselves. What others think of you is directly related to their own sense of self-worth. Hurt people hurt other people.
The lesson here is to not take disagreements or nasty comments about you so seriously. At the same time, if you find yourself judging someone, redirect that judgment inward to assess your own insecurity.
Lesson No. 4 There is No ‘Right’ Career Path
“What is my right career path?” is a question that plagues many professionals at all experience levels. And the reason it plagues is because this question is a self-limiting, negative question to ask.
“What is the right path” implies there is one right and several wrong answers. We live in a culture that teaches us decisions are generally ‘right or wrong,’ ‘good or bad.’ Therefore, this awful question produces unreasonable pressure for you to choose the right one.
What if there were no such thing as a ‘wrong’ career path? Picture this – you sell the house, move the family out of state, start over at a new company only to find out you hate it. Most people might claim, “that was the wrong career move.” But I beg to differ!
Can you be open to the idea that there is much value in all experiences? What I mean is, you lived through a process that did not produce the outcome you had hoped for. During this time, you experienced things, people and places you had never before known. You tried a new job, new employer, and new culture. Is it helpful and self-serving for you to know that it wasn’t a good fit?
Yes, absolutely, without a doubt it was a learning experience. Just because the job or employer wasn’t a good fit doesn’t mean it was wasted energy. It is just as important to know what you don’t like as it is to know what you do!
Lesson No. 5 Dream Jobs are Created, Not Found
This may be the most enlightening of the workplace lessons mentioned here. I never knew that a dream job was something I needed to create. It was never ‘out there’ to be found, as if part of some scavenger hunt. No wonder I could never find it!?
So, stop searching for your dream job. Stop meticulously analyzing job descriptions out of vigilant fear that they may not fit your ‘dream job’ criteria. And stop beating yourself up because you want more out of your professional life.
Instead, realize that if you want external greatness, you must generate internal greatness first.
I am going to include a phenomenal quote by musical genius Quincy Jones:
“Love, trust and respect.
Your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being. That’s the bottom line.
So you work on being a good human being first, even before a good musician.”
The lesson learned here is that if you want great, be great. Your job can only ever be as great as you are.
Which of the 5 lessons are holding you back? Let me know in the Contact Page!
“I feel like all I do is work, take care of the house, take care of the kids.”
Between demanding meetings, virtual work drama and external home responsibilities, your’e tired. But what is a person to do … you have financial, professional and personal commitments. It’s not so easy for most to just ‘land’ a new job or up and move to shake things up.
Here, I offer mental wellness tips to help yourself get out of your head and become more grounded.
I’m Tired of the Grind = I’m Tired of My Life
You may never state aloud “I’m tired of my life” to anyone or to yourself. People may assume the worst, like you’re lazy, ungrateful or you’re a bad parent. But stating “I’m tired of the grind” is easier. It’s safe and feels more neutral. However, the meanings of these two phrases can stem from the same place: a desire for change, wanting some things to be different than they are.
You tell yourself, “If only I had a better job … less responsibilities … smarter colleagues who work as hard as me … etc.” The list can go on, and I’m positive that you extroverts have been particularly affected by COVID. I personally know many extroverts who feel stuck and isolated working from home, as if in solitary confinement.
While tempting to dream of a different, better life, I offer a word of caution. That caution is to recognize when you resist reality. Resisting reality can take many forms; common examples are statements that start with:
I just want (more time in the day)
I wish (my job weren’t so boring)
Things would be better if (my kids listened to me)
Life would be better if (I could travel again)
If only COVID would go away (things would be normal)
I can’t wait until (I get my raise)
I’m tired of always having to (clean up messes)
If only people would (do the responsible thing)
I’d be happier if (I could take a vacation)
You get the drift. These classic mental examples of wishfully thinking are what it looks like to resist reality. Now why is that important to know?
Permission to be Human
As you recognize and acknowledge wishful thinking, i.e. resisting reality, you also come to understand its impact: how it makes you feel. And when you connect the dots between resisting reality and feeling miserable about it, you take ownership.
Why would I want to take ownership over wishfully thinking? Because ownership equals authority.
Whether emotions, thoughts or home projects, taking ownership (i.e. responsibility/accountability) opens up the mind to creative authority over the issue. Thought ownership is a bold practice of coming to terms with yourself, promoting separation of thought from the thinker.
After separating thoughts from the thinker, you pleasingly discover it’s okay to be human.
When you give yourself permission to be human, a sort of magic happens. You impartially allow thoughts to exist without judgement. There is no guilt or shame when admitting, ‘it’s true, my life would be easier without kids’, or ‘I’d rather not cover for my sick colleague,’ etc.
Authority, or thought ownership, is the ability to embrace thoughts and allow space for them to flow with NO self-judgment. And this opens the door to enlightenment.
Enlightenment is Freedom
Enlightenment, if you were to google, has myriad definitions. I’m going to use my favorite definition of enlightenment thanks to the Happiness Podcast by clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Puff: enlightenment is the radical acceptance of what is.
Enlightenment is the radical acceptance of what is. Let’s recap – How do you lead yourself to enlightenment? How can you get away from, “I’m tired of the grind?”
One, recognize thoughts and moments when you resist reality. Two, own them. Create distance between thoughts and the thinker. Three, permit the thinker to exist as a human with zero self-judgment.
Finally, as a last step, I encourage you to embrace the below statements with an open mind. Which resonates the most, and how you can work with the ‘grind’ instead of against it?
I’m starting to realize that every person has their own grind to manage for themselves.
It is true there are ways in which I can change my grind, but I choose not to.
Others would love to have my grind over their own.
I’m open to believing that managing my grind will someday pay offand I will be grateful.
It’s a privilege for me to navigate my own grind.
Let me know which one resonates the most and how you can work with the ‘grind’ instead of against it?
“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.
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.
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.
“It’s better to receive a smaller raise now so you can get a bigger raise later!” Have you heard, “Working 60+ hours a week without overtime is an opportunity for you to shine.” I could go on as you nod your head yes, but you get it. This common rhetoric is no laughing matter. How are you supposed to be a motivated, impactful employee when your employer breaks a promise to you?
A Grain of Salt
Imagine a time when your friend, spouse or loved one make a promise they didn’t keep. Were you devastated or disappointed? In hindsight, you might be able to see the signs clearly and you can’t believe you were so naïve. On the other hand, some people keep their promises. And you know you can count on them.
What about when your employer breaks a promise to you? First, for anyone to break a promise, a promise must be established up front. This is tricky and the nuances can be inconspicuous. Secondly, if your employer clearly makes a promise to you, it is your choice to believe or disbelieve. Sadly, employees tend towards believing the promise and simply hoping for the best. Lesson learned is that sometimes promises should be skeptically received with a grain of salt. Or several grains of salt.
Who Needs Promises
Where does that leave you, what are your options when your employer breaks a promise to you (see Post #21)? Rewind back to the point when your manager made this so-called promise. It was your self-obligation to decide if this promise was believable. Do you know how to find out if a promise is believable? You request the conditions in writing, to be signed by management. When the signed agreement is in your possession, congratulations, you have yourself a promise! If they don’t agree to their promise in writing … well, you can form your own conclusion.
Your management, by the way, is within their rights to tell you what they think you want to hear. They can promise the moon. The point is that people tell you things all the time. Your self-obligation is to use the best judgment and decide whether to believe. It’s a crappy road when your employer breaks a promise to you. The wrong question is, ”How could they do that to me?” The critical questions are, “Why did I want to believe their promise in the first place? How is it I put myself in that position?”
They have screwed up again. As you finished telling your colleague about a terrible management decision, leadership makes another bad call. You’re astonished at how some of them obtained their positions in the first place. More importantly, you wonder how long the company can sustain such ignorance. You keep asking, “How am I supposed to work with incompetent leadership?”
Truth or Narrative
Imagine asking every living adult if your leadership made a horrible decision. They will reply with yes, no, maybe and everything in between. Unless everyone were to agree that your management is incompetent, it’s only a belief you hold. Here’s another way to think about it: can you prove it in court? It is probable you are creating a narrative from which you feed if a court would not accuse your leadership of incompetency.
We have our own definitions of good versus bad leadership. Good to me is bad to you and vice-versa. When you are explicit about sharing your opinions, you are reinforcing a thought that feeds your mind. It is a subjective belief stirring about: “I have to work with incompetent leadership.” I challenge you to recognize your thinking and take ownership of your beliefs.
Perhaps your leadership is incompetent; that is truly not the issue at heart. The stinging question you can ponder for yourself is, “How is this belief helping me?” What is the upside to believing you must deal with incompetent leadership, how is that thought moving you forward?
Life is easier when leadership makes decisions in your favor. When management decisions translate to a burdensome life, it seems logical to point the finger. However, consider opening up to alternate perspectives. For example, management decides on XYZ and it poses some unusual challenges. This is a perfect scenario to teach you about yourself, if you are willing (See Post #18). Can you be open to believing this is a teaching moment? What if this needed to happen as a catalyst for your self-development…is that possible?
Allow some self-compassion and mental space to be curious about your beliefs. You are like a player consistently trying out for your own life. Your attitude towards leadership is a function of how you feel about yourself.
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?
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.
Does your day-to-day involve constant boredom and everlasting daydreams? Admitting your dissatisfaction is the first step to making changes for the better. So, ask yourself: “How long have I been going through the motions at work, and why?”
What it Looks Like
Let’s first understand what it means to be going through the motions at work. For one, you most likely wake up dreading the day ahead. Upon arrival, you choose to put forth a satisfactory effort over a spectacular effort. Staring frantically at the clock as you desperately job search has become part of your daily ritual.
Second, when you are going through the motions at work, your effort is deliberately proportional to your salary and no more. The attitude you carry is, why should I do more if I don’t have to? If you perform your work in accordance with feeling unmotivated, resentful or worse, you are probably going through the motions. See Post #18.
The good news? Your professional life does not have to suffer this fate. There are myriad options when you find yourself going through the motions at work. Obvious choices include new employment, new certifications, college degrees or quitting and residing at your in-laws’ basement. Are you ready and willing to take those leaps? If so, make a commitment and go all in!
If no, I would like to offer an alternative. What if you could remain exactly where you are and be motivated to do your job? How would your world improve if you did not have to go through the motions? This powerful alternative is available to you because I understand what it takes to get you to that place. My specialty is to save you from your professional despondency.
What kind of price have you been paying by doing nothing?
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.