This is a guest blog by Gina Covarrubias
An unbalanced engineering career can materialize in several ways, and none of us are immune. Whether we experience too much overwhelm or not enough motivation, here are a few ways we can preserve more career balance.
Adjust Your Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivations
We have many motivations for working, which is a great thing! On a high level, we can categorize these motivations as extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivations are driven by things outside of yourself. For example, most of us are motivated to work for money and benefits. Sometimes we’re motivated by new titles or additional respect. These are examples of behaviors fueled by external paybacks or rewards.
It’s a wonderful system; we love getting paid to perform meaningful work that serves the world.
However, there is a danger of implementing too many extrinsic motivations. They can only carry a career so far because emphasis on external paybacks and rewards dismisses its complement—internal paybacks and rewards. How do we generate internal paybacks and rewards? By creating intrinsic motivations.
Intrinsic motivations are driven by enhanced self-improvement for its own sake. For example, some of us enjoy knowledge, increased intellect, and new experiences in the name of self-development, not for any sort of external reward. Intrinsic motivations propel us to enjoy doing things for the sake of doing them, not necessarily for external gain.
“When the reward is the activity itself-deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best-there are no shortcuts.” ~ Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Therefore, try assessing where your motivations lie and adjust them accordingly. For more balance in your career, it’s best not to deviate too far to one extreme or the other.
Redirect Stressful Self-Talk
Sometimes we put undue pressure on ourselves without realizing it. For example, we might fixate on the consequences of a missed deadline, fooling ourselves into believing the worst. Or we panic over an upcoming presentation, even though we grasp the material.
Instead of the typical, stress-provoking statements we might concoct, such as:
I need to __.
I have to __.
I must __.
I’m supposed to __.
I’m obligated to __.
I don’t want to __.
We can redirect these statements so perhaps they don’t feel as heavy.
Here are some alternatives you can try:
I get to __.
It is an honor to __.
It is a privilege to __.
It is my pleasure to __.
I’m choosing to __.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to __.
Who better than me to __?
It may take a little practice, but I challenge you to try rewording any statement that brings you dread or overwhelm.
Treat Your Career as A Science and an Art
In the workplace, our skills are not applied in a vacuum. They must be applied in the context of our daily environments, including unpredictable changes and the dynamic of human behavior.
Hence, not only does work require a scientific knowledge base, or hard skills; it also requires artistry to communicate, interact, and adapt. This is when soft skills become crucial.
Generally, the hard skills are the “easier” ones for engineers to acquire. At this point, you’re very familiar with the process of learning new knowledge via reading, completing courses or certifications, performing research, etc. Engineers love this!
Generally, the soft skills tend to be a little more challenging for the engineering community. Soft skills include the art of communication, emotional intelligence, and self-confidence, to name a few. Soft skills can be tricky because they seem so fluid and open-ended. There are no specific instructions or rules in the art of applying soft skills—this can be scary for engineers!
There is a finesse, or art, involved in the way you go about your business—the way you interact, your tone of voice, the words you choose, etc. This finesse is just as critical as your knowledge development.
Enhancing soft skills includes but is certainly not limited to –
- Confidently standing up for your beliefs and/or results
- Becoming an autonomous thinker and decision-maker
- Diffusing difficult conversations
- Improving the state of everyone and everything around you
- Managing your own roller coaster of emotions
It’s fantastic if you understand your area of expertise, however, this is only a part of your job as an engineer. For a more balanced career, enhance the science as well as the artistry portions of your job.
“The soft skills are the hard skills.” ~Amy Edmondson, professor, Harvard Business School
About the Author Gina Covarrubias
Gina is the founder of Deliberate Doing, an exclusive STEM coaching service dedicated to helping engineers fix their careers. She solves the common STEM problem: “What should I be doing with my life?” As a former engineer, she identifies with the technical expert who doubts their personal or professional existence.
Gina’s distinctive background blends life coaching expertise with 12+ years engineering/technology experience in the government, academic and corporate environments, all within the aerospace sector.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on networking tips for engineers.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success