A lot of members of the Engineering Career Community love to travel, both for work and for play. They understand that to grow in their careers and as individuals, they have to get out into the world and mix it up. Experience life, experience developing relationships, and yes – experience being uncomfortable. This last point might not sound enviable, but true travel introduces a level of uncertainty. And uncertainty has a way of making most people – me included – uncomfortable.
But exiting your comfort zone is a necessity for growth, growth as a person and as a professional. Simply put, to move ahead in your engineering career you’ll need to travel.
For me, travel was a necessity that I trace back to my grandparents. I used to summer with them in mid-Michigan and each year we’d make the trip to the Minnesota State Fair to watch my Uncle Mike race in the big American Speed Association race over Labor Day weekend. The trip was always awesome and left me wanting more. I looked forward to the next August.
When I got to college my decision to join ROTC and pursue a career in the Air Force was motivated as much by the great engineering scholarship as it was by the chance to see the world. In fact, that became one of my key goals – to leave the U.S. and to see the world. That opportunity came, then came again and again. My engineering career and life have benefited in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start.
But I’ll try. Here’s what travel does for me:
Makes me feel alive. When I’m in the U.S. I can almost feel myself go into autopilot mode. So thankfully, as I shared in Episode 67 of The Engineering Career Coach Podcast, my mindfulness meditation practice keeps me grounded. Overseas, however, I’m switched-on. One has to be since everything is foreign! You cannot take anything for granted – communications is different, the environment is different. And depending on where you are, you are different. Sometimes very different.
New relationships, new perspectives. There are always opportunities in our work to develop new relationships and new perspectives. I think that traveling, however, enhances both because your relationships and the accompanying perspectives have the chance of being greatly different from the normal. These new perspectives can help you to write new stories, change a long-standing belief, or inspire you in new ways in your engineering career. The new relationships you can build while traveling, especially overseas, bring a depth to life that can leave you fulfilled in ways that would be difficult any other way. Oh, and the perspectives your new colleagues can share will have even greater impact on you.
Greater appreciation for our engineering profession. DIfferent areas of the world have a greater revere for the engineer. In much of the Mediterranean, Middle East and South Asia engineers are revered professionally as much as doctors, a distinction I definitely don’t feel in the U.S. As you get out and travel you get the opportunity to build links and relationships with other engineers and learn about their experiences in engineering, how career progression works in their country, what their engineering challenges are and how to solve problems differently.
Our profession is global and historical. Each of us carries the torch of progress and sets the foundation for future engineers, an awesome responsibility.
Develop increased/enhanced communications skills. Anthony and I hit on the importance of improving your communication skills over and over again because it’s crucial to having a fulfilling and extraordinary engineering career. When you travel, you get the added benefit of practicing the full range communications skills, especially listening and nonverbal skills.
I speak English as my native language and have a elementary proficiency in German. So as I go about my daily activities here in Germany, I have to be 100% invested in every conversation I have in order to pick-out the words I know. A trip to the tailor’s recently left me mentally depleted! I was able to fully understand about 30% of what was said to me and was able to piece together the remaining void by watching facial expressions, hand gestures, et cetera.
While traveling In the Middle East, I didn’t even have the luxury of understanding an elementary level of Arabic. Even with an interpreter present, I was fully engaged in conversations with construction contractors or materials vendors by watching the non-verbals. You can pick up a lot of the message just by watching someone.
Fulfillment. Bottomline, I have Wanderlust and love to travel. When I’m mobile, either with my family or on business, I feel the most fulfilled professionally and personally. And in the end, fulfillment is what most engineers seek in life.
Do you love to travel? Does travel give you fulfillment, either for work or for play? Share a travel high-point from your engineering career or life!
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute