I believe most of us get to some stage in our lives where you start asking the inevitable questions such as: am I doing the right thing; am I in the right company or career; am I progressing somewhere; am I going to be financially secure when I am older; isn’t this work somewhat predictable and boring; should I be doing something more exciting and rewarding…. ?
This is where you are seeking more meaning, fulfilment and satisfaction in your career (and indeed, life) against the backdrop of the usual financial pressures of paying off a home, car and putting the kids through (private) school and trying to afford an upcoming entertaining vacation. A veritable vice grip of constraints. And naturally, in keeping your family relationships on an even happy keel.
This questioning period happens especially in mid life. You have realized that you aren’t immortal – time is moving on, the rip roaring twenties are a memory and you can see where you are heading with your career with some uneasiness. Your income and career track is pretty predictable and things aren’t going to suddenly change. There is no magic unpredictability where you suddenly win Lotto ahead.
It is important that you don’t ignore these feelings and the associated questions you have. But it is also vital to try and do anything to deal with this situation in a rational and methodical manner. I have come across many engineering professionals who have suddenly ‘chucked it all in’ citing extreme initial happiness with their decision and then a year down the track have realized that they are in a worse predicament because of their knee jerk reaction. And their age has now made it difficult to re-establish their financial stability.
A few suggestions
- The first thing is to carefully reflect on what is making you unhappy or unsettled. It may be some minor issue in the job which you can easily deal with. Or it may be something more intractable like a job which is a dead end, or highly stressful which will require more substantial steps to deal with. Bear in mind that your feelings are perfectly natural and experienced by many (most) of your peers.
- The second item is to consider small incremental changes to your career as this is the lowest risk approach. You may be able to engage in a new engineering project/ a new product line or join a new initiative of the company – for example – in launching a new product or changing your offices from Raleigh to London. Alternatively, you may consider reducing your hours so that you only work four days a week and can focus on your burgeoning hobby or charitable work on this day. Another strategy to follow is to closely examine the organisation you work for and see whether it is missing something where you can add enormous value with your current strengths such as in product development or working with people. Think laterally and don’t always think of promotion but in moving sideways as a possible solution.
These small changes could have a huge ongoing positive impact on your life and engineering career. Whatever you do; always consider improving your learning experience – whether it be through a formal course or a project you take on which challenges you and draws on your strengths and interests and improves your knowledge and skills. And always build in a strong focus on finding meaning in what you do.
Finally, you may find that you can seek meaning and fulfilment easily but not in the obvious place such as directly in your career but outside your job with such items as charitable endeavours/setting up a new musical/craft or food festival for your community. This means you continue working as you have been but derive more satisfaction from these other external activities.
- Big Changes. You may find the previous incremental suggestions not suitable and you may need to engage in a greater change such as a total career or life style change. If you decide to embark on this ensure you can count on massive and sustained support from your partner and family over a considerable period of time. And visualise deeply what this change will make you feel like in a year or two (from when you make it). On deeper reflection, you may find it has no impact on your current feelings apart from making you more frustrated. And other changes are thus required.
Whatever you do – don’t sit around hoping for things to change. They won’t change of their own volition; so a careful consideration of how to move forward is required. However, don’t do something precipitate in suddenly changing without carefully considering what you are seeking. As you may end up in a far worse position and put yourself and your family in a bad place.
Thanks to Rebecca Knight of the Harvard Business Review coupled with Prof Gianpiero Petriglieri’s (Insead) wise commentary for a thought provoking discussion.
Remember as some wise pundit (not Winston Churchill) remarked: "Never let a good crisis go to waste."
Yours in engineering learning
Mackay’s Musings – 7th August’19 #675
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