Dear Colleagues,

In some of my more desperate moments, I sometimes think the universe is a malevolent force. Tough and unforgiving. Admittedly, I am at that age (mid fifties) when friends and colleagues are ‘falling off their perches’ or getting sicker than usual. The so-called global financial disaster also pushed a lot of very good engineering businesses into a death spiral making people quite sad. And added to this; the rapid change due to technology (i.e. mainly the internet and IT related) has also made things considerably more challenging (perhaps interesting?) from a career and personal point of view.

Recently, I have had a few good friends encounter significant set backs in their lives – such as suicide of partners, murder of a beloved family member, kids killed, businesses go insolvent and serious illnesses galore….not that I want to dwell on these issues. So I thought it would be good to revisit an old blog of mine here. Mainly focussing on the engineering issues but touching on the personal side as well.

We all Experience Setbacks
We all experience setbacks and bad things particularly in our engineering work and our personal lives. I do often. At the risk of sounding like a ‘jolly hockey sticks’ fan, here are some strategies to work through these times quickly and effectively and perhaps come out feeling a bit better.

Bad things Vary
Often referred to as failures, perhaps you had a bad project outcome; unhappy angry client; missed a deadline; ran over budget or got passed over for a deserved promotion. Or you might have lost the Olympic gold medal by less than one hundredth of a second!

Here are some good strategies to get back from the bad times as quickly as possible:

1. Change Channels
Do something totally different. Disconnect from your current activity and change channels to something different. Watch a good movie, listen to Deep Purple music or walk to a nice quiet spot and scream at the top of your lungs. Take a vacation in a nice positive environment.

2. Work the bad vibes out of your system physically
Often the quickest way to get through this; is to engage in high level physical activity. Where you really sweat it out. A long run on the beach, a work out in the gym or a long hard walk. Or as I did this morning - a hard ride on my bike through the rain and wind. A bit daunting though.When you exercise you release the wonderful endorphins; which make you feel better and eliminate the negative emotions and vibes.

3. Breathe deeply
If you are an extraordinarily bad emotional state; then focus all on your energy on taking deep slow breaths by expanding your diaphragm. Concentrate on how the air enters your body and how you inhale and exhale slowly. Do ten deep breaths and contemplate life again. Often you will feel considerably better. Do this often.

4. Do a post mortem of what went wrong
Contemplate carefully and objectively what went wrong – where did you fail and why? Did you not have sufficient information on your competition; were you overconfident; did you make a wrong calculation; did you depend on the wrong person? Often you need to get an independent opinion as to what happened. Are you being too harsh on yourself.
The key is to learn from your mistakes and ensure you don’t repeat this one again. Or to be more philosophical in future.

5. Sweat the stuff you can control
Consider carefully what you have control over and what you don’t or can’t control. Many things in life; we can’t directly control and have to accept the situation. Without losing sleep or simply giving up on everything.

6. Seize the situation
Often things are extraordinarily painful to deal with. The project has gone bad and your client wants you to make some awkward decisions. The supplier of critical components has gone bust. Your key engineer on the project has left to join the competition. But you have to face up to the situation and simply deal with it. Things are not what you wanted and have ended up the wrong way.

But you know what – rarely does life pan out the way we want. Seize the situation and plunge in and deal with it. Now.

You will be the better for it.

William Shakespeare in "The Winter's Tale" suggests: What's gone and what's past help. Should be past grief.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve