Having stepped away from my engineering career for a full three years now, I have been able to work through a lot of interesting emotional and mental patterns and behaviors I hadn’t recognized in myself prior to now. I was one of those kids in high school that did well in everything, and it was expected that I would go on to college directly, without any kind of break. I had a really hard time choosing what I wanted to major in because I didn’t have one subject or area that stood out more obviously than the others.
At that point in life, I decided I was going to pick a career that would provide me with financial stability no matter what. Something I could do that would allow me to stand alone for the rest of my life, rain or shine. I chose engineering.
In the last three years, I stood up and I walked away from that promise to myself, of living a life of financial stability held solely on my shoulders. I have had to surrender to allowing someone else to support me while I figure things out. While this energy of change had surrounded me on several occasions throughout my life, I usually made an exit from whatever job I was at to be able to shift the energy before the implosion happened.
After I changed engineering positions and companies for the last time, I saw the same patterns begin to repeat again, and I knew deep down that it wasn’t the job or even the career – it was me. I was the round peg trying to put myself into the square hole. That was a really harsh reality to face after all the effort I put into being an engineer and manager.
Fortunately, this respite from engineering has provided me with clarity on multiple levels. I was finally able to honor myself and the vision I kept having of “working with my hands.” I have been able to excavate these weird promises I made to myself in order to protect myself during my childhood and finally release them in adulthood. As I began to allow this journey of deep soul work to happen, I unearthed quite a few things that had me spinning – what if I had known this when I was still in engineering?!
The short list of what I wish I had known in the 18 years I spent in engineering and management:
- Personality tests are great, but Emotional Intelligence is power.
- Personal wounds around worthiness and value must be healed.
- Codependency is toxic in personal and professional relationships.
- If you don’t trust yourself, you will never trust those you work with.
- Observe people’s actions to see if they match their words.
How many personality tests have you been subjected to in your engineering career? At least one, I hope. These are great for understanding communication between the different types of personalities, but the usefulness generally ends there because there isn’t any follow-up. You don’t get to dive into role playing to really understand how the dynamics between the types work, so you do your best to understand yours generally in comparison to others. Great. Here’s something more powerful – Emotional Intelligence. It’s a relatively new thing, having been discovered in 1994.
The premise of Emotional Intelligence is basically this – we have the ability to witness and choose how we take our body’s language of emotion and react in this world. Think about that for a moment – how empowering does it feel to be able to take a pause and allow for emotions to run through you, to witness them, and then have the ability to choose how you react?
A client (internal or external) calls to berate you for being late on a deadline. You’re frustrated because they never consulted you on how long it would take, and guess what – it takes as long as it takes; you can’t speed up the process. You’ve already asked your team to stay and work over-time, which is cutting into the project’s scant budget. You’re stressed, and your team is stressed, but you want to deliver. All of these things are playing out in the background, which the client doesn’t see or care about. All they know is they made a promise, and you’re not keeping it.
Does this sound familiar? How do you feel when you see their phone number pop up on the caller ID? How do you feel when you see 5 emails in your Inbox from them? Someone once told me I had an irrational response to stress because I was explaining how emails from certain people would give me panic attacks. I was serious. Their response was serious. Hearing that stunned me – “irrational” response to stress. What in the world did that mean?
Now I know what it means. It means I wasn’t allowing the emotion of the experience of pressure and stress to flow through me. I was blocking it and holding it in my body, and then I was reacting from the space of that emotional blockage. Holding and blocking emotion in our bodies is irrational, in a sense, because it is not how emotion was meant to be handled in our bodies. This is really where stress becomes toxic. With Emotional Intelligence, we are given permission to experience all the emotions these emails or phone calls are bringing up. The empowerment we’re allowing for ourselves with emotional intelligence is the permission to feel it all BEFORE we react. How do you do this when you’re in a meeting or on the phone with someone?
It takes you, allowing yourself a pause to say – “I heard what you said; I am going to need a moment to really process this, let me call you back in [insert time frame].” In person, you may have to admit, “What you said is really frustrating to me in this moment, I am going to need to get back to you, after I am able to think more clearly about it.” You find a way to give yourself time to allow your body to process the stressor that’s triggering you. You scream in the car on the way back to the office, you go for a walk outside to allow the energy to move through you, and then you respond – honestly and genuinely because you’re not lit by the fire of anger, frustration, and unrealistic expectations. Doing this allows you to respond from a space of personal integrity and authenticity. It allows you to acknowledge yourself, and provide a solution or answer to your client that may be even better than what you would have said or suggested in the heat of the emotional moment.
Worthiness and Value
Not all of us have issues with worthiness and value, but many of us do. The unfortunate truth is that these are childhood wounds, and these childhood wounds, if not healed before adulthood will creep around with us like the 5 year old inner child that carries the original wounding.
Worthiness and value deficient people are constantly looking for outside validation and reassurance that they have done the right thing, that they did a good job, that they are making the right choices. These people were probably yelled at a lot as kids, maybe their parents didn’t want them to be seen or heard in the household. They may have been constantly criticized so that they would grow up to be ‘good’ people. The possibilities are infinite, and essentially, it is a form of emotional abuse – it is a trauma wound.
Here are a couple of examples of how worthiness and value creep into the workplace with us, when we’re not aware we carry them, and we aren’t working to resolve them on a personal level.
In the pursuit of building a relationship with a new client, you’re talking with them about potential projects coming up to see which may be a good fit for you and the company. The approach you’re taking is “get our foot in the door so we can prove ourselves.” You’re not focused on the big, juicy project you really want to work on for this client. You’re just focused on smaller projects that we can “prove ourselves” with.
Do I need to go further? Are you able to see the words in here that are showing that you have issues with your own worthiness and value that have now become the company’s? Then you come back to the office, prepare proposals for these smaller projects and you don’t get any of them. You don’t get the smaller projects, and you don’t get the larger one, the one you really wanted. What does that do? Reinforces that you’re unworthy and lack value, but you already told them that, and they already knew.
When we don’t feel our own worth and value, we automatically put ourselves in a position of constantly having to prove we belong. We make the hill we have to climb that much bigger because we think we have to start at the bottom every single time. This is a false belief. I promise you, if you were to approach the client from a position of confidence, worthiness, and value, by going in and positioning yourself for the original big, juicy project you really wanted in the first place, your chances would have been a lot better. You would have had the energetic imprint of I can’t waste my time on your small projects, I am here for the big one. Let me blow your mind with what we can do!
It’s hard for me to even type this word because it’s so sticky. No one wants to admit they have a codependency issue, but I can tell you, this codependency concept shows up if you had parents or grandparents that grew up and started households in the 1950’s. Codependency was the model of the “perfect family.” Themes of this era: repress your feelings, and always smile. Don’t let the kids see you fight. Disagreements never happen; we’re perfect!
The wounds of codependency essentially have one person giving up their emotional health by repressing their true feelings, and they also deny their own needs in service to another person in the relationship. While this was mostly the wife modeling this behavior with the husband, the children growing up in these households were witnessing it all. The parents didn’t know how to express their emotions, didn’t teach their children how to feel or express emotion, so the kids learned to repress emotions like their parents did. They didn’t think their needs were important or worthy of being met because they watched their mom never have hers met. The model was you had to be “perfect” to please your partner. Perfect wife, perfect children, perfect household.
So, how does this show up in the workplace? People pleasing, lack of boundaries, and the inability to say “no.”
A young engineer is desperately trying to prove themselves in their new position. They are really excited and eager to please. Project Managers are constantly interrupting them while they are trying to get work done, and they smile politely, tolerating each and every interruption. Because they’re the new kid on the block, each project manager is offloading some mundane tasks they don’t want to do on the young engineer. The young engineer thinks they have to take on all these tasks for all these people because they need to make everyone happy, and also not pass up the opportunity to learn something and prove themselves! Eventually, the young engineer is drowning in mundane task overwhelm, and unable to complete anything properly. However, a precedence has been set in how people will interact with this person now, and possibly forever at this job.
Low self-esteem. I just wanted them to like me. Boundaries. I didn’t want to say “no” because I was new. I didn’t know how to tell them I was busy, and I didn’t have the capacity for more at that time. Perfectionism. I wanted to prove how smart and capable I am from day one so they won’t regret hiring me.
As managers, it is really critical to have awareness, especially in younger staff, of behavior like this. It’s great to want to please people, but it is life sucking to live a career of people pleasing. Especially when a team leader can assist the younger staff members in learning skills that will allow them to be empowered while still being valued.
As for older staff members propagating codependency in their teams – guilty as charged. I didn’t have words for this when I was in engineering. I knew I was a definitely a people pleaser, but I didn’t know how to stop. So, if you are recognizing yourself in what I am describing, I can offer you these words of advice.
Take some time over the weekend (or several weekends), and look at the relationships you have with your family and friends. Do you put your needs first, or theirs? Do they call you all the time and require you to drop things for them? Do you know how to say “no?” Do you have emotional and mental boundaries established in your relationships to allow you time to rest and make sure your needs are met? If you see gaps as you review these things, it’s time to shift the way you behave. It’s time to engage in some deep self-love practices to help heal the wounds that have allowed you to believe this behavior is sustainable and healthy.
Trusting yourself goes deeper than just knowing you can meet deadlines, deliver projects, and be a good engineer, project manager, or team leader. Trusting yourself means trusting your inner voice, the instinctual aspect of you, that 6th sense, or what is termed as intuition. We are all intuitive beings based solely on these electrical antennae we walk around in (our bodies). We’re constantly picking up data and signals from our environment that are informing our bodies of all kinds of things. When we value logic over our intuition, we abandon ourselves. When we abandon ourselves, we lose trust in ourselves.
It isn’t easy to stay connected to yourself when day in and out you are constantly calculating and proving things will work as designed. But we all know when a client isn’t being truthful, when a coworker is hiding their pain, or when a project doesn’t feel right, and we shouldn’t pursue it. It’s there, that knowing, and every time we choose to ignore it, we’re telling our bodies we don’t trust them.
You may be thinking, big deal, what does it matter? Well, when we stop trusting ourselves, we stop trusting those around us. It may not even be conscious, but you ooze this energy of distrust, which everyone around you picks up on, and this creates dis-ease in the team. When we stop trusting ourselves, it opens the door for all those things I talked about above to flood in and take a seat at the table – unworthiness, lack of value, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and lack of boundaries. You start questioning other people, asking them if they know what they’re doing. You start micro-managing tasks because only you know how to do it “the right way.”
Trust in yourself is the foundation from which you stand on to overcome all those things I mentioned above. If you trust yourself, you know you are worthy. If you’re being questioned constantly on your capabilities, and you are always having to prove yourself, it is time to set boundaries.
Gosh, this project manager is constantly asking if we can do this, after we’ve delivered project after project to them, and the client is pleased. What will it take to make them realize that we know what we’re doing?
Newsflash – it’s not you. It’s them! They don’t trust themselves, and so, by default they can’t trust you, even after you have proven on countless occasions that you are capable and worthy of trust. When you’re working with someone like this, it’s best to just straight up ask, “why don’t you trust me and my team?” You may need to get their manager involved along with yours. I promise that the client sees and feels the lack of trust, and they will fortify their position with other consultants. The fortification with other consultants does what? Reinforces the existing lack of trust.
Coming back to ourselves and learning to trust ourselves can be challenging when we’ve been self-abandoned for so long. It is necessary and vital as no long-term relationship is viable without all parties trusting themselves.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Whether it is company culture, working with remote project managers, dealing with clients or agencies, people’s actions are always truer than the words they speak. Within companies, it is so critical for upper management/leadership team – top tier – CEO, COO, CTO, CIO, etc. to practice what they preach. Management mimics upper management. Project managers mimic management. Engineers mimic project managers. Drafters mimic engineers. Administrative staff mimic management and engineers. If the messaging from the top down doesn’t match the body language and the actions within a company dynamic, dysfunction occurs, and it can create all kinds of emotionally and mentally toxic environments.
Becoming aware of the actions of the leadership team in your company will allow you to cross check your values with theirs. Is this really the right place for you to be? Are you thriving in the environment they’re creating for you? Does this work environment meet your needs? Do you feel empowered here?
I hope this post offers you some insight that is beneficial to your career moving forward. Allowing your teams to see you empower yourself and start to model new, positive behavior around stress and emotions will allow them to do the same. While we are all doing the best we know how with what we know in this moment, we can always seek to improve and inspire. I hope you’re able to keep your head above water long enough to set a new course through knowledge gained here.
About the Author
Andara (Andrea) Plavi spent 18 years in engineering and management before acknowledging her soul calling as a teacher and a healer. She’s now building her own business by activating client’s personal authority/empowerment through a deep place of self-love. She believes our true purpose in being here now is to find what makes us happiest, and happiness isn’t something you buy, achieve, or obtain. Happiness is cultivated in the presence of Be-ing inside of ourselves. Reconnecting to and trusting yourself is critical in finding happiness in this overstimulated world.
If you have questions or if you would like to work with her to shift things in your life, she encourages you to reach out. https://andarahawaii.com firstname.lastname@example.org