Every week of March we will post three thoughts for three years of the company from our CEO. This is the second post those posts.
Changing engineering, one person at a time.
At face value this makes no sense – and I guess it wouldn’t.
Twenty years ago I was in the back of a cab with a good friend on our way to dinner. At the time he was training to be a psychologist and I was working on getting my professional engineering license. I told him how I felt like talking to people as if they were people and being more personal felt somewhat different than what business is supposed to be about. It was a very early time in my career and I really hadn’t learned much at this point. But as I told him about how I wished business was less “business” and was more personal, he said that how I was acting toward people made it less like business. He then said, “you’re changing engineering one person at a time.”
There was something profound in the simplicity of what he said to me. I take that saying now to have different meanings and fit many situations. Regardless of the field you are in, there are ways to improve it, “changing (fill in your career descriptor here) one person at a time.” But for me, it means that I don’t need to necessarily conform directly to the model of business while doing business. It can be more personal and I can change the way I work with people thereby changing engineering one person at a time.
Relationships first, business second.
This isn’t as straightforward a comment as you might think. Yes, people should come first and business second. But I mean it in a bit of a different way.
I used to find it very uncomfortable to mingle with people, go to conferences, be forced into situations where I don’t know many people. If you know me well enough, you are likely saying this does not sound like the me you know and you don’t believe it. But the truth is that when I started going to conferences and meeting people I was VERY uncomfortable. Part of this goes back to trusting in yourself but another part of it goes into what you think when you are in these situations. My focus used to be work and functions – when I met people what did I need to get from them for work. It put a pressure on me to make sure I accomplished specific goals at these events. It also added a layer to the already uncomfortable thought process of meeting new people.
After many years of reflection, I realized that I should look at it as just simply meeting people. Hopefully I get along with the people I meet. This changed everything for me. I now speak with people on a personal level and try to develop that relationship. I put the business part of it second (both up front in person but in my mind). I’ve made many friends in the industry because of this approach. And the people you like to be around are the ones that, in the end, you want to work with.
Trust in your own accomplishments.
I relate trusting in your accomplishments directly with what is known as imposter syndrome. I think many more people than you would expect have experienced it – it’s just that nobody wants to talk about it. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is worth looking it up. The general concept is that even though there is proof through accomplishments that you are skilled and good at what you do, you feel like you either do not deserve it or there is some specific circumstance that helped you succeed but it is fleeting and is not due to your individual abilities. In short, you think you are an imposter that doesn’t deserve the accomplishments you have and therefore may not continue to succeed.
Having spent a good deal of time with this thought process juxtaposed against some great project accomplishments, I can speak about this from the heart. I spent many years in my career with successes that I appreciated in the moment but they were fleeting. I didn’t internalize them as moments in my life that prove I have skill, worth and value. So while I had many things to look at as success, it was hard to hold on to those things.
Daily reminders to yourself of your successes can be very helpful or even transformative. At one time I kept a gratefulness journal where I would write my accomplishments as a reminder to myself. Unfortunately I stopped doing that a while ago but I have replaced that with our family discussing what we are grateful for before we have dinner each night. It has a similar impact in that I am putting time aside each day to think about what I am grateful for – and often I am grateful for an accomplishment regardless of how small or large it is.
I have learned to be more open about this missing feeling of accomplishment that once was very dominant in my mind. When I share with someone (I don’t want to use the word admit because there is nothing to be ashamed of that I would be “admitting”) that I have struggled with trusting my own skills and value over my career, I often get the same reflected back. With very few exceptions, we all have moments in life where we are uncertain, we don’t believe in ourselves or we aren’t as sharp as we wish we were. For many of us, that happens in a way that it feels too frequent and makes you question your value and worth.
If I hadn’t gotten to a point where I truly understood my accomplishments, I would have never been able to start my own company. After focusing on this, I am much more aware of my value and worth. Remind yourself on a regular basis how accomplished you are and what you’ve done with your life and in your career. It will go a long way to dealing with imposter syndrome if it happens to you. And if it doesn’t, it is still great to remind yourself (and be grateful for) your successes.