Back when I used to be an engineer, the title statement of this article is something that would have made me cringe. But then again, accepting almost any job besides engineering at that time would have turned me off because I suffered from what I call an “entitlement complex.”
For five and a half years I worked extremely hard to complete my university degree, pouring my blood, sweat, and tears on top of endless hours of work and struggle, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars of student debt into it. “Engineers Rule The World” (or “ERTW”) was a phrase that was often shamelessly painted all over campus and seen as a ‘prank’ on other university students. I began to believe this myth in university without giving it much critical thought because I was constantly bombarded by this message. It was something many students of engineering shared in common and would often be a hot topic openly discussed amongst peers. People outside of class would also often tell me something like: “wow, engineering looks so difficult.. I’m just not sure how you do it because I could never do it..” What they didn’t realize was that I already had an inflated sense of self-importance as an ‘engineer’ and this was just adding fuel to the fire. This idea of prestige set the perfect stage for me to became callous towards people in other professions. I developed an engineering ego, or in other words, a sense of false confidence that I thought at the time set me apart from almost everyone else.
What a lot of people who were not in the engineering program didn’t realize though was that just because I was in engineering and able to successfully work through the program, doesn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t able to do the same. That idea is akin to me saying to anyone else on the planet “wow, becoming a [insert profession here] looks so difficult.. I’m just not sure how you do it because I could never do it.” I believe that every profession in the world is hard to learn in some way or another and even harder to master. To me, it comes down to a matter of “what am I actually interested in, and what am I willing to work hard and sacrifice my time, money, and energy for?” Even if I chose to not become “university educated” (insert additional entitlement complex here), I would still have to bust my ass to make something of myself and build a career outside of school. That is to say, just because I’ve ‘jumped through some hoops’ in my life to complete my engineering degree, doesn’t automatically mean that I ‘deserve more’ for my efforts than someone else, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that I will become an amazing engineer.
To this very day, I am often still questioned by many people asking me “are you going back into engineering when the economy picks up again?” My answer is always “no.” This response often ‘furls a lot of brows.’ The reason for my answer is that I am personally not interested in the idea of solely basing my life around engineering anymore. I am interested in learning about myself. I am interested in learning from others. I am interested in exploring new aspects of my reality that would not otherwise be available to me if I never tried anything new and stayed in my “chosen career path.” Even if my ‘new path’ involves a lot of uncertainty, it is sure to bring with it unimaginable rewards if I am courageous enough to follow it. By leaping into the unknown I am learning to: trust myself and be brave, believe in my own judgement, build genuine self-confidence (as opposed to false confidence I developed in engineering), know what my true value is to the real world. By experiencing the real world itself, I am also learning how to become more creative by pushing myself to try new things and expressing myself to see “what sticks” with me and what doesn’t. I feel significantly more at peace right now in my life knowing that I am doing what I want to do, rather than following what others think I should do, as I often found myself doing previously, now when I look back.
When I was suddenly (without warning, I might add) laid off from my job as an engineer in September 2015 due to the oil-price crash recession and through no fault of my own, I was absolutely devastated and subsequently went through the biggest transition in my life; I experienced both an identity crisis and an existential crisis (Stay tuned for that article!). I saw my engineering ego quickly dissolve right before my eyes, as the ‘pillars of my life’ turned to sand and disintegrated, leaving me with no structure to stand on.
Through the grieving process of my former life, I decided that I wanted to know myself better. I wanted to put myself out into the world and see how I could make a meaningful contribution with the skill set and personality I had. Except, the biggest question I had at that time was “how the hell do I know where to start?” Well, the answer for me I found was that I had to start somewhere. I had to start doing things, anything, period. There was nobody to hold my hand anymore and I had to slowly get to know myself better by listening to myself and taking on new opportunities that just felt right and actually go out into the world and try, even if I didn’t always know what I’d be getting myself into ahead of time. Was this frequently uncomfortable as fuck? Yes it was. But I found that the more I put myself out of my ‘comfort zone,’ the easier it became, and the more willing I would be next time to take bold action. After I tried something new, I would need time to reflect on the experience; Did I enjoy myself? Did it feel good? Would I like to try it again? Did this experience bring me value? Did this experience link me to someone or something important? Have I had enough of this and need to try something new? This period of my life was a slow grind of trying to put all the scattered pieces of my new puzzle together in some coherent fashion.
I received my first job offer almost exactly one year after my lay off. I received a position of support staff at an ambitious brand new start-up brewpub that was set to launch within the next month. I was excited to accept a job in a brand new industry, as I had secretly always wanted to work in the service industry in a bar. The buzz from my brand new colleagues was that of “you’re going to make so much money” at this job and in this industry in general; that’s why it’s so hard for all of us to leave it. I see now looking back that my old pattern of seeking prestige bubbled up again and I quickly jumped to the conclusion of “I used to be an engineering manager at my last job, so surely they will see my greatness and quickly promote me to a manager, especially since the place is brand new and looking for great people: ‘I’ll show them,’ I thought.” What I failed to realize at the time was that I was a novice again. Regardless of my previous experience, I had no experience in the service industry and therefore no work-respect amongst my colleagues; respect is earned over time I quickly found, not outright deserved. Also, with work-respect comes money, something I would have to be patient with and work hard for. My entitlement complex would come to bite me in the ass once again.
It’s only been a few months since the brewpub opened and I am still currently working the role of support staff. I will say that it has certainly been eye-opening and taught me many valuable lessons already about life. I learned through being mentored by my managers at work that when communicating, I am often in my head thinking about my endless thoughts and not being present by engaging with others and paying attention to what’s happening around me. This lesson crossed over to not remembering my colleagues’ names and not telling people when I was taking a break or going to the washroom. By being in my head and not present with my co-workers, I was often “ghosting” and just waiting for times to vanish so I could be alone with my thoughts. I realize now that a big part of my issues had to do with a lack of true confidence I had in myself and wanting to hide from others, so they wouldn’t see the real me. Additionally, I was causing some problems for my managers with my entitlement complex. I often thought “why couldn’t they just see my greatness and promote me already?” I was so conditioned to taking charge in my old job, this pattern emerged in my new job. I was doing work my way and projecting my bad attitude onto others when I wasn’t able to be the one in charge. I ended up losing some respect from management when I created problems between myself and another manager one day at work. Even though I apologized, it was still a costly, albeit an amazing and necessary lesson for me to learn.
I’ve also learned in my new job that sometimes in life, I will have to work a job for the sake of working a job. Because I and many others are experiencing a “job crunch” and there are not nearly as many options for employment available right now, having any job(s) that pay for my basic needs will bring me much more happiness than sitting back and expecting the ‘right’ job to appear for me, while I continue bleeding financially. I’ve learned to shut my mouth and quiet my negative thoughts a lot more when I am given an “undesirable task” at work simply because I am happy and grateful that I have a job at all. This lesson has directly translated to other areas of my life as well, such as in relationships. I’ve learned a lot more about patience and gratitude that I may have never learned had I not had the experience at this job doing what I’m currently doing. I may not be making the “money I feel entitled that I should be making” either, but I now see that money is secondary to actually just going out and contributing my efforts and being of service to others. If I am putting myself out there boldly and working hard to be of service to others, the money will come. Over time, I will adjust my life to take on different roles (maybe in different companies or industries altogether) to fit the needs of my life at the time, but presently my focus is on paying my basic expenses and that’s what’s truly important right now.
I now believe that finding a ‘job that’s right for me’ is an iterative process, a journey that may take me in all sorts of directions throughout my life and that’s okay. My “career path” is not a linear one, it is one with many twists and turns that will take me on an adventure to last me the course of my lifetime. Why do I believe all jobs are created equal? Because I believe all experiences are of equal value. As long as I am willing to manage my expectations and see the value in the lessons I learn along the way, I will always feel fulfilled and work hard at whatever I’m doing at the time, and the money will follow along nicely thereafter.