When’s the last time you checked in with a former boss?

Sadly this year, I’ve lost not one but two former bosses: Linda and Bruce. Looking back, I’ve had some incredible leaders who breathed life into my career, and I have more than one “favorite” boss. I think it’s because one of my strengths is Individualization (Clifton Strengthsfinder test). So I can easily pinpoint admirable qualities from each boss I’ve had that I choose to take on as my own.

I’m completely heartbroken for these families. They each lost two truly dedicated and gifted people. On a personal level, I’m sad because I hadn’t made contact with these two in years. And folks, this is my thing. I’m proud of the fact that I speak my mind and readily share appreciation when the mood strikes. I can dig deep and vulnerably share how much the person impacted me. I’d even thought of these two earlier this year, when I got that little familiar itch at the back of my mind saying, Say hi, check in, see how they’re doing. Share how your career is going and how much you appreciate that they helped get you there. But then the phone rang, the dog barked, the family sent a funny group text, and SQUIRREL, I forgot all about it. Big, heavy sigh.

I want to make amends, somehow. I’m not trying to beat myself up here – I’m human after all – and any friend would tell me that in spite of our intentions, this happens to the best of us. But I want to hold myself accountable for letting life (work, ironically) get away from me and ignoring that tiny yet mighty voice – my inner conscience, my God – telling me to slow down and not forget about people. With all the strife, division, sickness, loss, and chaos that the pandemic has brought, the one thing that I appreciated most was that it forced me to slow down in the early days of quarantine.

So in a small act of honor, I’ve decided to write to each former boss, even the ones I lost. If anything, their families should know how impactful they were outside of the home. For the ones still alive, this is my calling to send them a note of encouragement. I trust God’s timing on this one, and I trust that the recipients of my letters will be exactly who and exactly when He wants.

Dear Linda,

You hired me for my first “real” job. I can never forget you. You were a tireless powerhouse and taught me more about business development in 9 months than I could have ever learned in 9 years. You knew exactly how to coach me from writing section of resumes to whole proposals. I always loved laughing in the office with you, whether it was about your dogs (Einstein and Sport), or my 4″ heels – ballerina shoes! – that I gave up years ago, or sharing stories of Colorado and our common alma mater.

I will never forget when you wrote me a letter of recommendation for grad school, printed it out, and told me to save it for a hard day on the job a decade later. I still have that letter. In it, you spoke life into a shy girl who has turned into a confident construction manager. You believed in me before I believed in myself as an engineer. And you taught me how important it was to have a confidante, a network of women, and an ally on the job to build a foundation outside of my resume.

After my internship, you helped me get a job where I wanted to live, even though you believed in me enough to tell me I could move anywhere and be on the fast track to project management. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job at a stable company when the recession hit in the Fall of 2008. No one would hire me, but you opened a door in a bleak time that jumpstarted my career, when it could’ve been otherwise delayed or nonexistent.

I’ll always remember your tenacity, dedication, intelligence, quick wit, and capacity for excellence in the industry. I know I share the memory of your legacy with many others that you lifted up, too. You were taken too soon and will be so missed in this life.

Dear Bruce,

You hired me at a pivotal point in my career when I almost gave up on engineering. I didn’t share this with you, but the manager I had before you gave me serious doubts in my abilities and my purpose. Had you not hired me into your small group, I would not be where I am today. I know that coming into your group, I didn’t have the specific technical skills you were looking for. But you saw potential and drive in me and chose to see that the rest could be taught.

I will never forget when a few months after I started working with you, you looked me dead in the eye and said, “You could run this group one day.” You were so clear and confident, and while those plans did not come to fruition, you left a mark on me. I think of your statement often when I feel overwhelmed or incapable as a new manager on a multi-million dollar project right now.

You gave the best life advice to us. The one I remember most is when you told us that the only free time we had for ourselves was early in the morning, over lunch, or late at night. That’s it. And we should use those moments wisely to rest or exercise or grow, while the remaining hours were dedicated to others: work, family, “adulting”, etc. But you made sure we had FUN at work, too. Coming from larger companies who thought pizza lunch every 6 months was sufficient to express employee appreciation, we all felt spoiled after you stocked the kitchen with cabinets full of snacks, took us on an afternoon off for bowling, or treated us to an epic Italian dinner with management at Barolo’s Italian.

My time working with you was too short, and giving you my resignation letter after 9 months was one of the toughest career decisions I’ve made. I appreciated your heart-wrenching honesty when you asked me to give you more time to grow the group and build up your portfolio. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision to go to a “right now” opportunity at a new company, but it’s one of those times when I wish I could’ve had it both ways. You were sincere, sharp, wise, caring, and intentional. I know your legacy will be cherished by many, many engineers you impacted along with me.

Now it’s your turn. Shared or silent answers always welcome. When’s the last time you checked in with a former boss?

What’s saving your creative life right now?

I guess we should back up for some and first ask: do you have a creative life? If not, why not? A creative life is one where you answer the call to that synergistic feeling of mind and heart intertwined, united as one. It’s when you allow yourself to do some sort of activity that feels good, and you suddenly get this inner sense you’re doing what you were born to do.

For me, my creative life is being a writer. This isn’t my “real” job; if you’ve read other blog posts here, I write a lot about my day job as engineer. And since being a writer is not my full-time gig, I fight every day to get quiet, go deep, and let out the words that demand to be released and freed from my soul.

It took me years to even call myself a writer, let alone start a blog and submit articles in my free time. I only started sharing my writing last year, when the pandemic quarantine allowed me guilt-free time to fiercely pursue a passion that could no longer stay hidden. Looking back on the past 18 months, it’s amazing to see how much time guilt truly robs me of my creative desires when I succumb to it. I’ve let my writing slip the past 6 months, but I can’t count all the time as lost. When I wasn’t writing, I was at least thinking about writing, defining my inner voice and how to balance taming vs. unleashing that voice, even if I didn’t put pen to paper (or cursor to screen).

And in that time, I’ve found three amazing resources that won’t let my dream die of becoming a full-fledged writer one day. They fill my ears in the car, eyes on the screen, and office walls in the house when I am off that engineer clock.

1. My writing group: Illuminate Writing. This is the space where I grew my confidence as a writer last year. I’ve gotten to know Sarah & Mia who run this business, and they are an absolute delight to collaborate with. They offer so many resources, like editing tips or poetry tips or writing on Medium, one expert review per month, and an inclusive, private online community of like-minded writers. I have so much FUN here, and these ladies are always ready to share encouragement, whether I check in daily or once a month.

2. Podcast: The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. This podcast is the perfect example of asking really good questions about a writer’s life. Whether you are new or seasoned, this has something for everyone: self-publishing vs. traditional, fiction and nonfiction writing tips, and much, much more. Just look at the episode titles, and you’ll have a hard time choosing what to listen to because if you’re a new writer like me, you really want to learn it all, and learn fast, Also, the host Bianca is refreshingly hilarious and honest, and she’ll keep you laughing while you grow to love the diverse, intense world of writing even more.

3. Virtual writer’s conference: Women Writing the West. This will be my very first writer’s conference, and I am pumped! I stumbled across this virtual conference offering while trying to find something affordable I could do in these ongoing COVID times. As a proud native of Colorado, I can’t wait to hear more from writers in my region and how they tie their roots to their writing, since it seems that much of what sells in fiction is geared towards beach- or city-based locales.

The divine timing of these three groups of women coming into my life when they did keeps me in awe and gratitude. These voices faithfully shepherd me through the up-and-down seasons I’m growing accustomed to as a writer. When I first started, I had words just flowing out of me, unsure of where or when to place them but full of energy. As the world opened back up this year, and I also got a new position at work, I’ve been in a long season of fighting for my creative time.

But I’m still here. Whether I write 500 words or 50,000 words in a month (NaNoWriMo is coming up!), I let these voices breathe life and confidence into my creativity, giving me the fuel to keep going no matter the present day outcome. As an engineer, not having an immediate outcome to my efforts is hard, but I’m getting used to it.

Now it’s your turn. Silent or spoken answers welcome. What’s saving your creative life right now?

Photo credit: by me, at a restaurant in the iconic mountain town of Breckenridge, CO. I picked it because from the angle at which I took it, notice how it says “Heart rest”? 😊

When All My Escapes Fail, Except One

I’m not one to overtly deny myself breaks. I may delay a personal break longer than I should, reaching that peak level of “yeah, it’s time to close the laptop” before I stop working. But I’ve always believed in the “work hard, play hard” mentality. In a day, I can find any number of ways to escape: take a 5 minute walk around the building, plan a fancy outing with friends, find a new devotional plan, throw together a girls weekend getaway in one hour, pull up one of my all-time favorite albums or playlists, take a nap, try a new workout, treat myself to Chick Fil A or a Starbucks pink drink, or just grab a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds. Any of those is bound to do the trick for me and send me on my way. 

Once, I crushed a homework assignment from my therapist by developing a self-care list that was broken out by increments of time. She asked for one list, but I devised this matrix of various activities, ranging from five minutes to five days. That way, I always had a “go to” escape, whether I was short on time or needed to purposefully carve out more time. I thought of it as a bulletproof tool that would do the trick any time I felt burnout coming on before it overtook me.

My favorite escape is the beach, although living in my landlocked state of Colorado makes that one very hard to come by. I grew up spending summers in Fort Myers Beach, so snobbishly and unfortunately, the “lake shore” vibe of my state’s man-made reservoirs just doesn’t do it for me. Cue the sand between the toes scenes, purple-pink skies reflecting off glittery waves, and the reliable sound of ocean waves crashing, retreating, crashing, retreating. The beach is it for me.

For the first time in my life, though, I have a growing, fearful sense that my escape tactics, i.e., self-care moments, are failing me. I’ve tried any and all the things on my list the past few months, but I don’t feel the same release. I tried old music that I forgot about. I tried not pushing it too much with the workouts and just doing yoga instead of cardio. I tried leaving work early to catch up on house stuff, then making up that hour the next day. I haven’t felt the same passion to write that I did last summer, but I’m doing it anyway because I know it’s good for my soul. While these moments offer a temporary reprieve, they aren’t lasting as long as I’d like them to. What used to sustain for days is now only getting me through a day, at best. My fixes aren’t fixing. I feel flat and uninspired at my normally deeper, soulful level. 

Characteristic to my analytical nature, I’ve mentally gone through the steps to find the source of my angst, my emptiness. Why am I feeling this way? What can I do about it? On my good days, I tell myself it’s because I just came off a crazy, horrendous six month busy season at work, and I’m just learning to breathe normally again. For the past month, I could actually breathe deeply and intentionally in slower sips of air, rather than feeling like I’m gasping and burning my lungs all day (metaphorically speaking). Sometimes I wonder if it’s going to take me another six months to recover from that period of intense growth and thinking about work 24/7 (so it goes when your client is at the airport).

I also know my sleep is off from having a mix of day shifts, swing shifts, and night shifts in May, June, and July. I’m not a good sleeper anyway. I have always struggled with working night shifts, no matter how much I mentally prepare myself that it’s temporary or manage to sleep well during the day. My sleep schedule these days is particularly subpar, but c’est la vie. I’ve tried all the sleep things except Ambien and acupuncture, and I’ve accepted that it’s just not in the cards for me in this season.

Soon, the burnout of overanalyzing how I “should” feel about escaping life’s daily pressures set in. So over the past couple months, I decided to be very picky about what I’d escape with. No need to mentally exhaust myself, then feel bad about what I chose. I decided that if an old or new thing wasn’t working, I would move on. That thing would still be there for me should I want to pick it up again another time. For now, I needed to get really simple and nonjudgmental about my escapes.

So I can tell you with the most sincere honesty that the only escape that’s worked for me the past few months has been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy

I’ve been a die-hard Grey’s Anatomy fan since it debuted in 2005, when I watched Cristina and Meredith make “dancing it out” a legitimate thing. I always rooted for Mer-Der yet still wanted to be leggy and fabulous like Addison. But I stopped watching the show about six years ago when I thought I was “above” it, that I shouldn’t indulge. My husband tolerated it but certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I justified and minimized that there was no productive reason to watch my favorite show, so I shouldn’t.

But that’s just it. I was sneakily seeking productivity in many of my escape tactics, rather than just enjoying. I do this with podcasts or books quite often, where I gravitate towards self-help and personal growth topics. I truly enjoy learning non-work things, but I realized I’d reached the point of overdoing it on self-improvement.

Rediscovering Grey’s Anatomy brought me back to a place where I could enjoy something for no reason at all. Some days, it’s the only time I momentarily escape the tireless hamster that won’t get off the damn wheel in my head. It gives me that sense of being “in the moment”, where I’m so captured in the storyline that I get enough distance from my own storyline, giving it the breathing room it needs.

I started from Season 1 just this past year, then really ramped up my efforts to catch up to Season 17 by September (next month!) before the final season is released. I’ve literally watched it for hours some weekends after my job fully depleted me. I like listening to Grey’s while I fold clothes or sort the mail. It’s nice “company” for me, especially since my husband has started traveling for work again, giving me extra alone time. And here we are yet again, slowly entering times when seeing people is less of an option (thanks, delta variant).

Do you have a show or completely mindless activity that just speaks to you? Grey’s Anatomy has been this for me. Like in Season 11, when Meredith looks at the nanny she’s interviewing and says that her schedule is unpredictable. And with tears in her eyes, she’s asking for someone to help support her and her kids with that. To be flexible and reliable when she cannot.

Or in Season 15, when Bailey talks about giving up all the things to find out what’s “wrong” with her, even up to temporarily relinquishing her job as the first Black female chief of surgery. When she shared her struggles with self-worth, I stopped dead at what I was doing and felt seen through her words. It didn’t solve my problems, and I wasn’t at the point of quitting my job. But it made me feel less alone.

I perpetually try to find purpose in the smallest of things, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I really love this candle, and ooh, when I buy it, I’ll be supporting a small business too. It doesn’t mean both of these things aren’t good and shouldn’t be sought after. But we don’t always have to justify our enjoyment. I am biased of course, but I think this concept is hardest for women and underrepresented people, given all the other things we’ve felt we needed to justify in the last 100 years (voting, working, asking for help, having kids, not having kids, equal pay, and so on).

I’ve always believed in a good escape. In seeking purpose, we eventually need to escape. In escaping, we find enjoyment. In enjoyment, we find light heartedness. In light heartedness, we find connection. And in connection, we find ourselves arriving back at our purpose. 

I was inspired to write on the topic of “Escape” through my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. Check out these amazing stories on what it means to escape by my fellow women writer warriors:

How Do You Escape? by Crystal James
un-becoming by Laci Hoyt
Escaping My Calling by Christine Carpenter
Escape Via Him by Amy Rich
How Sudden Suddenly Happens by Leesha Mony
Can’t Escape My Worries (a poem) by Mia Sutton 


Reflections After a Year of Feeling My Feelings

I’m in a bit of a funk and have been since February. To distill down the reasons would take time and effort I don’t have right now. This funky feeling of mine matters because it affects my writing life.

I’m still writing, but it’s not feeling like it did last year, when I found my writing voice. In 2020, I kicked my insecurities around worthiness to the curb on and just started writing. To my delight, I found this unreal sense of purpose unlike anything I’ve felt before.

Being an engineer, I’d thought I found my purpose in my career. I find immense satisfaction in using numbers, formulas, and drawings to build roads that take people where they want to go. I’ve found humanity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field through the relationships I’ve built with people who share this same passion. But then, I unexpectedly found my art, and I even wrote this post about it last fall.

But my funk is lingering, and I had a light bulb click on this week. In the process of finding my art, I also found my feelings. Which means I’ve had the distinct pleasure and utter despair of feeling all of them. It’s been a messy, un-pretty, sometimes nauseating process to feel feelings that’ve been all bottled up for two decades. I feel them spilling out every which ways and uncontrollably, like a sticky, stinky mess without a mop. Plus, naming feelings is one thing but dealing with them is another. The silver lining is the sheer FREEDOM that comes from dealing with feelings. They really do have a beginning, a middle, and an end (thank you, Burnout by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski).

At the time I awakened my feelings, I’d been going to therapy for months. After putting in the work by talking things out every two weeks and reading on my own (Codependency No More by Melody Beattie and Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend are my faves), it finally clicked. I’m allowed to feel my feelings. And, I’m free to express them, too. God bless you if this concept is foreign to you, and you’ve never had intense such struggles to feel your own feelings.

Back to the light bulb moment this week. I dug deep and suddenly began to define a distinct, core emotion for the last four seasons. So, I decided to walk through each feeling, one by one.

I should note that anger is typically my first emotion when I feel (react), so it didn’t feel prominent last year. It was certainly there more than I care to admit, but I was able to dismiss it more often and see what was underneath.

A Joyful Summer 2020: When people talk about finding themselves, this is as close as I came to that feeling last summer. Every day I woke up and thought, what’s next? I felt…

  • Inspired by new podcasts.
  • Confident at my job.
  • Playful on weekend hikes.
  • Creative letting my writing just flow through blogging, journaling, and storytelling.
  • Calued when I saw friends after a long spring quarantine hiatus.
  • Courageous in who I was becoming.

A Hopeful Fall 2020: While still full of bubbly new gems of self-discovery, I could tell that as the days cooled off and snow began to fall, my joy was still around, but muted. I felt…

  • Hopeful about the yet-to-be-named next project I’d be sent to next at work.
  • Peaceful about the seemingly steady state of life after making it through 6+ months of the pandemic.
  • Grateful for smaller gatherings and less to do’s during the holiday season.
  • Optimistic about 2021, ready to take on the year and try to recapture what I could that 2020 took from us.

A Fearful Winter 2021: My tidal wave of joy turned hope came to a slow, steady stop shortly after the holidays. I felt…

  • Nervous because I still didn’t have the “next” project at work. I’d only been committed to a two-month gig to “help out” (the plot thickens here… read on).
  • Rejected after not being selected on a few summer projects we bid at work. Suddenly, I didn’t check all the boxes. (Figures, just as I finally learned how to not be such a box checker over my summer of self-discovery)
  • Inadequate at my short-term project because it was much larger than my last one. There were some elements I hadn’t seen before, like major traffic phasing and corrective concrete work.
  • Overwhelmed when told out of the blue I’d be taking over as the construction manager of a multi-million project . Yep, the one that I was initially only spending two months on. I had a sliver of gratitude for being given the opportunity, but whew. Overwhelm would become my new tidal wave.

A Sad, Stressful Spring 2021: I made it through the uncertainties of winter, then another core emotion was lingering and ready: sadness. And from the stress of going from no project to a major project, the last few months have just been hard. I feel…

  • Sad because my mom and stepdad are moving to Florida part-time in a few months. I love them with my whole heart.
  • Depleted by my job, although I’ve come so far in the last three months. It’s a daily metaphor of jumping on a moving train and still waiting for my legs to catch up so I can hop on. (I’ve got 1.5 legs barely on the caboose)
  • Lonely because I don’t have time or energy for socialization right now. I also sense others’ hesitancy to get together too, despite these long-awaited vaccines.
  • Burned out by all things social media and have basically disappeared from it for an unknown period of time.
  • Disconnected from my faith, although I know it’s not lost.

What a wonderful life it is, eh? I mean that sincerely. If I take myself up to 30,000 feet, how incredible is it to have these intricacies and complexities in just one human experience? I’m equally grateful and annoyed. Grateful to be in tune enough with myself to trust the process of feelings, but annoyed to finally face the unfairly labeled “negative” emotions. Better than late than never I suppose. Really, my true goal is to face them and bring back some creativity and inspiration.

But truth be told, I have to believe that all of the above isn’t just me being down in the dumps and broody for no reason.

Colorado has had an 8 month winter. Our first snow came last September, and our (hopefully) last snow came this week in May. Indirectly, my seasons of emotions tells me I’m a sunshine girl through and through. Strange, since I live in the 300-days-of-sunshine-a-year state, and it’s felt nonexistent through these cold snaps. The sun makes me feel light and bright and full of allll the good things. I honestly think I was able to finish this post because the sun came out today, swelled my heart twice its size, and kept shining until I could sit down to write this after 6pm on a weeknight.

If you made it this far, thank you. This whole exercise has been as therapeutic as I’d hoped, though I could’ve just journaled all this out rather than blogging. But the reason I share my writing is always the same: what if someone feels seen, understood, or known because of one sentence, one paragraph, one story of mine? What if my mess helped them escape their own momentarily? What if it helped in some way I’ll never know? A single answer to even one of those “what if”s is worth it.

I’ve deeply felt my core emotions for a sustained amount of time, from the fun ones to the painful ones, and I’m still alive and functioning… and sharing it publicly. And now it’s making new room for all I have to be ridiculously grateful for. This whole feelings business will come around again, but my Type A self is so happy to be more prepared for it.

Here’s to our feelings, whatever they are and whenever they come.

To the Women Working in Male-Dominated Fields

Vulnerability can be a daily hazard for those who identify as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Why? Because we take risks every day showing up as ourselves when the world expects us to constantly talk, act, think, and work like a man, yet still be a kind, good, obedient person who keeps her head down.

Working with men requires vulnerability when… 

  • you have to ask for help.
  • you’re still the only woman in the room (yet the statistics keep saying “it’s all fixed now”). 
  • you ask for time off or set boundaries to your working hours.
  • you have to decide how to take action (or not) when men ignore you.
  • you realize that some men genuinely see you, and you wouldn’t be where you are without them.
  • you choose to say yes quickly to a great opportunity, even when you’re not quite ready.
  • you take said opportunity then think, did I just get taken advantage of? 
  • you allow yourself feel all the hurt, anger, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, disgust, jealousy, and judgment that comes any time you feel vulnerable at work.

For me, I have a double whammy when it comes to working in a male-dominated field. I’m a civil engineer, of which there are about 25% females on average. But I also work in the construction industry, of which there are about 10% females on average.

What’s worse is that these statistics don’t even consider other affected groups: Asian/Asian Indian, Black, Latinx, Native American, and anyone with any form of disability, seen or unseen. The statistics nose dive drastically from there and still severely lack inclusion.

No matter what industry we’re in, women benefit more in the long run from bringing our whole selves to work. Not the scaled down version that confines to “their” rules. We got into our industries for a reason by something deep within propelling us forward–NOT by how many people told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t because we may not fit in.

It took me nearly 10 years into my career to feel that I really belonged in it. And what I’ve learned thus far is this: by focusing more on who I am, it makes what I produce that much richer, more connected, and more sustainable. But that’s a story (or maybe a book?) for a different day.

I wrote this manifesto to remind us that our voice–however WE choose to express it–matters in our line of work. 

I am… Human. I will know that my ability to bring humanity to my job is an asset, not a liability.

I am… Determined. I will take a seat at the table, not on the side. I will get there early enough to take that seat.

I am… Vocal.  I won’t hesitate to raise my hand, when I’m ready. I will speak up when I’m convicted, even if it’s uncomfortable. If I don’t speak up, I will not shame myself. I will decide what “vocal” looks like for me.

I am… Curious. If I don’t know the answer to a technical question, I won’t doubt my ability to learn. I will gracefully respond with “let me get back to you” as I’ve witnessed my male peers do. I will give myself time to find answers and never stop asking questions.

I am… Empowered. I will know that I am tougher than I look, whether society wants to see it or not. I am NOT an imposter. I belong here as long as I choose to stay here.

I am… Balanced. I will listen to my gut, especially with outside commitments. I do not have to go to everything. I will go to happy hours, work trips, and conferences to the extent that I’m able. I will say no if it competes with my overall well-being or sanity based on my family commitments. Saying no does not mean I cannot succeed.

I am… Creative. My ideas and perspectives are worthy of sharing. Only I possess the traits and skills I have, and only I can give myself permission to share when the time is right. My field depends on it to stay on the cutting edge.

I am… Decisive. I will deeply consider the importance of the decisions I make every day, big or small. I will say no when I mean no, and I will say yes when I mean yes. I will do this guilt-free, and I will take the time I need to make the best decision I can, given the time allowed, people involved, and information at hand. 

I am… Resilient. When someone asks me what I do and I say I’m a “fill-in-the-blank” (engineer, lawyer, mechanic, pastor, choir director, pilot, firefighter, architect, farmer, software developer, TV/film camera operator, the list goes on…), I will wait for their “I didn’t expect that” reaction to subside. And if I need to go vent afterwards, I will absolutely give myself permission to do so. 

This is for any woman who’s ever doubted her place, talents, or contributions to a male-dominated field. Writing this is a vulnerable act for me in itself. I wouldn’t have even thought to write this without having gone through my own fears, doubts, and struggles from my experiences working in a field where I often feel less than. It is difficult to even admit I’ve felt this way about a career I enjoy so much.

Still, I implore us to heal our self-inflicted wounds, ignore the silence from those we hoped would support us but don’t, and proudly show more of ourselves every day in the career we chose, the purpose we love.

This essay is brought to you by my womxn’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find us on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out these amazing writers and their perspectives on Vulnerability below:

Being Vulnerable With My Body by Hannah Kewley

Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton

I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown

Anxiety Hangover by Christine Carpenter

Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese

with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee

 

An Invitation To… Reykjavik, Iceland

As we leave the colder months behind – which I am *so* excited for – I wanted to reflect on my visit to the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik (pronounced rake-ya-vick) with my husband in 2015.

I just can’t say enough good things about the Icelandic culture. The people are beautiful, the natural landscapes are beautiful, but that beauty is not limited to skin or surface. Each person and place we encountered was welcoming, friendly, and exuded peace. Let’s dive in.

Something I learned…

Icelanders learn up to three languages in grade school: Icelandic, English, and Danish

When visiting Iceland, we treated it as a true “stopover” for 3 nights on our way to Ireland. We went on a Super Jeep tour of the Golden Circle, which is easy to do since it’s only 2 to 3 hours outside of the city.

We experienced the gamut of nature, seeing rich green vistas with rivers snaking through, bright white glaciers, overcast skies blanketing an active geyser, followed by afternoon sunshine over massive rushing waterfalls. All in one day! One of my favorite things about our tour was our guide, Ingi. He gave us tidbits of Icelandic history in between stops across the country’s majestic landscape.

Some fun facts we learned:

  • Not only do most Icelanders learn the 3 languages above, they typically do so before the age of 12.
  • Icelanders are purposefully peaceful. Iceland has no military force, and police officers don’t carry guns.
  • Most of Iceland is powered by renewable energy sources, primarily geothermal.
  • There’s no McDonald’s on Iceland.
  • Iceland has a universal healthcare system that is both available and affordable to all.
  • If you dare… you can try unusual (and controversial?) local fare including whale, shark, and puffin.

Something I ate…

Reykjavik is known for its coffee… and hot dogs

Right?! The fabulously gorgeous land of Iceland is known for dirt cheap delicacies? It’s true. I particularly adored the coffee at a quirky, hippy joint called The Laundromat Café. Yep. You can eat and do laundry there. My little Type A heart is swooning at the efficiency of this concept. And we had the BEST hot dogs at a little permanent food truck-ish place called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.

We also had divine fish and chips, Viking beer, and more delightful snacks on our short trip. Too little time to try it all!

Something I felt…

The holiness of nature

Call it the slow pace of vacation, the fresh air lacking petrol fumes, or the proximity to the ocean… but I really felt sparks in my faith here. No matter where we went, I kept thinking over and over: God is so masterfully creative. In just one country, He picked so many colors, textures, and shapes for us to feast upon with all our senses. Mindfulness naturally came here; I didn’t have to work for it like I normally do.

How do you capture a raging waterfall in a single frame? How do you box up a miles long glacier into one photo? You don’t. But I hope to impart a bit of Iceland’s magnificence with a few of my measly snippets below.

Wrap Up: Peace be with you, every day

Whether you want to visit Iceland or just want to escape your day-to-day, I hope you feel these same feels when in nature. That you may always be in awe of how it catapults you into its endless depth, full of surprises and full of reverence.

If Iceland is it, then I can’t end this post without mentioning a stop to Hallgrimskirkja Church… for the views. Pay a small fee, then go to the top of the steeple where a 360 degree view of Reykjavik awaits. It is a grand experience seeing the mountains and ocean so close to each other, colorful row houses bunched together, and little dots of humans roaming about the city. Absolutely breathtaking.

There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

What would give you a full mind, belly, and heart in the next city you explore? Follow more of my “invitations to” adventure at the top right of the page: Home > Travel+Bug.

Challenging the Relationship between Trust and Fear

When prompted with the subject of trust in my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing, I found myself wondering how fear and trust are related. How the two are intertwined, yet at odds with each other. Turns out after a quick Google search, that many agree: trust and fear are inversely proportional to each other. So, the more fear I have, the less trust I have. And the more trust I have, the less fear I have.

In other words, trust must be far greater than fear to eliminate it. 

Sometimes, I like to go to the Bible when I can’t get my head around words that capture me. Regarding fear, the first verse that popped into my head was this:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” — 1 John 4:18a

This verse mystifies me. It is simply stated but difficult to practice. On my less confident days, it feels like a standard I’ll never live up to. On my more optimistic days, it feels like an invitation that I can rely on. Fundamentally I believe this verse is a call from God to trust Him with everything in my life. This level of trust has no room for fear to live out the purpose He has placed on my heart—despite rejection, failure, even the fear of silence when I crave specifics. But I also believe it addresses the fear we have in our closest relationships with others, especially in conflict.

When tension arises between me and a loved one, it’s uncomfortable. It often results from one or both of us having some truth within ourselves that we feel we cannot speak aloud. Digging deeper, it seems we fear speaking our truth when there is a lack of trust of how the other will receive it. Our behaviors betray our feelings, resulting in reactions that downright oppose our individual truths.

It can be terrifying to be exposed, seen, and known, unless I have full trust that I will be accepted and loved just the same. Because when I speak my truth without fear, I am actually trusting myself and not relying on the other person’s response. 2020 in particular brought this concept to light for me. How many of us share the same truths across the board on masks, vaccines, AND healthcare response, not to mention the state of the economy and the racial justice movements in our midst? I engaged in more enriching conversations than ever last year by pushing past fears of surface-level acceptance that long held me back.

In essence, I’m learning to accept the risk of an unfavorable outcome. This can range from a simple misunderstanding with quick resolution, to an intense life-changing battle. The paradox is that the bigger the risk, the more I fear what I say and what I do not say in equal measures. If I trust myself, how will my truth land? If I don’t trust myself to speak it aloud, can I survive? What will I sacrifice either way? How does it align with my loved one’s truth?

In the verse, note the phrase “cast out”—which is different from avoiding. To cast out is not to bypass, but to remove it, like a cancerous tumor, before it consumes. How can I access this “perfect love” that holds so much power? The stakes are high when it comes to trusting myself with a spouse, family member, best friend, or lover. At the highest level, I often wonder: is “perfect love” most attainable after surviving one of life’s most gut-wrenching fears—death of a loved one, divorce, trauma, prison, bankruptcy—to find a lesson in love through the worst imaginable pain? Love when fiery anger melts into genuine compassion. Love when it sees past someone’s behavior to their shame and doesn’t turn away, or shame back. Love when it hurts to decide whether to speak or not speak, to stay or leave, to grieve, to forgive.

I won’t fully know what Jesus meant in 1 John 4:18 until my earthly life is over. Until then, I rely on this: I can trust myself. I can trust the pure example of perfect love that I believe Jesus exemplifies. And both levels of trust will help grow my expression of love into a force that banishes fear from existence in my most precious relationships.

This post was inspired by a theme from Illuminate Writing by the editors of The Kindred Voice who share womxn’s powerful stories.

Please check out these amazing writers and their posts on Trust

Trust is Hard to Come By
by Mia Sutton
My Superhero in the Sky by Sarah Hartley
Pattern Making in Parenting by Laci Hoyt
In How We Trust by Liz Russell

Original publication date: August 27, 2020

Why I’m Obsessed with Metacognition

Last summer, I was listening to a podcast that was discussing metacognition – the notion of thinking about what you’re thinking about. Here’s the formal definition for my fellow Webster nerds:

Not sure yet how I feel to admit this, but I haven’t been able to stop analyzing my thoughts since. Not every single thought, of course, just the big ones that make me stop and say: “Wait. Is that really true for me?”. I was probably doing it subconsciously before, but now I have a word for it: metacognition. It helps me shift my perspective when I need a fresh look at a tough or undesirable situation.

Here are a few recent examples of what’s rattled my brain…

First thought: “Holy crap. I can’t believe I have to leave the house for work every day in the middle of a pandemic.”

Next thought: “Wow. I love the quiet time I get in the car driving to work every day. The traffic is manageable, and thank God I haven’t gotten sick this whole time.”

First thought: “I left my blog alone for a month. How on earth will I get back into the groove of writing.”

Next thought: “I left my blog alone for a month because my day job got a lot more interesting, and I’m up for a promotion. I have so many new stories to tell about faith, women in engineering, and self-worth.”

First thought: “Ugh. I only worked out twice this week. I’m behind on my goals and feel exhausted.”

Next thought: “It’s time to reassess my goals this week and back off where I need to. On the plus side, finishing The Glass Castle and a couple Grey’s Anatomy episodes felt AWESOME.”

This week, I also finished the book The Dance of Anger by Harriett Lerner. It has completely changed my perspective on anger. It is going to take a LOT of unlearning, but I am amazed at how differently I see anger already. It’s always felt like such a charged, negative emotion for me. But I learned that anger can be a tool to help tell you what you need to do to take care of yourself. It is possible to look at anger as a neutral emotion, instead of an emotion that beats up my self-worth and makes me feel “wrong” for feeling upset.

The book reminded me that I’m entitled to all my feelings, especially anger. It’s just what I do with it once I feel it that makes all the difference. And after this book, I have so many more options to deal with my anger than my standard go-to’s of over functioning, blaming, and defending. I highly, highly recommend it for women, since it’s written for us specifically. I plan to read it again this year (and, nerd alert, take some notes this time).

Metacognition helps me mind the endless “what if” scenarios that can plague me and overwhelm me. Metacognition is an antidote any time I have self-imposed feelings of self-doubt. Metacognition, guided by two of my favorite allies—grace and gratitude—powerfully tames my coronacoaster thinking, so I can hold onto a realistic yet positive perspective throughout life’s daily curveballs.

Three Tips When You Just Don’t Know Something on the Job

The term “imposter syndrome” is being thrown around a LOT these days. If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means when you attempt something, you feel like you’re not qualified—usually on the job, and usually when you’re trying to lead or show high competency for a certain task. And I’m not saying I’m not immune to it—feeling enough is a frequent struggle for me internally. And, every single time I try something new I think, who in the heck trusted me with this?! I really can’t screw this up, so how am I going to make it through? How am I going to look good?

For me, “not knowing” something sparks a fear that I’ll be seen as incapable or unintelligent. But deep down in my gut, I know that isn’t true. I know myself better than anyone else, and when I put my mind to something, I work through whatever I need to get to the other side. For example, whenever I start a new construction management project, the design plans completely overwhelm me. There are just so many details. I’m a detail person, but phew. A 200+ page plan set printed in 4 point font will test anyone’s ability to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. However, once I literally stare at page, follow the index, and ask umpteen questions, it slowly gets better, one chunk at a time.

The struggle with imposter syndrome is what I think others will think of me. And I can’t control that. I know I can’t control that, but it’s difficult to remember in the moment. Imposter syndrome is also rooted in describing what I can’t do. Next time someone asks you to do something at work that you don’t know how to do, notice how you explain your capabilities to them. Are you telling them what you know, or what you don’t know? It’s so subtle, but often times we want to explain what we don’t know, thinking that will somehow convince the other person that we’ll eventually know. Put that in perspective: as well intentioned as it is—we don’t always want to “fake” something we don’t know—practically speaking, actually acting on imposter syndrome just doesn’t work. At the end of the day, no one wants to hear how incompetent we think we are. Especially ourselves.

To combat all this, I came up with three things that I can say to myself, or another person, when I’m caught up in imposter syndrome.

  1. I can learn. These three little words send a big message to someone you’re working with, regardless of their perception or expectations of you on the job. For one, it shows initiative – a job trait that never goes out of style. Self-led learning also demonstrates commitment – you’re investing your own time to add a skill to your repertoire. something new. And it shows confidence – you’re taking the lead on something you know is a priority, and you’re doing so without being asked.
  2. I can ask someone. Above all else, this concept promotes networking. There are some things you just can’t look up on the internet. For my job, there are project-specific details that only the client knows. These can be anything from opinions… how do you think we should handle the Contractor’s request for more money?… to technical specifications… if I want to check what the Contract says about weather delays, where would I find that? And it goes without saying, asking questions is so easy these days. Bonus points for you if you match the style of the person you’re asking: John likes texts, Jane likes emails, Taylor wants a phone call, etc.
  3. I can research. This may sound similar to ” I can learn”, but it’s slightly different. This is meant to be a quick action, like looking up an acronym you don’t know rather than asking the first person you see. It may sound small, but these small moments can be empowering. When you take the act of knowledge into your own hands, within reason, it can give you just the confidence boost you need to tackle a more challenging task in small bites. And on occasion, looking up a quick answer can give you brand new insights when it’s presented in a different context or from a different industry source than you’d normally seek.

The photo came from one of my jobsites when the Contractor proposed using the existing manhole base instead of building a new one. After much deliberation, head scratching, hand sketches, and reviewing the specifications, the Contractor demoed the base, and we paid for the extra cost to install a larger manhole to better fit the existing conditions. Our round peg, square hole situation looked daunting at first but turned out well in the end!

Some Takeaways from My First 30 Day Haiku Challenge

Truth be told, I really wanted to write about other topics this week. I planned to do a travel blog post once a month, because I miss traveling and want to remember what it’s like to jump on a plane without fear of deadly germs. Then I thought I should switch it up and do a post on imposter syndrome, with some ways I get through it when it sneaks up on me. I started both posts but didn’t finish.

This month I participated in a 30 Day Haiku Challenge hosted by Nicole Gulotta. If you want to find out more, you can check out @nicolegulotta or #30dayhaikuchallenge on Instagram (I’m @cjdubs03). Overall, I found it fun and purposeful, and it definitely stretched me creatively. I reflected back on everything from childhood memories to daily blessings to appreciating more of the chilling beauty of winter. Normally, I can’t wait for winter to be over and done with.

But in all honesty, the challenge took way more time than I gave it credit for. While it may only take 10 minutes a day to write a haiku, then there’s time to find a picture and make it look “nice.” Then I want to see what everyone else came up with for the theme, so I scroll for 15 more minutes before I get back to my “real” to do list. Not that spending some time on myself is a bad thing, but an hour out of each weeknight is, well, a lot. And I noticed after the first two weeks that my zest for the daily activity was fading from a “want to” to a “have to”.

Hence why I’ve abandoned my previous ideas and will keep my weekly post short and sweet. Instead, I’m spending more time this evening with my husband and pup watching who knows what on TV instead of crafting the “perfectly timed” post. As we speak, my 8 year old Weimaraner is blissfully snoozing on my lap.

I’m also really proud of these 5 haikus I’ll share below. I love haikus because they, too, are short and sweet, yet full of beautiful odes to nature in their traditional Japanese form. Haikus also combine two of my most favorite things: writing and math!

Cold air
My heart feels
Morning light
Healing
Bare branches