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?

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.

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

My Word for 2021: Heal

I wasn’t planning to have a “word” this year. I only learned of the practice a few years ago, and I’ve picked maybe one or two annual words since then. It’s typically hard for me to land on just one thing. I don’t want to be disappointed if this one thing, one thought, one feeling doesn’t come through for me. Also, my FOMO kicks in and says, but don’t forget about X, Y, and Z.

Anyway. I just got a couple’s pedicure with my husband, and “heal” came to mind. I loved the symbolism. Heel on feet reminds me of self-care that’s been a large part of my healing, even if I sometimes question if I’m doing it “right”. Heal: something I’ve been trying to do for over a decade now to actually feel closure from past traumas. As I pondered “heal” in the quiet of the spa room, with music gently playing and essential oils lightly diffusing, it resonated deeply.

Trigger warning: I want to heal from childhood traumas that play out internally for me on a daily basis. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who moved away when I was 13 and passed away in a car accident when I was 16.

To shift gears to a less triggering place, I know that everyone has traumas. The more I see my own trauma without judgment, the more I can face it. Some form of childhood trauma affects all of us: not getting picked for a team, the humanity of parents, falling down when we’re sure we can stand up, etc.

I’ve seen 3 therapists since college. One smiled and nodded after I shared my story, then handed me a pamphlet that said, “What it means to grow up in a dysfunctional family.” I experienced a mini trauma from this because no one in my family had used those words before. But deep in the recesses of my mind, it slowly awoke a new awareness.

I described this experience a few years later to the next therapist, and to my relief, she said, “well, that probably felt awkward.” She explained that what he probably meant was that I was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). She gave me a beautiful quote by Nelson Mandela about being a gift from God. But I still wasn’t ready to fully dive in. After four sessions, I stopped going. I learned more about ACOA, buying several books but finishing few.

I’ve seen my current therapist for over a year. But it took me 8 years to try again. And I’ve done a LOT of work. I’ve learned all about codependency, boundaries, ACOA, feelings, and more. I feel more informed and emotionally stable. But certain memories still haunt me. Certain sounds still trigger me. So, I’m starting EMDR (just Google it). After all the self-work and introspection, trying to rewire my brain to get to my heart feels like the next step.

I believe in God, and He promises healing to those who believe and seek. “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 30:17. I believe in the power of these words. Feeling them is hard. And I know that His promises look very different in real time vs. hindsight.

After all my efforts over the years, I just want to feel peace. I know there is no way to “perfectly” heal, much to my recovering perfectionist’s disapproval. Maybe peace is really my word. But right now, heal is the only way I feel I can get there.

I picked this word on Sunday. After our nation’s utterly tragic, historic events this week, I can’t think of a better time to focus on healing.

Hi, Friends

I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I’m here. I’ve wanted to start a blog for years, but my logical left brain won out for a while. But, what purpose does a blog serve? (Left brain did not like the answer “enjoyment”) And, what if no one reads it? (Left brain did not like the answer “that’s ok”) Also, what if blogging is a dying trend? (Left brain did not like the answer “well, then we’ll figure something else out”)

After collecting dozens of my half-written blog posts since 2010, I realized I had an inner force to write that could no longer be ignored. I’ve documented my streams of consciousness for long enough now that I need to see what comes of it. As someone who otherwise thrives on logic and clarity in my day-to-day work life, I have a very general purpose for this blog, and that is community. Or multiple communities. I’m not sure yet. Here’s what I know:

  • I want to share my faith in Jesus, but only by looking at Him and His Word. The words religion, evangelical, and conservative are pretty tarnished for me and may eventually disappear from my vocabulary.
  • I want working professionals to know some secrets about self-promotion that I’ve learned over the years, but without sounding like you’re overselling your talents.
  • I want to share my love of all things food, wine, and travel. And chocolate.
  • I want women “who don’t exercise” to have simple, enjoyable ways to get moving, even if it’s only 20 minutes a day.
  • I want to inspire women in engineering to have a safe space for creativity beyond the corporate world. And that doing so will enhance their success as an engineer, not hinder.
  • I want to share what I’ve learned about the quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) processes. I believe QC/QA can positively impact ANY business – entrepreneur, corporate life, standard 9-5, and everything in between.

In hindsight – which is 20/20, and for added wit, the year we’re in – I didn’t start a blog until now because I didn’t trust myself. I now feel free to stand by this calling of mine and the potential it could produce. I needed to challenge my personal doubts and “what ifs” before I dove in. It’s in my nature to do so, and the best way I could be true to myself. The trick now, is to see how this is all being pieced together in God’s timing, rather than lament any supposed “lost time”.

So. This box checker has put away her planner, for now. Here’s to trusting that moving forward just one step at a time will allow my creativity to flow – and inspire you to do the same. 

I Took the Professional Engineer Exam Twice Before I Passed

Original post date: May 26, 2015.

Got my results and… drum roll please… I PASSED THE P.E.!!!!!! For those who aren’t familiar, the P.E., or Professional Engineer exam, is basically the equivalent or the Bar Exam for lawyers. It is an 8-hour, 80-question multiple choice exam that’s only administered twice a year (Spring and Fall). If you pass, you receive a license to practice engineering in the state in which you took the exam. And yes, most questions are math-based (!). Slight caveat: you can technically practice engineering without a P.E. license, but it is a well-known, industry-wide benchmark. Most engineering students dream about it early on and start watching that 4-year eligibility clock soon after graduation.

Anyway… from the time my P.E. application was accepted, my 1.5-year journey to becoming a licensed Professional Engineer did not play out as I’d envisioned. My journey took more time, but ultimately set me on the path I feel I was meant to be on: construction management.

When I started studying for this mammoth exam at the beginning of 2014, I prayed a scary prayer midway through my efforts. I felt prompted to ask God to not let me pass the P.E. exam that year, if I were to learn or gain something else in His plan for me. I prayed it once or twice and left it at that. After I took the exam in Spring 2014, I found out that summer that I did not pass.

So, not only did I study for months, but also per standard practice, I was forced to wait an excruciating 6 weeks for results. It was a hard season, full of doubt of what my next steps were. Should I take it again? (The 2nd time passing rate is not much higher) Where did I go wrong? (I put in the recommended 200-300 hours of study time) What am I doing here? (Unfair and dramatic, but hey, that’s what temporary pain looks like)

As I contemplated how this would impact my career, I took some personal inventory and ownership of what I truly needed and wanted. After inquiring about different opportunities and a few conversations with management, I made a big move at work and switched work groups. An internal transfer was not often pursued at my company; our main groups were siloed because we each provided very different services to very different clients.

In this new group, I landed an amazing project: working on a state-of-the-art fire suppression system at the iconic Eisenhower Tunnel. The second time around on the exam, I also decided to switch tracks from Civil: Construction to Civil: Transportation. This meant I needed to acquire new study materials, but it also meant I would learn more relevant topics for my job as an onsite Project Engineer on the owner’s construction management team.

Through these decisions, God affirmed for me how He placed just the right people in my path at the right time. Helpful managers who loaned me very expensive study materials for free. New colleagues who gave advice willingly and repeatedly. Supportive husband and friends who celebrated just the task of taking the test (again) and took me out for drinks afterwards (again).

It’s worth mentioning that when I didn’t pass in 2014, I soon realized I needed to collect myself before hitting the books again. Waiting a whole year to try again paid off so much for a few big reasons: 1) it’s way easier to study in the winter when it’s cold outside (hello, summer distractions—where’s my patio weather crew?!), 2) I wouldn’t have known then, but switching exam tracks was ultimately the best choice for my career interests and skills, and 3) I would not have had the access to study materials I needed by Fall 2014, since that’s when I officially transferred and switched work groups.

On May 26, 2015, and still today, I am grateful to Jesus for this experience and equipping me to achieve this goal, despite failure the first time around. I am grateful to have the most caring friends and family in the world. I am grateful for the MANY professionals who can relate to my experience, whether near or far, knowing the sacrifice, diligence, and sheer willpower it takes to study for months on end. Looking back now, 5 years later, I learned a significant amount of technical material that I rely on in my career today, a lot of which I was not exposed to in my undergraduate courses.

Side note: the second time I took the test, I did pray repeatedly that I would pass… 🙂