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

 

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!

What It Means to Stay In My Lane

How much do you pay attention to the lane striping on a roadway? Unfortunately for me, I critique notice it a LOT from working in the transportation industry as a field engineer.

Double yellow, that’s easy: don’t cross into oncoming traffic. Dashed white, also called skips: lane changes are allowed. But I mean the finer details. Like when you’re merging onto an interstate, but there’s a long solid white line that slooowly turns into white skips. Ooh, gray area. I bet at least 90% of us cross that solid line before the skips. I can neither confirm nor deny my choice, given where I’m going and how heavy traffic is. These areas are tricky because the lane next to it looks open. So, can’t I sneak on over and be on my way?

The lane lines serve as boundaries of what we can and cannot cross. We don’t own the roadway, of course (as much as we’d like to, some days). And the more I studied “striping” as we call it in the engineering field, the more I began connecting this concept to everyday life. I’ve also studied quite a bit on boundaries in my personal growth, as the notion of it was completely foreign to me until a few years ago. Back then, aside from some obvious ethical boundaries like don’t cheat, I had very few personal boundaries.

I thought saying yes to everything and everyone was both encouraged and expected. “Be a hand raiser!” “Don’t miss a good opportunity!” “Fake it till you make it!” were the mantras told to us as young college students ready to change the world. Seldom were the phrases, “But do what’s best for you” or “But take the time you need to decide what opportunities fit you” added on to remind us to stay balanced. The main message was: get the degree as fast as possible to start making as much money as possible, and the rest will fall into place. An engineering fairy tale at its finest.

I’ve learned that boundaries give us language to say what works and what doesn’t for us, both in life and at work. I think this is really tough for women in engineering to do consistently, because we naturally want to help people out. Sometimes we put up a white solid line (do not cross temporarily) but find that someone urges us to change it to white skips (passing lane, come on in). Like when a manager moves up a deadline when we just admitted (or wanted to admit) we were burnt out and need a short break. Sometimes we put up a double yellow that gets completely ignored, like when we told our significant other that we need to reschedule dinner with the folks, but they forgot and now “we can’t let them down”.

Boundaries are tough, because often others can see our lines, plain as day, yet decide to cross over anyway. The reverse can be true from us to others as well. It takes commitment, strength, and love for ourselves to not only discover our boundaries, but also to hold them, especially with outside pressure.

One thing that took me a while to understand about boundaries is that love and kindness can break boundaries. My rule follower intuitions are so ingrained that default to seeing boundaries in black and white (or, yellow and white, if you’ve stuck with my roadway metaphor this long). We can set our hard lines, but we can choose to open them up and allow them to be crossed over, too. This choice comes from the desire to preserve our most precious relationships and partnerships.

The other thing I learned about boundaries is that it’s more important that I stay in my lane rather than peek over at someone else’s. It’s easy to do this on a road when cars are traveling so quickly; save for stoplights, there’s little time to really check out what the other person is doing. We can try, but a few seconds in, and we’re easily distracted away from our own destination that day. We can easily miss the green light on our side if we’re too focused on someone else’s green.

My own boundary lines help define my perspective of my life. I can choose how much to invest in a friend or coworker who may be temporarily struggling. I can pull over safely near their lane and help support them, but I don’t have to be “in” their lane, problem solving for them and taking over their car. They can get to their final destination better with me as a passenger, not the driver. Boundaries help me stay detached.

Maybe the next time you’re on the road, the road striping will take on a new meaning and new perspective for you. Maybe you’ll wait to merge before the white-lined gore on an off-ramp. Or if someone sneaks over the white line in front of you when they could’ve waited, you’ll smile and think of love and kindness. But if you honk, that’s OK too, since boundaries are all about owning our power and choosing what works for us.

Your Words are Worthy

Words upon words upon words. From grade school on, women are the classic note takers. Scribbles on sticky notes. Endless to-do lists. College notebooks full of formulas, theories, and literal word-for-word jargon from professors, in hopes it can be deciphered later. Love notes to kids or spouses in lunchboxes. We are the quintessential journal keepers, no matter if it’s once a day or once a year.

Why do we take note of so much? For one, it engages us. It activates our busy minds that run nonstop, even in our sleep. It plants us in the moment and grounds us when nothing else will. The act of writing promises hope that we won’t forget what we feel we need to remember.

Anytime I hear from a fellow woman writer that she doesn’t feel the urge to write, my heart cracks a little. This may be temporary based on the busy day/week/month ensuing, where she’s likely busy taking care of everyone else around her. My suspicion is that deep down, she silently feels her words aren’t worthy. And this makes the crack in my heart even wider, because I am so inspired by the words of other women. It is the very thing that has emboldened and empowered me on my own journey. I can’t stop reading others’ thoughts of desperation and moments of hope that this fragile, historic year has brought.

This is a pep talk I give myself that you can borrow in whole or in part anytime you need: Do not ever let someone poison you, with either a glance or a litany, on whether or not you’re worthy to create. You are the only one that gets to decide that. Let failure be a teacher and a gift once the pain subsides. When you’re ready, have the guts to face your weak areas instead of avoiding them. The lessons of growth when you go through the fire are always, always worth it. You have more grit than you give yourself credit for, so start digging in to get you where you want to go.

Whether you write 50 or 50,000 words, every syllable matters. Let those words of yours, faintly simmering below, start to bubble up and out. It counts if it’s privately in a journal or publicly released to the world. If you needed this reminder, I hope it’s coming to you at the right time.

Today, tomorrow, next month, or next year–there is no deadline on the worthiness of your words.

This post was taken from a bit of the first draft of my memoir as a woman engineer. I started this project on a whim when I learned of NaNoWriMo two weeks before it launched on November 1, 2020. I got to 40,000 words, and I have no idea if I will ever finish and publish it. What propelled me to write was this: “Will there ever be another time in my life where I can dedicate a whole month to writing?” And I didn’t want to wait to find out.

All I know right now is that I have stories of mine to tell. Writing is the therapy I need right now to re-imagine, process, and let go.

PS, the Unpublished Podcast by Amie McNee has been one of many inspirations to my writing journey this year. I encourage you to check it out if you need a boost of encouragement, wherever you are in your creative writing journey right now. As Amie often says, only you can write what you can write, no one else can.

Two Pens, Two Purposes: An Engineer Writes Fiction

This is a storied timeline of two pens, two purposes. One pen writes reports and calculations on a construction site. The other writes articles and pitches as a freelancer. One story is fiction; one is fictionalized but mostly true. Both individuals are working (or attempting to) in the pandemic. Apparently, both hate the morning alarm but love long walks and Spotify.

The Engineer.

5:30am – That damn alarm. 1 snooze and I’ll get up. The sun peeking through our window tells me I won’t need my jacket today (phew).

6:30am – Just finished my morning quiet time. Meditation on my Calm app and some prayer/silence. Total bliss—wish I consistently did this.

7:30am – Smoothies and coffee are made, and I’m headed out the door. Wait: forgot my lunch, and takeout options are still slim. Say goodbye to the fam for the second time, and off I go.

8:30am – The #coronatraffic is definitely picking up—need to start leaving earlier. I pull up to the jobsite and finish my morning check-in with the superintendent.

9:30am – I’m in the office trailer–a bland shade of beige. It’s stayed very clean since I constantly imagine COVID germs lurking about. I fire up the generator so I can get internet and power and start catching up on emails.

10:30am – Concrete pour for an inlet base, where I spot check measurements on the rebar and forms. Weirdly, fresh concrete is one of my favorite smells. It signifies something new is being built that will last a long time. 

11:30am – Lunch by myself in the trailer. It’s quieter now that my inspector was reassigned to another project last month, due to budget issues. If I had a nickel for every time I thought, thanks COVID…

12:30pm – Daily check-in call with my client. We discuss the schedule slipping *sigh*. Our Indian summer weather is holding out for now, so we can finish paving and stand up some signal poles this month before the snow hits.

1:30pm – I add a couple things to my Lessons Learned report. I’ve recently made this a habit: writing down things our team could improve, or wish we’d known, before the next job starts.

2:30pm – Out for another site walk and think: Well, this is new. About 10 Xfinity trucks are here, with manhole lids popped off everywhere. I talk to their supervisor. Turns out, even after the 2 months my team spent notifying companies of a duct bank we needed to relocate for our new inlet, they didn’t get the memo. Sorry to whoever was cut off from the world for 4 days – is it even possible to go that long without TV or internet right now??

3:30pm – Writing my Daily Diary, where I’m always thinking: be objective, thorough, concise. Sometimes I feel more like a lawyer than an engineer when I write these.

4:30pm – Midway through my commute home with my favorite passenger, Spotify. Today we’re listening to The Confessional and Unlocking Us at 1.5X speed. I set the cruise control and enjoy.

5:30pm – Dog walk with my boys. We walk up the hill to take in a view that never gets old: watching a soft coral sunset turn to indigo over the hazy foothills.

6:30pm – Finally getting this at-home workout routine down. Ingredients: 30 minutes, a 20 lb kettlebell, “Mood Booster” on Spotify, and my $10 Amazon poster with umpteen exercises to choose from.

7:30pm – Takeout Thursday! Tonight, we go local and get a Matador pizza with salads. Jalapenos, cream cheese, chorizo, red sauce—yep, gang’s all here.

8:30pm – Quick journal entry. I used to be a morning journaler, but I’ve grown to like the end-of-day reflections. Even if they’re scattered, tired, flat. More realistic and strangely calming.

9:30pm – Spent. I’m catching up on Nashville and forgot how much I love the music. Even though I gave up country music years ago. I snooze on the couch for 20 minutes before my husband coaxes me to bed (my big bad habit is here to stay).

The Writer.

7:30am – OK, OK, I’m up. 5 snoozes later meant 45 minutes in iPhone land. Oops. Why hasn’t Apple figured out a way to give us custom snooze options yet?

8:30am – It’s a hair wash day. Ugh. One nice thing about the pandemic: I’m down to once a week. Grab a souvenir coffee mug and think, where should I travel to today? Hawaii or… Hawaii? I listen to the Unpublished podcast at 1.5X speed.

9:30am – That blank cursor feeling is legit. But it’s because I have so.many.stories brewing at once. Gonna take some effort to get them out, both connected and flowing.

10:30am – I looove my home office. My velvet Cleopatra chair sits in the corner, inviting me in for a read or a write when that desk gets old. But, I miss traveling. 

11:30am – Squirrel! Started looking for photos for an article, then scrolled for a half hour before I caught myself. Now I really miss traveling. And the theatre. And squeezing my face into group pics.

12:30pm – Hunger calls: tacos for lunch. Mmm. Have I ever met anyone that doesn’t love tacos? Have I discovered the one thing all Americans can agree on, besides Dolly Parton?

1:30pm – Ever spend an hour on thesaurus.com for one word? Yep. I just did. #enneagram1blues

2:30pm – I attend a Writer’s Digest OnDemand Webinar called, “8 Things First-Time Novelists Need to Avoid”. Great tips, if I ever get to this phase of my writing career. Just completely in the dark on a concept or theme right now *sigh*.

3:30pm – The fairy dust fueling today’s inspiration has worn off. My partner has been on a conference call, on speaker phone, for the last two hours in the living room. Time for a walk….

4:30pm – My last hour to meet client deadlines and rally my self-imposed hustle. Refueling with Diet Coke. C’mon, words.

5:30pm – One more hour… #ThisGirlIsOnFire… I click Submit, Send, and Save Draft on three pieces I fought hard for today. 

6:30pm – Time for our nightly beach walk. So glad we indulged our pipe dream and moved to the coast last year. Footprints in the sand never get old. Ever. 

7:30pm – Grocery store run. Feels like I’m in some bent universe when I leave my 2D imagination and enter 3D life with real trees and cars. Did I really just hunker down for two days pouring myself out on paper, or did I dream it?

8:30pm – We rally and whip up some Chicken Marsala and mashed potatoes for dinner. Add a little heavy cream to the sauce and a LOT of butter to the potatoes. A cold glass of Pinot Grigio gives us a sweet finishing touch to the meal.

9:30pm – Just cracked open my new journal for a quick brain dump. It starts with the quote: “Okay fine, I’m grateful!” Appropriate. I spend a few minutes writing and a lot of time doodling quotes or scriptures on my mind.

10:30pm – Kindle calls tonight instead of Netflix. I should not read “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” before bed. But it’s teaching me all about the evolution of avocado toast, and I’m here for the entertainment.

2:30am – I slowly wake, and my mind is abuzz. Think I’ll work on that haiku series I dreamt of this week. Who knows if it’s publishable, but it demands to get out now. Sleep, I’ll see you when I see you.

Photo location: Seattle, WA. Ocean on the left, mountains on the right, symbolically bridging my two worlds.

Read more about an Examination of Life this month from the amazing women at Illuminate, a product of The Kindred Voice:

A Day in My Life by Laci Olivia

An Ideal vs Actual Day in the Life by Ashleigh Bowling

What Makes a Life? by Amy Rich

A Real (and Imagined) Examination of Life by Sarah Hartley

The Things We Carry by Jenn Norrell

An Examination of Life by Danni Brigante

life itself. by Eunice Brownlee

Asking Why Transformed Me

I don’t mean to be dramatic with this statement. I’ve naturally been curious since I was a kid. But I’ve been known to be shy, too, up until my late 20s. By making it more of a habit to ask “why”, I started uncovering hidden gems, scattered about in everyday conversation, by adding this three-letter word to my vocabulary.

I used to think there was some unspoken limit to asking questions. That it would hinge delicately on either too many questions or highly personal questions. I could speculate a hundred reasons why—as young girls, we’re trained to be nice and obliging, I’m a recovering codependent, who knows. But I often felt a mixture of shock and respect at the audacity of other people’s questions. This could be at work, with friends, or casual observations of strangers when out and about. Did they really just ask that? Are they really going to answer that? Side note: one thing that can make my skin crawl is awkward silence.

Among the different jobs I’ve held, I worked in a corporate quality department for a couple years. We came up with standards and procedures for producing work consistently and doing it “right the first time.” We would audit procedures to see how well they worked and tweak as needed.

Before we made any tweaks, we’d conduct a root cause analysis. Stay with me. It’s the simplest thing. It sounds ultra-fancy to use something called the “Five Whys”. But it’s just asking why until you’ve gotten to the root of the problem. That’s it. And no, you don’t have to ask five whys each time.

Asking why helped us uncover way more information than if we saw a problem and assumed what to fix. For example, we had a review process that worked well in design but was complex for reviewing things like progress reports or memos. Instead of assuming that people didn’t understand the process (and adding unnecessary steps or guidance), we dug in and found out it was taking too much time. So we instituted a shorter review process that still caught errors but didn’t kill the budget.

The transforming part about all this, is that asking why helped me personally. I started seeing how making a slight assumption, but not following up, would cause my relationships to stagnate. By instead asking why, when it felt appropriate, I became intrigued by the spectrum of emotions the word invoked. From the simple power it can have when looking for answers, to innocent curiosity that creates connection. And when I started learning about codependency, it gave me the language to let go. If someone wanted to answer, great. If not, it wouldn’t affect my relationship with them whatsoever.

The more I asked why, the less I feared the question or its impacts. I began having higher quality conversations with friends and family (no pun intended). Why did you pick that vacation spot? Why did you decide to switch jobs/schools/etc.? This is all within reason of course. In general, I personally don’t believe in asking why people decide to have kids or not, or why they believe in a certain religion or not. Asking why to the point of defense, or putting someone on a stage to exhaustively explain themselves, isn’t the point.

Root cause analysis gave me permission to ask why. Learning about codependency gave me the courage to practice. Having these tools helped me uncover so much richness I would’ve otherwise missed.

Photo location: Road to Hana, Maui

A Lesson on Kindness from My Last Yoga Session of 2019

In December, I bought a four-week unlimited pass to the yoga studio by my house. I had driven past it for months, wishing I would just go in already. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried yoga before. I love yoga. But I had been stuck in a mental rut, thinking I wouldn’t “fit in” to the yoga community.

I’m not a relaxed person by nature, and it takes a lot of work to get me there sometimes. While I practice yoga to get some of my Type A energy out, I want it to be self-contained, in that I don’t want it leaking out and contaminating someone else’s calm, soothing space.

Anyway, after getting over myself and signing up, by December 23rd, I was on a roll and headed into my 3rd day of yoga in a row. I was loving how loose and relaxed my body felt. I was starting to feel more mentally loose, too, and it took less and less energy to be present with the poses and let all else fade away for 60 minutes.

And then something happened. At the end of our session, where we sat with relaxed bodies and (somewhat) still minds, the yoga instructor invited us to turn our attention inward. She spoke for about two minutes, giving us specific, beautiful reminders of what to keep in the new decade and what to let go of from the last. Her words were more than motivational for me. I don’t know if it was the intention with which she delivered, or the moment of time I was in (or both), but I felt like she was speaking just to me.

My spirit cracked open wide. Context: left brain here (*waves*). It all felt unnatural at first, but I held onto her invitation long enough and wanted to capture the moment. So here’s what I wrote down (yep, I am that person):

  • A new decade is starting. Bring in what you want, and leave out what you don’t.
  • Acknowledge and honor how much you’ve grown in the past 10 years.
  • Honor the light and the darkness. In the darkness, you celebrate what you’ve learned that brought you out of it. Light always overcomes darkness.
  • Celebrate that you showed up and did the work today. For yourself.
  • Honor any new progress and growth as it comes. It is the essence, the reason, why we struggle.
  • The world needs your kindness.

I wrote a few more notes in my journal on December 27th. “Reflecting more on how I want to start the new decade… No matter what I put on my list, my intent is to tackle it differently this time. There will be no big moment when I am done with my growth. I will appreciate any slow, incremental changes. I will be patient and forgiving with myself. I will be confident and calm in the process. I will adjust or abandon any parts of the process that don’t fit, to stay of healthy mind, body, and soul.”

Enter 2020. Where the world is an entirely different place than what these words were ever meant for.

And yet, I find I’m celebrating myself as I reflect. I hadn’t read the bullet points or my journal entry until now, but I can confidently say I am doing these things now. I am calmer. I am more centered. I am much more focused on bits of improvement over perfection. And ironically? The pandemic gave me that. It stripped away physical and mental burdens that weighed me down, inviting me to deepen my connection to my spirit.

Sad to say, my yoga practice has understandably dwindled this year. I tried the studio’s livestream classes. I’m hesitant to go back in person for two reasons: 1) I still go to work every day and would hate to over-expose myself in either space, and 2) total first world problems, but it just does not feel the same with the extra but necessary restrictions. I did find one instructor who streams free YouTube videos and DJ Yoga sessions, which are so much fun. But I miss the in-person community. I miss the cool, lavender-scented cloth for Shavasana. I miss the hands-on adjustments.

But. The world needs my kindness. Yoga or not, at no other point in my life have I felt the importance and gravity of those five words more.

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… 🙂