The Dance Between Work and Life as an Engineer

This is a guest blog by Gina Covarrubias

Are you caught up in a dance between committing to work and living your life as an engineer? An extreme focus in either direction could leave you jobless or lifeless. Read on if you want to improve your dance moves as an engineer!

Balance or Integration?

While some people like to speak of a work/life balance, others prefer work/life integration. What is the difference, and why is this worth addressing?

On the surface, they refer to the same idea — which is to overcommit to one area at the expense of the other.

The phrase work/life balance may feel more reasonable if you’re the kind of person who tends to compartmentalize aspects of your life. For example, you may prefer a distinct separation between work tasks and personal life. Or, maybe your preference is that work friends should remain at work and you’d rather not mingle with them otherwise. If you compartmentalize, you might struggle to think about integrating the two aspects; it might feel more like suffocation.

On the other hand, work/life integration could be a desirable term if you prefer to weave both work and personal duties together. Like making personal calls during work breaks. Or perhaps you enjoy making the introduction of family members to your colleagues during a Zoom call.

There is no right or wrong phrase. You get to choose which one feels most comfortable based on personality and lifestyle. So do not fret if others have a different preference!

Nourish the Human First

If you tend to focus too much on your engineering career before anything else, other things will likely suffer — family, health, sleep, etc.

This is tricky because it may not be your deliberate intent. You may not plan to overwork on a consistent basis. Sometimes these actions creep up and eventually become habits. And you might recognize this habit in others, but you fail to recognize it in yourself. Too much commitment to the workplace translates to a possibility of losing touch with yourself.

Can you be open to believing that your first job, which is more important than your day job, is to understand what it looks like to take care of yourself? Once this is accomplished, you will have more to offer, and you can make greater impacts.

Caring for yourself first includes, but is not limited to, a healthy exposure to:

  • Sleep
  • Work
  • Fun
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
  • Breaks
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Time for worship or meditation

A great way to start is to ask yourself, “To what degree am I living in alignment with my core value systems? What might I need to change to create a balance between all areas of my life?”

Above and beyond promotions, status, or money, careers are instrumental tools to help you empower your own self–development. But you are a human first, so contemplate what it means to nourish the human first, job later.

Work and Life

Enforce Work Boundaries

Perhaps one of the most difficult but impactful dance moves is to verbalize and execute personal boundaries.

If you wouldn’t tolerate a person jumping over your fence and trespassing at home on your property, why would you tolerate someone who knocks down your personal fence of values?

A boundary is your articulation to someone about what you will do if they cross a very clear line that invades your mental or physical space.

A boundary could be as minor as, “Do you mind asking me prior to leaning over my shoulder to type on my keyboard?”

Or a boundary could be as extreme as, “If you add project XYZ to my already full plate, I must pause work on project ABC to compensate.”

Here is a tip for setting boundaries: They are not spoken out of anger, frustration, or other negative emotions. A great rule of thumb when verbalizing your boundaries is that they should always come from a calm mental state. If you try setting boundaries while you’re emotionally charged, you might do more harm than good.

Part of your job in the workplace as an engineer is to dance to the work/life routine. And part of this dance is communicating when your boundaries have been crossed. It might be a frightening exercise for some of you. But you can start with very small items as you gain more practice. Think of it as a skill you can build over time, just like a sport.

While you might receive resistance or unwelcome comments from others, setting boundaries is an act of self-respect. Whether or not people agree with your boundaries is not your issue (assuming you are diligent about fulfilling your tasks).

If you adhere to your boundaries at work, nobody can disagree that you know what you stand for and that you remain true to yourself.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

About the Author Gina Covarrubias

Deliberate DoingCertified Life Coach, B.S. Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering (Purdue University), M.S. Mechanical Engineering (University of Utah).

Gina is the founder of Deliberate Doing, an exclusive STEM coaching service dedicated to helping engineers fix their careers. She solves the common STEM problem: “What should I be doing with my life?” As a former engineer, she identifies with the technical expert who doubts their personal or professional existence.

Gina’s distinctive background blends life coaching expertise with 12+ years engineering/technology experience in the government, academic and corporate environments, all within the aerospace sector.

We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on how to balance work and life as an engineer. 

Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.

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To your success,

Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success

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