May 29, 1995
There really is something to the notion that you do your best work when you feel good about what you are doing. This is especially true when you are under stress. Any professional working in a design or environmental consulting firm knows that stress is part and parcel of this business. Serving clients, for example, is often stressful. First you have to convince them to give you the job, then you have to negotiate a contract. Once you get the job, you have to deal with the stress of how you will actually get the work done, probably without the time or labor resources that you would like to have. And clients all want their job done, the way they want it, when they want it, which is stressful. Then there are employees. Managing people can be stressful. Having to tell someone he or she isn’t living up to your expectations causes stress. Firing people or laying them off sure is stressful. And dealing with complaints or unhappiness in someone you care about is stressful. Of course, there’s stress to please your boss or principal-peers, who most likely think that everybody who’s anybody in the firm should be a technical guru who knows all there is to know about management, sells $3 million a year in work, and is at least 85% billable. Last but not least, there’s stress that comes from having a family. The kids need to be dropped off at school or picked up from soccer practice. Your spouse wonders why you always have time to spend the evening at public meetings or with your clients, but never with her or him. And the car needs to be taken in for service. Trying to be a decent parent to your kids, partner to your spouse, and general “family member,” pulling your share of the weight when you don’t have adequate time for it, certainly causes stress. But in spite of all of this stress, I know you can feel good about yourself and what you are doing, if you consider the following: You are doing something that’s worthwhile for society. Unlike the folks that cooked up “Joe Camel” so our fourteen year-olds would want to light up, professionals in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business really do something that’s good for people. They create better places to live and work, help build transportation systems to move people and goods, give us clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think a lot of people working in businesses today can honestly claim this. Think about it— how would you feel if your life was dedicated to getting people to buy “Cheer” instead of “Tide”? You never have to do anything dishonest. With a few exceptions, you’ll rarely hear about dishonest or unethical tactics used by A/E/P or environmental consulting firms to get work. You just don’t have to do stuff like that to get work in this business. But once again, think about what some other professions have to live with. Even doctors and dentists have been convicted of performing unnecessary procedures just to get the money. You are helping your clients. Clients of A/E/P and environmental firms don’t get talked into the buying decision when they don’t really need help. They only hire a firm when they have a problem that needs solving or an opportunity they would like to capitalize on. And the best clients really appreciate what you are doing for them. You are tapping into virtually all of your capabilities. That’s one of the greatest aspects of the A/E/P and environmental consulting business— people working in this industry can get a tremendously diverse work experience. And success in this business requires that you develop all of your skills— not just your technical or design abilities. You have to learn how to sell, how to manage, how to communicate, and even how to operate a business, to get all that you can from your career. And the great thing is, those opportunities exist. You are learning something new every day. The wide range of clients, industries, and organizations served by the typical firm in this business is a tremendous learning opportunity. Most A/E/P and environmental professionals, I have found, are pretty knowledgeable people in a broad range of subjects. They understand government, politics, and law, and usually stay abreast of current affairs. And they learn a lot about how different businesses operate in the course of serving their clients. Not to mention all the learning you can get just working inside the company. You are respected by society as a whole. No matter what you think about how much money everyone else is making, it has to help ease the pain to know that engineering, architecture, and environmental science are all recognized by society as legitimate, honorable professions. Even if you don’t make as much money as lawyers, for example, you are at least considered honest. That’s worth a lot. So the next time the stress starts to get you down, and you wonder if it’s really worth it all, try to think about the many positive aspects of your profession. It may help give you the lift you need to keep going forward with the full energy required to feel and be your best. Originally published May 29, 1995
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