“I’m 25, I Feel Lost In My Engineering Job.” Here’s The 3 Reasons Why
“Son, if a ship leaves a port without a map it will wander the seas…But if the ship leaves the port with a map and a destination, 9 times out of 10 it will get to where it is going”
I don’t know the person in the photo above, but let’s call him Jimmy. Does it look like Jimmy loves his job right now? Are you or anyone else in the world supposed to love what you do? I’m pretty sure you were told that the key to a happy and fulfilling career is to love what you do. If you love what you do you will never work a day in your life right?
55% of Americans feel dissatisfied at work and Jimmy is one of them (Career Vision).
I too felt lost in my engineering job for a short period of time. I know I am not the only one who has felt lost or dissatisfied with their current job. I have even spoken to people that I work with that have felt the same way. If this is you, know that you are not alone. There are other people out there too who feel like you.
I believe it is important for me to share my experience with feeling lost and the 3 core principles that helped me get out of feeling lost.
1. You have no end goal. (Your 5 Year Destination)
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” — Andrew Carnegie
Where are you going in life? Most people have no clue of where they are going or where they want to get to.
As a kid growing up I learned a lot from my dad. He taught me a very important lesson around the age of six years old. He said “Son, if a ship leaves a port without a map, it will wander the seas…But if the ship leaves with a map and a destination, 9 times out of 10 it will get to where it’s going.” I never forgot that lesson he taught me. I have remembered it well into adulthood.
You see, most people let life define their end goal for them, instead of them defining their end goal for themselves. They leave life’s port without ever setting a destination. As a result they wander the seas and eventually end up feeling lost, just like a ship lost at sea.
You must have a destination that you are trying to reach. A destination that you want to get to. A destination that motivates you. Without a destination of where you are trying to go, you will just wander the seas.
For most people up until this point in their life they have always had structure. I always had structure as well. This structure was most commonly provided by school. You always knew where you were going. You knew that after third grade, the destination was fourth grade. You knew that after high school the destination was college. You knew that after college the destination was your first job. What is the destination now? Another job? Management? Your own business? Where are we going?
In each of the previous examples the time frame to get to each destination was predefined for the most part. For high school it was four years. For college it’s four to five years (some might take longer depending on their situation). But, you always knew how long it would take to get to the next destination and where that destination was. What’s the next level after getting your engineering job? Retirement? That’s an inconceivable amount of time away for you.
Up until this point we were all used to reaching our destinations, making life transformations and reaching milestones in four to five years. Now it’s all different. There is no next milestone that is set for you. There is no predetermined amount of time for you to get to the next level. It doesn’t exist. School, your parents or society always set the next destination for you. This is the first time in your life that you have absolute control over where you want to go next, and how long you want it to take to get there.
When I was at work I felt lost for a period of time. Like I said previously, this is the first time in my life that I have absolute control over where my next destination will be. I wasn’t entirely sure of where I should go. I had not thought that far. I spent day after day driving to work, working, driving home, then doing it all over again the next morning without knowing what it was all for.
It was very random but out of the blue one day it hit me. I was feeling lost and I remembered the lesson my father had taught me when I was six years old. I instantly knew that I had no destination set. And that I was just a ship wandering this sea called work. I was in this sea of work and had no idea where I was going. I decided to set a destination. Where I wanted to be. I set the destination to eventually move up to the skill level of engineering specialist in my current place of employment. Now it’s not a destination for the rest of my life but it is an immediate destination for right now.
The first step you must take to getting out of this “lost” feeling is to define where you want to be in the next five years. Not the next ten. Not the next forty. But where do you want to be in the next five years. Do you want to be manager of your department at work? Do you want to move up from entry level to a more senior level in engineering? Do you eventually want to be working in a different industry, field, state or even country? It’s all up to you.
I say to choose where you want to be for the next five years because…
- You are used to making big transformations and milestones every five years from school. Keep that trend.
- It will take time for you to learn what you need to in order to make your transformation.
- You will make mistakes. Having time to learn from those mistakes and course-correct are important.
- Five years is long enough to make a transformation and stick to your destination goal. But it’s not too far out that you can easily get deterred. It’s also very difficult to predict what your future will be like in ten years.
Remember, if you don’t set your destination in life, life will set it for you.
Take a few minutes to think about where you want to be in the next five years.
2. You have no path (Your Daily Map).
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced everyday.” — Jim Rohn
Pretty much everybody can see their end goal when they define it clearly. The real question is… now that you have defined your five year end goal, how are you going to get there? You see about 90% of the people I know have visions and goals but are not doing anything to get to their vision or goal and as a result, still feel lost.
Your five year destination is nothing more than just a dream, a thought, an idea that you hold in your head. It doesn’t exist. There are things that you must do to get to where you want to get to. It doesn’t come for free.
Back when I was child growing up I would see my dad practice dancing everyday. He used to do popping and locking. He grew up in the Bronx in the 70’s and that’s what they did. They danced. As I would see him dance he would always try to get me to practice with him. But I was not much of a dancer. I was too shy. But it was here that my father taught me another valuable lesson. That lesson was “Son, you need to practice everyday”. Practice. Practice. Practice.
You see how everyone wants the quickest path to their five year end goal? Everyone looks for the shortcut to avoid doing the hard work. The quickest way to your five year end goal is not some trick or gimmick. The quickest way to your five year end goal is to practice the skills needed for the goal every day. It’s not a matter of how quick you get there, but a matter of how often you practice the skills to get you there.
Trying to define what you need to do each month for the next five years would be near impossible. It will automatically change a few weeks in. We need to focus on what we have to do for today and the next day. Not only that, we need to make the daily activities we do simple. Now simple does not mean easy. Simple just means that you clearly understand what needs to be done. This will be your daily map. This is the map that will guide you to your end goal.
How do we come up with this daily map? Simple. Follow this easy 3 step process to figure out what you must do everyday.
- Ask yourself what does X do?
- Answer the question from step 1.
- Once you know what X does, practice those skills every day.
For example, say you want to become the manager of your engineering department at work. Step 1 would be to ask yourself, “What do managers do”? Step 2 is to answer that question. If you have a manager around you that you want to be like then study what is it that they do. Managers make sure their team members have the resources they need to succeed and make sure projects get finished on time and within budget. Now that you know what managers do, step 3 is to practice those skills every day. Practicing helping your team members get over roadblocks. Practice managing your own tasks and learn about the tasks that your team members are doing. All other things that are necessary for you to learn about how to get to your end goal will become apparent as you are practicing your skills. You will find out that maybe you don’t know how to manage your time effectively so you go and learn it so you can improve that skill.
Success is simply doing a few key things over and over again every day. This becomes your daily map. It is what you must do. It is what you must prioritize. It is what you must practice every day to get to your end goal. It may sound bogus but it really is that simple. To get to your five year end goal you just need to do a few simple key things over and over again everyday and you will eventually get to where you are going.
3. You have no connection to the impact you are making.
“There’s no greater gift than thinking that you had some impact on the world, for the better.” — Gloria Steinem
This is a big one right now for a lot of early career professionals. It is doing work that matters. It’s experiencing how your work as an engineer affects another human being. How your work as an engineer affects the world. Having a connection to the impact you are making with your work I believe is incredibly important to have.
We all love it when someone congratulates us for a job well done. We love it when someone smiles or laughs at a joke we told. We love it when the things we do make somewhat of a difference in someone's we care about life. Some people might fight me on this and say that they don’t care about how they make other people feel, but I believe that to not be true. We are all social animals and need to have some sense of connection to another human being.
How would you like it if you were the last living person on this planet with barely any animals around? My guess is that you would go insane, or make friends with the wolves for some sort of familiar social interaction. As crazy as that may sound. We need to be connected to people. That’s why things like the telephone, social networks, cars, airplanes etc. were revolutionary ideas for mankind. They connect us.
What does your work mean if you can’t share it with anyone? What does your work mean if you can’t see or read the reaction another person would give you when you make something that matters to them?
I believe that next to not having a five year destination, not feeling a sense of impact or purpose is the second biggest cause of feeling lost in your job. You really need to ask yourself “who are you doing this for”? And also ask the question “why does it matter”?
When I was 16 years old I told myself that I did not want to die without having made some sort of a difference in the world. It was a sense of purpose. A sense of impact that I was searching for. You see it’s not about what you can do for you. It’s about what you can do for other people.
If you want a real sense of impact with the work that you do, you should try and meet with the customers that you help engineer products for. Seeing how what you made affects them will give you a sense of impact.
Now I understand that for some engineers out there it may not be possible to meet with a customer. If you can’t meet with a customer you need to find another person. You need to identify someone who you are doing all this hard work for. Are you doing this to win one for your boss? Are you doing this to win one for your family? Whoever it is, you need to ask yourself the question, “Who am I working hard for?”
Without an answer to this question you will always feel lost. You need to tie your work to how it impacts other people.
So to wrap this up, the 3 reasons why you would feel lost in your engineering job is…
1. You don’t have a goal that you are trying to get to.
The goal sets your direction and gives you a destination to go to.
Set a five year goal. Most goals worthwhile will take five years to complete.
2. You have no path to get to your goal.
If you are not making progress toward your five year goal you will still feel lost.
Setting your path is as simple as defining the 1 to 3 things that you must do everyday to get to your five year end goal. This is your daily map
Success is nothing more than just practicing those 1 to 3 things every day. The more frequent you practice them the better and quicker you will get to your five year goal.
3. You have no connection to the impact you are making.
You need to connect your work to other people.
You need to define who you are doing all this hard work for.
It can be a boss, a co-worker, a family member, a customer etc.
I hope you found this helpful. If you are feeling lost in your engineering job don’t worry! You can and will get over it! Thanks for reading!