Why No Engineer Can Have Work-Life Balance, And How To Deal With It | Part 2

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Is non-academic learning the answer to the dilemma of work-life balance being an illusion?

Last time, I talked about the reason that work-life balance for engineers doesn’t exist. It is because there is a season for everything. You can’t be at the top of your game in every part of your life at the same time.

The good news is you have plenty of time to be at the top of your game in every part of your life (as you have about 50 years of working life). Plenty of time for different seasons and the lessons learned from each season.

So how should you deal with the work-life balance dilemma? Just make sure you make use of every season by developing yourself in a different way each season. New experiences, new skills, new understandings. I call it non-academic learning for engineers.

But I already have a degree…

Well done. That’s the beginning of your learning path. Even if you want to stay in the exact same place you will need to learn to keep up with the changing requirements of your job.

Take Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie has to be one of the best examples of different seasons in life. He’s been a world-class bodybuilder, actor, businessman and politician. You think these fields are unrelated? Arnie would disagree, he thinks he learned skills in each field that helped him in the next.

His thoughts on learning?

[blockquote id=”” class=”” style=”” align=”center” author=”Arnold Schwarzenegger – (Foreword of Tools of Titans)” affiliation=”” affiliation_url=””]I’ve always treated the world as my classroom, soaking up lessons and stories to fuel my path forward. I hope you do the same. The worst thing you can ever do is think that you know enough. Never stop learning. Ever.[/blockquote]

So it’s all about learning. Any way and every way possible. All the time.

But it doesn’t have to be doing training courses or a part-time Masters degree. It can be:

  • Reading books and articles.
  • Meeting with gurus and picking their brains.
  • Trial and error on the job (though this is probably the most cumbersome and costly way).

Tricks to getting skills with little time

“But I don’t have the time!!!!” I hear you scream. I know. NO-ONE does these days.

So cheat.

Imagine if you:

  • Had someone to read the books for you and give you a summary of the important bits? Oh wait a second, there is – it’s called Blinkist.
  • Could hear directly from some of the greatest minds in the world, while on the bus or train on your commute? Oh wait a second, you can – it’s called TED talks.
  • Could listen to conversations with interesting people that expand your thinking and inspire innovative thought? You guessed it – you can – it’s called podcasts like Conversations with Richard Fidler or an equivalent.

In this age of information at our fingertips, there is no excuse for not developing yourself. Don’t leave it to your company to train you. Become the person you want to be, that’s the only way it will happen.

Now, the next question is, what experiences, skills, and understanding do you need to be that person?

We’ll look at that next time. There are so many different things to learn through non-academic learning for engineers – things you would never have imagined when sitting your calculus exams at university.

But first, let’s look at the time you may need for a season…

So how long is a season? 

If you have an attention span of a gnat, (like me), you may change career directions every 3-5 years. Or, are you a creature of habit? Then you may prefer only small moves every 10-15 years.

Seasons may not be as cut and dry as they were for Michael Cheika moving between rugby and the fashion industry (check out my last article for these fascinating details). They may overlap and morph into each other, representing a gradual growth. Or it may be definitive like my last move (I changed career direction, moved country and started my own business).

Either way, it is unlikely that in 10 years time you will be in the same situation you are in now – same desk, house, role, family, friends, and hobbies. Hopefully, if you are in the same situation in 10 years time, it is because you love it.

Answer this question to find out the right length of a season for you: How long will it take to acquire the new skills you want?

Then what?

Once you have the new skills, you can start considering a new season (unless you love it, then you don’t ever have to leave).

[box_frame style=”” width=”” class=”” align=”center” title=”A Side Note on the Family Season” inner_style=””]

The one season that doesn’t change length is raising a family – you need some serious time and effort in the kid’s first five years. I’m not saying one parent should stay home, or the kid can’t go to daycare full time. Just be aware it takes lots of mental energy adapting to their changing needs. Even if you are working full time, your head won’t be 100% in your career. You will be concentrating on the family’s needs too.

What does that mean?

This season might not be the best season to take on a role where you travel all the time. Or where you need to be working late into the night, or with no flexibility.

This goes for men and women – it often lands on women to take a step back, but many men are ‘slowing down’ at work (making sure they leave work on time, taking their holidays instead of letting them accrue) to be the best dads they can.

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