Why No Engineer Can Have Work-Life Balance, And How To Deal With It | Part 1


Work-life balance for engineers – is it possible or is it an illusion?

You want to:

  • Be a world-class engineer, one of the gurus that people come and see for advice;
  • Have a great family life;
  • Have some close friends you see regularly; and,
  • Have time for hobbies like cycling, gaming, or model building.

Instead, you struggle with long hours, missing out on key moments in family life, only seeing friends at special occasions, and never get time for yourself.

There are thousands of blogs and books on work-life balance – I won’t add to the pile.

What I do know is work-life balance doesn’t exist.

You cannot be a world-class leader in your field while being a wonderful spouse, parent, friend and enjoying meaningful hobbies on the side.

It’s a lie.


There is a season for everything.

Another way to say it is: “You can do anything. But you can’t do everything.”

Or at least not at the same time.

I learnt this the hard way.

I went to an all-girls school focused on empowering girls to be everything they wanted to be. Which sounds great. And is great. Except when you hear mishear the message.

I heard “I can do everything I want to, RIGHT NOW”. I wanted it all at the same time.

You can be a world-class leader in your field. You can be a wonderful spouse and parent. You can enjoy serious cycling, rock-climbing, comic collecting, or building houses.

You can do it all – just pace yourself.

After you finish university, you probably have 50-60 active years left. You don’t have to have it all by the time you are 40.

There is a season for everything; when you are in your 50s and 60s, it is not the best season for having young kids. It’s better if you’re past the newborn stage by then. It’s a great season for being a world-class leader in your chosen field.

So, if you have “downtime” (or less intense career time) in your 30-40s, how do you become a world-class leader in your 50s?

Here’s a clue…

It’s not just about technical skills.

Our careers are not linear (as they were a few generations ago). People don’t finish an electrical engineering degree and stay in the same field for the next 40-50 years. Because the world is changing fast; so you must adapt and change with the times.

World-class leaders don’t just have the best technical skills, they have other skills too.

Skills that mean they can deal with “peripheral” issues well, allowing them to concentrate on the technical skills.


What does rugby have to do with fashion?

Take Michael Cheika – The Wallabies coach with some amazing results. He spent time in the fashion industry.

Just let that sink in.

A RUGBY coach. Worked with Collette Dinnigan in the FASHION INDUSTRY.

Why did he do that? How would that help him?

It taught him how to do business, how to manage people, and how to get the best out of your staff.

No, it didn’t teach him the specific tactics to beat the All Blacks. But, it did teach him how to do the non-rugby stuff so he could concentrate on rugby.

What are the other skills?

Many engineers consider non-technical skills to be ‘soft’ stuff, and not as important as technical skills. But, Cheika would disagree. A season in a “non-technical” field taught him the soft skills he needed to be a world-class coach.

I’ll write more about the other skills in the next post, but in the meantime – Think about a technical leader you admire. What “soft” skills do they have? Good time management? Writing reports quickly and clearly? Great client management so clients seek them out?

What soft skills do you want to learn from them? Tell me in the comments below – you might be surprised how many other people have the same issues!

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