That’s right! Motorcycles should make you nervous.
I have always liked motorcycles although I’ve never owned one. I have ridden motorcycles belonging to my friends; mostly in college.
For me, riding a motorcycle has always been accompanied by a feeling of excitement and apprehension. I remember that first ride. I was a freshman in college and one of my fraternity brothers had a fairly new Harley Davidson. I swung my right leg over the seat, sat down as if the bike and me were one, grabbed the throttle and clutch, one in each hand, stepped on the gear shifter, and headed out of Dodge. Well not quite. But that is sure how it felt.
Riding through town I experienced a combination of excitement, apprehension, fear, and energy. All these emotions combined to produce a real high. A push-pull of excitement and subdued dread, with all that power under me, and we wore no helmets in those days.
Over the years I began to notice that there were many things I did that were without apprehension and nervousness but rather were filled with excitement. And, some things I did, like riding a motorcycle, were accompanied by apprehension, nervousness, as well as excitement. As time went on I began to focus on the things that were exciting and comfortable but without much, if any apprehension, fear, and nervousness. I began to focus on those activities that gave me more pleasure and excitement than apprehension. In fact, no apprehension was good. All excitement was better.
This did not just apply to my personal life but also to my professional life. And we all, or maybe most of us, tend to do this, right? We tend to do those things at work that bring us pleasure and are more comfortable to do. We do our best to avoid the things that bring us apprehension, nervousness, dislike, and even dread… like public speaking, for some.
Do you do these?
In fact, you probably have plenty of examples of this in your own professional life. Think about how you move through your work world. Whether you are an engineer or an engineering manager, my bet is that many of these apply to you. For example:
1. Do you opt for the conversations that are easy and comfortable and avoid the conversations that you think might develop into conflict?
2. Do you communicate easily with certain departments and avoid talking to the departments or people with whom you believe will make demands on you that you will not like?
3. Are you on time for meetings where you believe you will be heard and have a say and avoid meetings where you believe you will not be easily heard or you will not have much of a voice?
4. Do you quickly begin work on the challenging and interesting technical tasks and avoid the busy work that is part of your job but that you do not consider fun?
5. Do you eagerly produce graphs and charts of the data you have analyzed and avoid or procrastinate in delivering your weekly status reports to your manager or department heads?
6. Do you regularly contact those customers who you talk easily with and avoid contacting those customers you do not get along with well?
7. Do you easily contact customers or managers when you have “good” news and avoid the communication when you have to deliver “bad” news?
8. Do you easily give compliments to your colleagues or direct reports and avoid telling a direct report or a colleague that they need to “shape up”?
And the list goes on and on. You avoid those tasks and interactions that are not comfortable, not enjoyable, and yet are probably very important to your career advancement and/or your job.
Guilty as charged!
Whether you are an engineer/independent contributor or an engineering manager you are probably guilty of these actions. Guilty as charged! We all are. This is not just about you. It is about me, you, and every human on the planet. It seems to be part of our nature. We seem to be hard-wired this way. Almost everyone acts in these ways sometime in their professional life. The difference between the people who are successful and those who get stuck is something I am going to explain now.
When I first began my career as an engineer and scientist there were tasks I loved to do. These were the interesting tasks. These were the cool technical problems. I put off or avoided those tasks I did not like to do. I was a master at disappearing when I did not want to be involved in something that I did not find interesting. How many of you have that down to a science as well?
But soon I noticed that my behavior in this regard was not serving me. In fact, as time went on I began to notice that I was avoiding certain conversations, certain tasks, and/or processes and later these same situations would come back to bite me. The fact that I avoided them initially only prolonged the uncomfortable event. I was not “solving” the situation, I was only delaying it. Sound familiar?
I soon realized that like getting on the Harley, I was going to have to deal with a bunch of emotions, some comfortable and some uncomfortable and some down-right scary.
Was I normal?
But I had a question. Was that normal? Was that reasonable? Why couldn’t I do what I wanted to do and avoid the other stuff, the stuff I did not like to do? Back to the motorcycle for a moment; was it not possible, even expected, that after some time of riding I would no longer have the apprehension and fear of riding but just be left with the excitement?
It has been 30 years and it is still the same.
Then one day I was reading an article in a motorcycle magazine. The article was written by a long-time motorcycle enthusiast and well known rider. He had ridden motorcycles for over 30 years and in this article he told of how he felt the very first time he rode a motorcycle. He was a young boy. His father purchased a motorcycle for him and as he walked out to the garage for his first ride, his heart was pounding. He was nervous and excited at the same time and he had “butterflies” in his stomach. All reasonable for the first ride… right?
And he got on the bike and was thrilled.
Fast forward to this article and the author, 30 years later. He is describing walking out to his garage to take a ride on one of his current motorcycles. And he describes that as he is walking his heart is pounding; he is nervous and excited at the same time; and he has “butterflies” in his stomach. After all these years of riding, he still has the push-pull of excitement and nervousness and apprehension and butterflies!
After 30 years of riding, he still gets “butterflies” in his stomach as he approaches his bike. He still gets nervous and a little apprehensive as he puts on his helmet and sits straddling the bike.
Oh… that is how it works.
And then it hit me. “Wow, even after 30 years, he still gets nervous riding his motorcycle.” “After 30 years of riding, there is still some apprehension mixed with the excitement.”
So maybe the nervousness and apprehension do not have to go away. Maybe the difference between someone who rides for a while and someone who rides forever, is not that long-term riders figure out a way to get ride of the nervous apprehension… it is that the long-term riders figure out a way to feel it and ride anyway.
That is when I realized that in my work, real success does not come from doing those things that always make me feel good or comfortable; but rather, real success comes from feeling uncomfortable and doing what is necessary anyway.
That means that your long-term success as an engineer or engineering manager is not going to result from doing what you always like to do. It will come from doing what is necessary (legally, morally, and ethically) and dealing with whatever discomfort you might experience. Real long-term success will come from feeling that lack of interest; that lack of motivation; that apprehension; maybe that fear, and still doing what is needed to be effective. And in this economic and business environment, the successful engineer or engineering manager may not often be able to do what is comfortable or what they “like” to be doing. It is the difference between being “right” and doing what you want to do and being “effective” and doing what is most “useful” in the specific situation even if you are nervous or apprehensive about it.
Invariably, this is what I deal with many times when I do my coaching and mentoring of engineers or managers or executives. So often they reach a point where they have been successful doing what they like to do, what feels good, and all of sudden that is not enough. They are up against the anxiety and apprehension of doing something they have not done before or are not comfortable with and it is stopping them, It is the ability to get on the motorcycle and ride knowing that the “butterflies” will be there. It is knowing that, as a new engineering manager or an experienced engineering manager or as an engineer, this is part of what it means and part of what it takes to be successful.
Since this is such a common situation I have decided to make the solution much more available to many more people.
First week of September
The first week of September I am beginning a monthly on-line mentoring tele-program for engineers and engineering managers who want the solutions to successful, long-term careers. One of the topics I will discuss in the series is the solution to the situation I have defined above in this eZine. It is a program designed to provide you with what you need to advance your career. To continue to ride so you can be successful, long-term. That is, not just how to be successful in an environment where you can do what you like to do, but also in an environment that is asking you to learn how to move through the world in ways you were not taught before.
Why is this important to you?
Whether you have just entered the engineering workforce, or you have been an engineer for 10 years or more, or you are a manager who has been managing for a while, or you are an engineer who wants to become a manager, you can be guaranteed that sooner or later your organization will ask of you something that you have never done before. Something that makes you nervous, excited, apprehensive, maybe a little fearful, and gives you butterflies in your stomach. Long-term you will have to deal with the apprehension, the nervousness, the lack of comfort, the butterflies, and do what needs to be done.
In this monthly tele-mentoring call, I will be providing you with answers to how to get on that bike and keep riding! And yes, once in a while, I do get back on the bike, with the butterflies in my stomach and it is a great ride!
Keep a look out for more details in future eZines.