They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Sometimes that’s true, but other times, all it takes is a few words to give you a fresh perspective on, well, just about everything.
Recently, I had the chance to attend the North American Steel Construction Conference. As a Structural Engineer with more than 20 years of experience, I’ve been to this conference more times than I can count. But when I joined Gresham Smith this past fall, I left behind the side of the steel business that I had known for so long at my other firms.
Shortly after the conference began, I realized that I had an entirely new lens through which I could view the sessions, my experience and what I could take advantage of. Instead of entering with a business development mindset, which had been required of me for many years, I began to think: What can I bring back that will best help my peers? What can I learn about steel and structural engineering?
Wise Words Go a Long Way:
The keynote address at the conference was about connecting with people of any background, any focus, any skillset and any level of experience. I was asked to identify my “because,” or the reason why I want others to engage with and trust me. The speaker walked us through the decision-making process, and why it’s important to create a valuable relationship, rather than just a better one. We were taught how emotion and rationalization are equally connected, and how being specific can go a long way in developing that personalized connection. Overall, I learned that for others to truly believe that I can be their “because” – that inspiration for them – I need to not just walk the walk, but show how I have repeatedly demonstrated these capabilities.
However, what surprised me the most about the keynote address was how engaging and relatable the speaker was. He used statistics and examples that related to sports, pop culture, shopping, food, and even light beer to hold our attention. I remember thinking to myself, “everyone should follow this model and be this relatable.” After it ended, I instantly recognized that this speaker had already identified his “because” – he wants others to trust that he can teach them the best way to communicate, to sell themselves, and reflect on their daily practices.
“I’m on the journey to find my “because.” And I know it won’t be easy or quick, but that it is vital to my personal success and satisfaction.”
Needless to say, I left with more than a few thoughts in my mind. How can I change my actions and practices? What should I change about my habits? Is there something that I’ve been longing for that I’m missing? But most importantly, I need to go out and find my “because.”
Getting Started in the Right Direction:
Although I am still on the journey to find my “because,” I have chosen three areas to focus in on when charting my own path: communication, mentorship, and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB).
Communication: As creators of the built environment, we understand how smart design can promote a healthier lifestyle, and healthy planet. But, most people do not. By including contractors, builders, owners, and administrators in these discussions, we can enhance the design process and deliver innovative spaces for our clients. It’s also about having tough conversations when it comes to inclusivity. Even if something costs a bit more, but it will be beneficial to someone with a disability, or who needs greater access to public transit, how can we reach an agreement on incorporating it in the space? Tough negotiations are going to be a fact of life, but what more do I need to learn to better prepare myself for these conversations?
Mentorship: Throughout the entire conference, I found myself reconnecting with old friends, being introduced to new ones, speaking with steel vendors and potential clients, and listening to experts. I started thinking, how many of the junior structural engineers are able to be around 2,000 people of diverse backgrounds? I recognized how important it is to get young professionals this type of exposure and thought about how I could be a mentor myself. They might not be able to attend this conference for 10 years, but I have an opportunity to pass my knowledge and experiences down so our junior staff members can grow and reach their full potential.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging: There are so many ways in which I can help people feel more included, help them better understand the architecture and engineering Industry and this career field and allow them to see themselves being successful in it. It’s no secret that the A/E industry as a whole needs to be pushed in a more diverse and inclusive direction. It’s far too easy to stick with what’s familiar. I’ve realized that I need to pull the cover back and think, “What is it like to be a woman, a minority, or anyone who wonders if they can make it in engineering?”
I’m on the journey to find my “because.” And I know it won’t be easy or quick, but that it is vital to my personal success and satisfaction. I challenge you to go out and find your “because” too.