In our engineering and technical careers, doing is often the focus, but being is equally impactful and can transform the way we work. I wouldn’t write that sentence if I hadn’t been through a whole journey of figuring out what that being-thing is.
I spent years of my career focused on doing: accomplishing and checking off task after task. This is something I observe often. I’ve noticed colleagues who resign themselves to never being happy in their job, just trying to make it to retirement. Or, colleagues who won’t back down in an argument convinced their methodology is the “right” way.
What’s the alternative? Well, we could start by recognizing communication is a learned skill. Allow me to challenge you for a moment: Does your communication include vulnerability, an ability to recognize and adapt to other people’s styles, and can you zoom out when you’re triggered? Do you know your own communication style?
“Well, Tara, how am I supposed to learn these things? Can you give me an equation to solve? What do I need to do to get to this communication skill thing? And there is no room for vulnerability in my work!”
This is how I imagine people like me react to this challenge. I mean, I can’t be the only person asking a therapist the question, “How am I supposed to do vulnerability?” At the time, I at least recognized that vulnerability was where authentic communication begins. But here’s the big secret about “doing vulnerability”.
There’s no doing.
Yeah, tell me about it.
When it comes to how I be in project teams, I first had to be willing to be myself. I’m sure people would say I was always myself, direct, fast-moving, easily frustrated when things didn’t go my way. I’m still those things, the difference is that I’ve come to an acceptance of my inherent personality and I’ve learned to change my behavior based on what is actually happening in front of me, not the stories I’m making up in my head.
No amount of checking off tasks got me to this point. I leaned into vulnerability by taking actions that were terrifying, mostly talking about how I was feeling; learning to identify emotions beyond happy, angry, or sad. I found people to coach and push me past my comfort zone, learning to admit mistakes and pull back the finger that so badly wants to point to someone else. I practiced how to center myself when I feel a trigger take hold.
Look, none of us are perfect and we won’t ever get this part perfectly either. Why? Well, because being isn’t perfect. Actually, that’s not true. Being is perfect in its imperfection. In my career, I strove for “perfect” or “right”. Being-ness is neither perfect nor right, it just is.
Just because I’m writing this post doesn’t mean I’m amazing at being-ness. I’ve come a long way from the day when I asked my therapist “How am I supposed to do vulnerability?”, and it’s been a lot of practice with people willing to get uncomfortable with me, guide me, and just be with me as I mucked around trying to figure out this being thing. As I learned to be uncomfortable and allow my being-ness to come through, everything in my reality shifted for the better.