Think: Forward Motion in Your Engineering Career

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Show Notes

If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you’ve heard me mention forward motion in your engineering career a couple times. This is a helpful concept and a useful career tool.

So I’d like to help you understand it by answering 3 key questions:

In between those questions, we’ll talk about the forward motion mindset and the pace of forward motion.

What does it mean to be in forward motion? It means that you have a constant sense of progress in your career. It means there’s just enough tension to pull you forward, to keep you learning and growing. 

Keeping your career in forward motion means looking ahead. It means thinking beyond where you are and knowing what your next step is going to be. 

You know you’re advancing because you are meeting challenges and then facing new ones on a continuous basis. You realize when you have mastered what you’re working on, and you take action to move on to other challenges.

How Women Engineers Benefit from Career Forward Motion

Why is this important? Let me share 3 ways that women engineers benefit from forward motion:

  1. Forward motion prevents you from being left behind and missing opportunities. If you stagnate – if you stop moving forward – you can easily fall behind the pace of your colleagues because you are not in touch with what is ahead of you and you’re not prepared for future challenges. 

Very quickly this can snowball and soon you are not only missing out on opportunities, but you are losing the ability to catch up.  

Instead, keep some focus ahead of you so that you can match your progress with your skills and talents.

Let me pause here to say I’m not advocating that you live in the future. You want to be present and focused on the now. But you also want a sense that things are moving along for you – that there’s a subtle motion pulling you along a positive trajectory.

  1. Forward motion builds risk tolerance and confidence. Maintaining forward motion keeps a little tension in the system. It stretches you to meet challenges. It pushes you little by little to take more risk. 

And by the very fact that you are gaining these riskier experiences, you are building confidence. 

  1. Forward motion helps you reach your potential and beyond. If you stay in forward motion, you’ll move more quickly toward your career vision. And over the course of your career that means reaching your potential. 

Without forward motion, you’ll inevitably feel like you’re coming up short – like you should be farther along in your career than you are. It’s a great insurance against the career saga we talked about in Episode 3!

I think some people are naturally in forward motion. But many are not – especially people who are in more unfamiliar settings, like women in engineering! It’s just a little more struggle to get comfortable with your career, so keeping it in forward motion takes more effort.

The Forward Motion Mindset for Women Engineers

We tend to think of a job as a destination. As students, we focus all our energy on landing that first job but we don’t think much beyond that. School prepares us for graduating and gaining employment but not necessarily for what comes next.

As working engineers, we want to get comfortable with the job. We want to settle in. We want to get really good at what we’re doing before we think about moving on.

What I’m suggesting is, instead of making career moves that are few are far between, think in terms of more continuous motion. This is where the forward motion mindset comes in. Rather than thinking of your job as a destination, think of it as a means of getting there. 

A series of experiences, learnings, and responsibilities will occur, and you want to move from one to the next. You want each to build on the last and offer you something new. And you always want something to look forward to. 

I wish someone had introduced me to the concept of forward motion early on in my career. My mindset was very much a destination mindset. A forward motion mindset might have put me in the path of more opportunities.

Some of you are going to be stressed by the concept of forward motion. It might seem like you’re putting yourself under too much constant pressure. So let’s talk a little about pace. 

Setting a Forward Motion Pace for Your Engineering Career

You can set your overall pace at whatever is comfortable for you.  Maybe you like a slower, more deliberate pace. Maybe you like a speedier pace with faster changes coming at you. 

As long as your motion is forward, you can set your pace the way you like it.

Furthermore, no matter how you set it, your pace is going to vary throughout your career. This is how you can throttle forward and back according to how much energy and momentum you have, and what obstacles or challenges you’re facing.

For example, there will be times when you’ll want to focus more on family or education or special projects. At these times your pace will be slower. 

Then there will be times when everything aligns: your technology area is flourishing, your organization is doing really well, and you have options for big opportunities. At these times your pace will pick up.

These ups and downs are natural in the course of your career, and you should expect them. 

In her book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott says we need both superstars and rockstars. Superstars are high performers looking for fast growth, more responsibility, and promotions. Rockstars are reliable performers who are content to stay in their current job longer. 

You will probably alternate between the superstar and rockstar roles a few times.

How do you stay in forward motion throughout your career? Some of you will be very good at monitoring yourselves and taking action when you feel your motion stopping. Others need outer accountability from bosses or mentors. 

I recommend you make it part of the care and feeding of your career to check on your forward motion. Care and feeding of your career are covered in Episode 1 and Episode 2

When you do your periodic self-assessments, ask yourself if you can feel your forward motion and notice the benefits. 

When you talk with your boss and mentors, ask if they perceive that you are sufficiently challenged and making good progress. If the answer is no, or not-so-much, then you can make changes.

In forward motion you’ll notice over time that you’re building expertise, becoming a leader, and being recognized. Eventually you’re reaching goals and realizing your career vision. 

At the same time, you’re having greater and greater impact and making a difference. This is what really counts.

Recap: My goal today was to introduce you to the concept of forward motion in your career. We talked about what that means and why it is important. 

We also discussed the forward motion mindset vs. the destination mindset, and how the pace of your forward motion can vary throughout your career. Lastly we talked about how to make sure you stay in forward motion.

If you’d like to explore the forward motion in your career, I invite you to schedule a strategy session with me. I’d love to talk with you about ways to grow away from the destination mindset and ensure your career is in forward motion.

Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast we’ll talk about career visioning, starting with how to create your career vision. Join me next time for Episode 5!