The engineering profession has been near and dear to me for more than 30 years. As I reflect on my long and fulfilling career—from naive college student to Vice President of Engineering—the key to my success in this field is abundantly clear. The answer may well surprise you.
Not attention to detail. Not stellar math skills. Not a desire to disassemble/reassemble everything in sight. Sure, those might be helpful, but if you want to think like an engineer, you need to be optimistic.
My kind of optimism is not the “don’t worry, be happy” variety. I don’t subscribe to the “think positively and everything will work out” mentality. I believe optimism, just like fortune, favors a prepared mind, an open mind, an awareness of the world around you and a willingness to connect with people. And it requires resilience. Sometimes you have to fight for it.
When I graduated from college 35 years ago, I had deep roots in Wisconsin and a new job 2,000 miles away from everything I knew. It took me more than four years to graduate, I was not a top quartile student, and I was a small-town girl wading into a male-dominated field. So, how did I expect to succeed?
Optimism. I believed I could.
At one point in my career, a supervisor told me to my face that he didn’t think I could handle a leadership job. I now lead the efforts of hundreds of professionals. How?
You guessed it … optimism. I didn’t let his words hold me back.
As an engineer, I’m always “problem finding”—discovering and defining problems that need solving. And to be successful, it requires the belief that there are solutions to those problems.
Yep, optimism. The courage to imagine the possibilities.
The people and practices of product development are my life’s work. I love how art and science come together and how designing the human experience and utilitarian function simultaneously amplify both.
Now, that’s not to say that optimism will get you everything. I’m not an entrepreneur or inventor. I’m not a technical sophisticate. I’m not a millionaire. Many of you will be way more notable than I.
But I do feel successful and impactful. I’ve helped teams to usher hundreds of ideas from early concepts to production products. I’ve worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on projects to solve the world’s grand challenges. And, I’ve been active on multiple advisory boards both at Kohler Co. and my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
All because of my steadfast choice to always believe in what can happen.
So, my charge to all of you is to make optimism a way of life. To see possibilities wherever life takes you. It will take practice and won’t be easy some days. But optimism is free, it’s contagious and it’s your choice.
Here’s to the little bit of engineer in all of you.