The Grunt Years Are Not a Bad Thing!

The Grunt Years Are Not a Bad Thing!

Your first job might not be awesome.

Very early on in my engineering career, I was lucky enough to get a job as a Manufacturing Engineer at Magna. I was involved in all kinds of problem-solving; my team and I connected with multiple people to come up with solutions to problems in real-time. Not only that, but I also got to see the financial impact of my project work on the company, which I found very satisfying. Were there non-glamourous elements to my responsibilities? You bet – lots of them, actually.

Grunt work?  Not a bad thing.

Regardless of how mundane or boring the tasks you’re given seem to be, remember this: now is the time for you to to be a sponge.  It’s a time to break off a little (read: manageable, not insignificant) piece of a real-world problem and make it your own.  It’s a time to earn your stripes, soak up all the training you can get. It’s time for enjoying all those fun and important firsts.

  • first performance review
  • first business trip
  • first business cards
  • first paycheque (how will you spend it?)

These firsts aren’t just fun milestones, they are valuable learning experiences!

Valuable learning experiences are precisely what these first years of your career are all about.  You can make mistakes with relatively little consequence – it’s possible everyone expects you to anyway!

Watch those around you, and learn to build your skills.  You’ve got a head full of fancy math that you’d love to use, but just as important (if not more), some other stuff you probably didn’t learn in engineering school:  selling an idea, getting people to help you, reading between the lines of office politics, figuring out how to get things done, developing your network, and investing in those around you.

Really show up to work every day.

There are piles of advantages to bringing your full creative, awesome, invested, engaged self with you to work everyday. Not only will you get the right kind of attention and earn a reputation for being a great team player and high-impact worker, but you will soak up FAR more learning. Opportunities for advancement and extra training will seek you out, and you’ll be given chances to take on more responsibility.  Then, that’s right, bye-bye grunt work!

Learning below the surface

If you keep your personal goals front and centre, it won’t matter how dreary or bland the meat of your job is. As you keep your eyes on the prize and bring your awesomeness to the table, you’ll be soaking up opportunities that prepare you for your next step.  Think of it as training for the mind, the same way an athlete trains the body.

Bring the full weight of your skill, passion, and investment to every moment – especially the grunt moments – and you will find your way forward sooner than you think.


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Try to work and live at the same time

image courtesy of

You can’t read very many articles without hearing the term ‘work-life balance’ – and with good reason.

Balancing personal and professional commitments is a lifelong task.  As an engineer, I think of it as a design challenge for which there might be no one ‘right’ solution, but rather various options that have tradeoffs.  Also (and this sounds bad but it is your saving grace), all will shift over time.
Have you heard of the price/quality/time triangle?  It’s the idea that you can have to make tradeoffs between doing things cheap, well, and fast when you are managing a project or designing a new product.   Usually, the saying goes, you have to pick two.
From product design to life design
What does this have to do with making good life decisions?  Well, you are constantly making tradeoffs.  Do I want the job that pays more, or the one that’s close to home?  Do I want the project that will challenge me, or the one that will make me look good?  Do I want to work with a company that’s in the industry I trained for, or one that will broaden my horizons?
 Obviously there is no one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.  The main goal is to get good at assessing and reading these parameters (basically doing a cost/benefit analysis) and re-visiting it often.  You’ll be keeping up with new opportunities, and find yourself able to judge subsequent goals and changing factors as you go.
More evaluating, less rushing to a decision

Also, you’ll find as you get good at this process, you will be able to search out and evaluate more opportunities, which increases the probability you’ll find the one that’s juuuuuust right.  Figuring out how to do this puts you WAY ahead of many other people in today’s workforce!  Often, because the process of job-searching and life-option-evaluating is so scary, people rush through it and choose the first or second option they consider.  It’s a relief just to have something, right? 

Choose at haste, repent at leisure

Then, they get into the workforce and wonder why they are not happy, or why their day-to-day activities have nothing to do with their aspirations.  This situation is completely avoidable but it takes work.  It takes extra courage to stay in the  discomfort of the option-evaluation phase a little bit longer, and you’ll need some tools to help you do it right.  Luckily engineering students and recent grads are in a great position, because creative application of all those things you soaked up in school works like a charm to make great life decisions.   That is, in a nutshell, what Engineer Your Life is all about.
…but balance what?
While I wholeheartedly support the concept, I have a problem with the term ‘work-life balance’, since it implies that work and life are two opposite things.  Guess what though?  You are living when you’re at work!  So you might as well enjoy it.  My radical notion is that you can work and live at the same time!
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