Dear Daughter, lessons from a female engineer (part 1)

21 Jan

It is amazing how life turns out… who would have guessed that growing up as the oldest of five children in Alberta, Canada that I would find myself today as a middle-aged, divorced mother of two adult children, in Florida and reinventing my career to set up the financial independence I dream of.  Even though I have spent my career in male-dominated industries, I am most proud of my children, who are living happy, healthy, and independent lives as 20’somethings in Brooklyn NY and St. Petersburg, FL.

worldMy life so far has been nothing short of extraordinary – I have enjoyed a great career as a professional speaker, author, engineer, and IT expert with two passports (US and Canadian) bulging with international stamps.  I love to travel and it has been a joy to share international and domestic business trips with my children. Over the years, they have been to Brazil, Australia, Holland, Germany, South Africa, Ireland, and India in their travels. There are so many places I still want to visit – and I hope to share future travel with family and friends. I have co-authored books with experts in Finland, Germany, the US and Australia, none of which has given me financial freedom (a 2% royalty from one book and none from the others), but provided me with great experiences.  I married too young, and moved directly from my parents’ home at 22 (it was expected in my family to live at home during college) and into a marriage.  Twenty three years and three degrees (his) later, I find myself happily divorced, but with encumbrances of a hefty refinanced mortgage, real estate downturns, medical bills, unemployment and disillusionment.  Nonetheless, today I am much more fortunate and grateful than many others around me – I have optimism, good health, and a vision of the future that includes a fully booked keynote presentation calendar for years to come. I am learning that there are many things more important than money (even though money pays bills!)

I grew up in an era when women did not go into Engineering, let alone Mechanical Engineering, and in my class of 65 ME’s at the University of Calgary, I was one of five female graduates.  I keep early lessons from growing up in Canada, relocating to the US, competing in a male-dominated field, and figuring out what life and love really is all about.  I am grateful to learn something new every day…

I read a blog yesterday by Jean Hsu on the Experience of Being a Female Software Engineer, and I realized that the more things change (technology and advances), the more they stay the same.  It made me realize that maybe you and other young women could learn from what I went through, and maybe avoid some of the missteps I made.  Hindsight is 20/20 and even though my daughter’s passion is English and Poetry, and not technology, I hold out hope that she will gain a nugget of insight somewhere in my words.

So, here goes, Dear Daughter (part 1)

Dear Daughter,

I remember growing up and wanting a daughter like you and a son like your brother, with a fairytale nuclear family, but life just does not turn out exactly as we plan.  While your father and I were not the right life partners for each other, we were together for your formative years and I hope you know that there was love – at least from my side.

I admire your strength and I envy your youth – you have an entire wonderful career and love life road out in front of you as it should be.  I remember the altruism and zest that I had at your age and I wish you all the excitement and great experiences that life can hold.

Here are a few things I have learned along the way that I hope may help you:

  • Take care of yourself first – you are the only you that will ever be. Nurture your feelings and respect your intuition because they are keys to the real you.  I taught you to take care of others first as I was taught, but if you do this, you will end up losing yourself in the process. After taking care of everyone for so many years, I found out late that no matter how much I gave to others, I was empty inside because I was not taking care of me.  It is not selfish it is good self-care.  As they say in the airlines, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. In this way, you will survive so that you can then help others.  You deserve a great, long life.
  • Never allow anyone to impede your dreams. Safeguard your dreams from negligent, but well-meaning others who do not share your journey or passion in life.  Your dreams are yours not theirs, and no matter how much they might purport to know what is best for your life (including me) – follow your heart and your dreams.
  • Life is not fair, but you still can achieve greatness. It is still an inequitable world out there. Growing up in a male preferential family (Boys have to run out and play, girls do dishes and cook), I faced many obstacles based on gender. However, it is only a barrier if you let it be. You will face many men and women alike who will tell you that you cannot do this or that, but as long as what you are doing is not illegal or immoral, you have every right to take your place in any profession  regardless of your gender (construction, engineering, etc) – go for it!  Do not waste even one precious heartbeat on anyone who does not make a difference in your life – even if they get in your face!
  • Never make anyone a priority for who you are only an option. This was a quote on Facebook from a self-professed dating expert and while it pertains specifically to dating, it applies to all relationships.  You can avoid toxic friendships, work relationships, and heartbreak when you keep this point in focus.  If you are not good enough to be a priority in someone’s life, they should not be occupying a place of preference in yours.
  • Opportunity may come disguised as hard work or a gift horse. When I graduated from engineering school in the 1980’s, I had a few job offers extended solely because I was a female engineer.  The big oil companies needed to hire women and fast track us into management, so they made outrageously generous offers to us.  At the time, my ethics (and the influence of peers) were too high – so high in fact, that the mere suggestion that I would be perceived as getting the job immorally (people would invent rumors involving indiscretions for any female given perceived “unfair” advantage) prevented me from taking such jobs.  What a mistake! Those jobs might have given me a gender preference and put me ahead for the first few months, but I have faced far more discrimination from being female throughout my career since then.  I should have taken the opportunities at the time with a genuine thank you for the leg up.
  • Fall in love with yourself first. Self-love and self-esteem are two things you can never have too much of.  When you are healthy and happy with the person you are, you can give love freely and unconditionally to another.  With the amount of negative influence and reinforcement in western society, it takes at least a couple of independent living years to discover and accept who you really are.  Only now am I discovering and unconditionally accepting the true me, and it is a pleasant surprise. It was naïve of me to think that anyone else could love me as unconditionally as I deserve to love myself.
  • You are always worth it! You are unique, complete and perfect just the way you are. You do not have to change for someone else.  If you want to change, do it for you because it is you who must live with the changed you no matter what.   If someone wants you to be someone else (to please them) they do not deserve you.
  • You deserve to be loved unconditionally. You will find that if you wait for the right person it is worth more than if you settle for the first person you fall in love with. Red flags include having to couch your words (in fear of another’s response), unwillingness to do things alone, having to give up your friends in favor of theirs.  Life is too short to be with someone who does not love you for you.
  • Smile – a lot. A smile is the most inexpensive and powerful thing you can give to a stranger or friend.  You never know who will be affected positively by this simple random act of kindness.
  • Always be yourself. If you spend your life being someone else, you are depriving the world of the wonderful you.
  • Keep your girlfriends for life. Life can be lonely when things are tough.  There is no substitute for empathetic girlfriends who accept you just the way you are.  Your friends will outlast boyfriends and husbands. Never take them for granted or ditch them for a “boy” — they deserve your respect and will always be there when the boy is long gone.
  • Pursue your passion. A coach told me just this week to keep two things in mind for your career:

1. Choose a profession where you like the people in it (if you don’t trust lawyers, don’t become one); and

2. Choose an industry that has money to pay you.

He recommended that I get out of the business now, because only #1 is true.  The IT field has great people, but with rare exceptions they do not pay their conference speakers.  I have a choice to leave the business (I am not making enough money) or stay and go broke.  I love to speak to large audiences and would happily represent a company on a speaking or conference circuit, but my current business model is not working.  It is never too late to reinvent yourself.

Pursue your dreams, be yourself, and never be afraid to feel what you feel.  The present is the best gift you can ever give yourself, and is only rivaled by the joy that you have brought to my life.

I love you,

Mom

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9 Responses to “Dear Daughter, lessons from a female engineer (part 1)”

  1. gta news Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

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  2. Jean Friday, January 21, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    Great post Carol. You daughter is lucky to have you as a role model!

    • Carol Dekkers Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 12:44 am #

      Thanks for your kind comment Jean!

      Best regards,
      Carol

  3. Cheryl Friday, January 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    What an absolutely inspiring letter packed full of excellent advice and insights that are spot on. I am sharing this link with several of my girlfriends, and my daughters.

    I think there are a lot of women out there that stand in their own way alot of times (myself included) and we all need reminding every once in awhile that we are as empowered as we allow ourselves to be empowered.

    I am sure you will handle the current transition you find yourself in with the same grace and power as this post was written with.
    Good luck to you!

    • Carol Dekkers Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 12:47 am #

      Cheryl,

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I agree that sometimes it is our own self that dis-empowers us. We learn as young girls to “stay in our place” and this is a big one to unlearn as women.

      This is the first of several posts on this topic and will be featured in an ebook in the coming couple of months.

      Wishing you and your girlfriends and your daughters well.

      Carol

  4. Ann-Louise Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Dear Carol,
    These are thoughts I would like to share with my daughter. She’s 17 and the world is somewhere out there, waiting.
    I admit that I was suspicious about her chances for entering the Helsinki School of Arts, and I really hate myself for that. But, she’s managed there really well, and grades are beyond my belief!
    My mother has never encouraged me, but I won’t do the same to my daughter ever again.

    • Carol Dekkers Friday, January 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      Dear Ann-Louise,

      What an exciting age for your daughter to be, and pursuing her dreams. She is fortunate to have a loving mother like you – who can admit to being scared about her future endeavors and have the courage to support her. I don’t think believe that mothers maliciously want to hold us back, sometimes they are simply less than supportive because they are afraid we might fail and they want to spare us the potential disappointment. Good for you to break the pattern and support your daughter. And watch her exceed all your expectations over and over again. Be well!

      Carol

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Are Women the Worst (Workplace) Bullies? « The Dekkers Report… - Thursday, May 3, 2012

    […] Dear Daughter – Lessons from a Female Engineer (Part 1); […]

  2. Dear Daughter, Lessons from a female engineer (part 2) « The Dekkers Report… - Monday, January 31, 2011

    […] on from last week’s post (part 1) I hope you will let me share a few more tips from my life as a female […]

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