February 8, 2022

If It’s Not Fun You Shouldn’t Be Doing It! © Cici Mattiuzzi

Finding your purpose in life is a gift. It is about figuring out what you want to do with your time and your life.

It starts when you are just a kid and you have to navigate the toy box, the backyard or the neighborhood. What did you do for fun? When you were a child, play was not a frivolous waste of time. Play is about experiencing new things, developing relationships, embracing interests, and refining skills.

Finding your purpose can easily be traced to what you did as a child and the things you gravitated towards. What did you do when no one was telling you what to do? Can you remember the things you learned to do as effortlessly as breathing? What were the things you did that made you completely lose track of time? You are probably still doing them in some way. If you can capture what you were doing when you were a kid, you get to play for the rest of your life.

Sometimes I look up at the clock when I am writing or when I am working with someone on their career goals and I am stunned that an hour or two has passed, yet it felt like just a few moments.

After you meet your basic needs, you start to question why you are here: Can you find your purpose? Can you find meaning? Can you make a difference? How are you going to make the world a better place? It happens when you choose a college major; or a career path, or a job to pursue.

Later in your career you wonder if you can leave a legacy: Can you leave the world in better shape than when you arrived on this journey? Can you help the next generation? Do you possess an insight that you want to leave behind to increase the base of human knowledge?

You look back at your life and realize how far you have come and how many people helped you along the way, and then you see there are people who need your help.

In 1943, Psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced a theory of human development and motivation based on a hierarchy of universal human needs. “Maslow’s Hierarchy” is typically illustrated as a pyramid with five tiers, representing - in ascending order - five essential requirements for a satisfying life.

The two bottom tiers describe our physiological needs.
    First, we need food, clothing, shelter and sleep.
    Secondly, we seek safety and security.
When those necessities are secured, we can turn to our higher psychological needs.
    The third tier describes our need for affiliation, belongingness and sustained relationships.
    At the fourth level, we express our psychological need for purpose, accomplishment and self-esteem.
When physical and emotional needs are satisfied, people become capable of achieving their full potential.
    The fifth and highest level is the need for self-fulfillment and what Maslow called “self-actualization.”

Job change is often driven by social, political, technological or economic change - a change in government, recession, pandemic, layoff, automation, corporate downsizing or mergers… to name a few.

Change can also be self-driven… a need to continue to self-actualize. Growth is essential for self-actualization. People typically change jobs about every 3 to 5 years, and they change careers about three times in a lifetime. Each job change should be a building block for what comes next. Each new experience provides knowledge and expertise for growth.

Switching from one company to the next is frequently an easier path to career growth rather than staying with one company. It is much harder to move up within a company. Like with El Capitan, scaling the sheer face is a lot harder than hiking the switchbacks on the backside of the peak.

There are not many Mary Barra situations out there. Mary Barra, the current CEO of GM, moved up through the ranks from co-op student, while working on her BS in Electrical Engineering, to the very top of General Motors. It took 30+ years and an MBA to get to the top – but she kept climbing.

It takes about 2 years to master a job - the first 6 months of which is about finding the bathroom and figuring out who not to cross. The next 18 months are about figuring out how to learn everything you can from the people around you, and from any and every training class you can take – taking initiative to grow. The third year is about plateauing and realizing you need to make a move – up or out.

It is not like all of a sudden we become who we will be. Finding your purpose starts early in childhood and grows with you.

Kyle Grijalva grew up playing baseball, football, SimCity, and building stuff. He helped his dad build out the backyard; he built stables at his grandparents property; and he built a race track with his cousin to race their bikes on. “I was always fascinated with the construction and growth of cities. That combined with my love for playing SimCity pointed me towards majoring in Civil Engineering.”

Kyle graduated with his BS in Civil Engineering in 2013. I worked with Kyle on his career plan and his resume back in 2012 when he was applying for internships. His strongest skill was leadership. After graduating he changed jobs about every 3 years. Each move was strategic. He realized that he was more suited for managing projects than for designing water systems, bridges or buildings.

After graduation he took positions in project engineering that ranged from highway technology systems to building roads, bridges, water canals, airport runways and managing construction of a domestic waterline system.

The skills he uses now in his career – team, leadership and organizational skills – developed in childhood play and were refined in college engineering and construction competitions and internships. His first internship with the California Department of Water Resources was as a student assistant in water quality mitigation.

Kyle is a Project Manager with Select Electric managing the design and delivery of roadway lighting, message signs, road-weather sensors, and traffic monitoring equipment. These are things you don’t notice as you zip right past at 60+ MPH but are grateful for when traffic slows to 2 MPH. His company also delivers new technology to cities to increase safety and decrease collisions at intersections, reducing red light violations.

Interestingly, Kyle actually holds two jobs. After accumulating every kind of infrastructure experience in his civilian career - he joined the USAF Reserves and is currently on Active Duty as a Captain/Civil Engineer Officer in South Korea. He is on leave from his civilian job but it is there when he returns to the US. (The Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act guarantees that his civilian employment is preserved during all of his deployments).

Kyle loves civil engineering and he loves the military. He has served six tours of duty and is currently the officer in charge of requirements and optimization - leading a team of 14, scoping out and running cost estimates for infrastructure projects.

    I wish I’d known about this when I was fresh out of college. Military service has been an amazing experience – opportunity for leadership growth, continued/higher education, hands-on technical training, and excellent benefits - VA Home Loan, Tuition Assistance, medical/dental and retirement.

    The Air Force needs analytical/problem solving skills for tomorrow’s challenges and to lead the next generation. The pay is amazing (more than the civilian side), leadership opportunities for engineers and an unparalleled chance to see the world!

    Students can join the USAF Reserves - freshmen and sophomores can join ROTC which covers tuition and guarantees a commission as an Officer upon graduation. Or join Air National Guard or Air Force Reserves for basic military training during summer break –1 weekend a month and 2 weeks of training per year – building job experience and getting tuition assistance. Once on Active Duty the GEM Program (General Engineering Management) provides the opportunity to complete a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management with full salary to be a grad student!

    I want to help to steer STEM graduates to some amazing career options: aeronautics, pilot, intelligence, civil engineering… If I had known about this amazing opportunity I would have joined right after graduation. People can reach me at Kyle.Grijalva@gmail.com | 760-898-2833 or on LinkedIn.

Every move Kyle made gave him a new building block - sequential learning experiences. The defining experience that he built during childhood and those first years of his career positioned him perfectly for what came next in a totally satisfying career.

Think about it… What were you doing when you were a little kid? What are you doing now?

Cici Mattiuzzi is the Author of ‘The Serious Job Seeker’ and the founding director (emeritus) of the Career Services Office for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSU Sacramento.