One of my favorite teachers as a freshman Electrical Engineering Student was Bob Kressin. Not only was he the Digital Logic Design Teacher but the guy was just (in every sense of the word) cool. He was as into Embedded Systems and tinkering as much as the rest of us were (are), and he had lots of great advice he enjoyed doling out in long diatribes when we should have been studying five variable Karnuagh maps ("Oh! The horror!").
However, early on in the required Logic Circuits I course, Bob (and I'll use that term since I'm no longer a student of his) said something interesting I now quote verbatim:
"When faced with an Engineering problem. There are always three steps.
First you panic. Then you cry. Then you do it anyway."
"Bollocks!" I cried, "What utter nonsense! Engineers don't cry or panic.
Engineers are tough.
Engineers are brave.
Engineers like BACON!
Regardless of my thoughts, I filed this piece of advice away in the recesses of my brain under the area of "Zach's miscellaneous pieces of garbage thought" (along with are "All Signal Generators are Noise Free" and "These textbooks are useful" - thoughts for another time).
Fast-forward two years. I'm in Dr. [name removed to protect identity]'s Junior-Level Analog Circuit Design course. I'm handed my first lab project (along with an unsightly stack of homework). My task? Deduce the transfer function of a 3rd-order Butterworth Filter, build it in the lab, prove its functionality, and write the transfer function resembling something slightly above the level of "pure mathematical chaos" - due in three days' time. My thoughts?
Figure 1: WHYYYYYYYY???
Nothing we had covered in class had prepared me for such an endeavor.
(As an aside: I'm convinced this particular teacher - who shall remain anonymous - absorbed his power through the tears of panicked undergrads. Though I have no proof this is the case, I remain firm on this logic).
What did I immediately think of?
"First you panic. Then you cry. Then you do it anyway."
Ultimately, I ended up crying and doing the assignment anyway, and was rewarded with a B+ for my efforts (I'm convinced the "Great Eagle Spirit of Engineering" only grants us good grades when we've acknowledged the three-step outline Kressin gave us as freshman… and when we’ve actually studied).
My point? Engineering is HARD WORK, and to more broadly define this: sometimes Life is HARD WORK. At some point you're going to be staring down, what seems like, an insurmountable task. You'll get that "thousand-yard-stare" where you gaze into the distance, realizing that you either:
- Have ZERO solutions to solve the problem you're facing
- Have to dedicate the next year and a half to solving said problem, or
- Both of the Above or some other terror
At some point, things are going to look terrible. What do you do? Follow the three steps I learned as an Undergraduate Electrical Engineering student:
Panic - Accept it. Accept the feelings that what you're facing down seems completely insurmountable. There's nothing to be ashamed of.
Cry - Or go have a scream in the closest canyon or valley. I like to call this the "Jack Shepherd" moment. If you've ever watched "Lost" (and you really should - just don't expect us to answer your questions about Polar Bears) you'll remember Jack Shepherd's moment when he describes letting the fear take him over for seven seconds. This is that moment. Let it out. Cry.... or, you know, binge eat bacon for a day*.
Do it anyway - Above all else: don't give up. You had your moment to panic about the situation. You had your cry. Now roll up your sleeves and get to it.
There's no way around it. You're going to face problems. Whether it's Engineering or something else; personal or professional; man or woman, you’re going to hit obstacles along the way. Such is life. But when you do, just remember the three step process (Endorsed by the "Great Eagle Engineering Spirit"): Panic. Cry. Do it anyway.
*Ok, only half a day
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