By Laura McCaffrey, Mechanical Engineer
Being an engineer myself and working with many women in STEM as a coach, I’ve noticed some mindset attributes that can feel necessary for our jobs but can make our lives feel harder than they need to be. I like to call these 5 attributes STEM mindset.
The first one is all or nothing thinking.
At work in the technical space, for us a lot of time there is actually a right answer. But life generally doesn’t work like that. There’s a ton of gray. But we want it to be straightforward and not so messy. That hurts us because we have unrealistic expectations. How comfortable can you get with the unknown, with not having a clean formula for getting from point A to point B?
The next attribute is that we can be completely unwilling to fail. We’re scared to experiment with our lives because we’re afraid of failure!
Think about this: In online marketing, an email open rate of 20-30% is considered good. Imagine in your job only being right 20-30% of the time! We’d probably all be unhappy with that. And that mentality leaks into the rest of our lives. We have to treat our lives more like an online business and less like we’re sending a rocket to Mars.
Living a fulfilling life requires a lot of failure. We can retrain our brains to be ok with failing, getting up, trying again, and not making it mean anything horrible about ourselves that we failed.
Next is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when we feel like we’re going to be found out as a fraud. When we feel like we don’t fit in. I think this phenomenon can be particularly heightened for women in STEM because quite literally, we don’t fit in. We can be one of the few women in our workplaces. And many organizations are set up to make us feel like we don’t belong. And the more we feel like we don’t fit in, the more we feel like we’re just not cut out to do what we’re doing.
The good news is that imposter syndrome is not a diagnosis. It’s simply a thought. And the thing about thoughts is that we can choose which ones to believe. We can choose to believe that we belong, that everyone wants us to be there, that we’re good enough and more than qualified. These feelings of belonging, when carried over into our lives, can have profound impacts on all of our relationships.
The next mindset attribute of women in STEM that I noticed is perfectionism. We want to get things just right. We love to plan and optimize. This can produce a lot of added stress and take so much time. Time that we could spend doing things we enjoy. Some of this could be because we know that the stuff we do gets scrutinized more than men in similar roles. We think we must be exceptional. It’s time to set that belief aside. It’s ok to put B- work out there.
Perfectionism is keeping us distracted and exhausted by having us run on a hamster wheel towards an unrealistic ideal. It can keep us from ever speaking up and in a cycle of burnout. Let’s work on consciously deciding where our discretionary effort is going so that we can use it to create lives that enrich us instead of drain us.
And lastly, analysis paralysis.
Analysis is literally our job. But even at work, the assignment must eventually be handed in. We love to have all of the information, to be sure, to have time to do due diligence. But when we’re making life decisions, we don’t always get that!
When we have trouble making decisions, it’s often because we’re afraid that we’ll make the wrong choice and feel regret. But the bummer is that when we delay making the decision, we bring that feeling of regret into the present and they impact our lives negatively. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between imagining regret in the future and experiencing it now. To make powerful decisions, to find out what we truly want, we need to take the element of future feelings out of the equation.
Try asking yourself this question:
If I knew that I could feel however I wanted once I make my choice, what would I choose?
See what comes up. That’s how you know what decision to make. Through managing our minds, we can work through these mindset blocks that are so common for women in STEM to help us create lives that actually feel good to live, not just look good on paper.
- Mom of 2
- Mechanical Engineer
- Technical Manager in the Utility Industry
- PhD Candidate
- Life Coach for Women in STEM