By Suzie Olsen, Systems Engineer
More than halfway through 2021, I am languishing. It’s word I’m borrowing form New York Time’s writer, Adam Grant. And my guess is there are a lot of Engineering Working Moms (EWM) who are languishing too.
“It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.”Adam Grant
I’ve had a few EWM tell me that my op-ed for the SWE blog, Average Engineer, really resonated with them over this pandemic. They were done striving for “Exceptional” on performance reviews and focusing on doing the minimal to get average performer. Because for most of us last year, we weren’t trying to thrive, we were just trying to survive.
And survive we did. We made it to 2021, most of us still in the workforce while navigating all the school and childcare closures and changes. We somehow figured out how to get help or go without, all while meeting deadlines for bosses who never made it clear whether they appreciated all that we did. For the bosses who had expectations that we’d thrive during this very, very, very trying time, many of us grieving the losses of family and friends as well as a loss of the old normal (Harvard Business Review writer, Scott Berinato, termed the word “grief” for 2020), that was too much to put upon an EWM; we could only hope to survive the unprecedented year of 2021.
But then came 2021, and many of us were filled with a sense of hope. Vaccines were here in the States and other wealthy countries, and we had learned so much, like how to safely open schools and the economy. We have energy to get done what was needed (big heart felt appreciate to all the healthcare workers; and to the working parents, I see you, I’ve seen all the amazing things you did, all the hats you’ve had to wear). I volunteered earlier this year at a mass vaccine site, and seriously our capacity to roll up our selves and get stuff done is sometimes amazing to me. But there’s still this feeling that not everything would be the same; there would be no return to pre-pandemic normal this year.
The going back into the office and then not back into the office because of community spread, will schools be go back to online for when there’s big surges in the community, and so much other flux of things this year. Things constantly changing is hard for most of us; engineers rarely do well with change in personal life (although constant problems at work, we’re ready to solve). The constant flux has worn and shaped us in many ways. We can get easily distracted and some things that use to bring us joy, don’t quite anymore. We don’t quite wallow, but we aren’t quite thrilled either. We languish.
For me, my distraction comes in the following forms: reading our EWM Facebook group posts, reading novels, binging Netflix and playing video games. I know I need to go do the dishes or finish this analysis but let me just check EMW Facebook one more time or make to this next level in the game. I really don’t want to put this in writing on a public space, but my manager gave me a task to revise our 250-page process document 4-5 months ago, and though I have started it, I have not finished it. Anything extra that is not a high priority, I have no desire to complete. Because I’m languishing.
The teacher sends my kid home with optional reading and homework (it is not required, nor will it be turned in). Well, that goes undone. He’d rather be playing Roblox or Minecraft, and since I aimlessly wander in the land of video games myself, I allow it. Again, anything extra that is not required, there is no desire to do. What’s the minimum amount of time I can spend helping my kid learn? Or cleaning the house? Or working for my company (that won’t get me fired)? I do the minimum because there is no joy in those things for me. Maybe pre-pandemic, I’d take joy in thriving at work and at home, but recently not so much. Because I’m languishing.
Don’t ask me to focus on extra tasks that annoy me rather than inspire me, because squirrel! My concentration isn’t the same as pre-pandemic. My ambition and desires, definitely not the same as pre-pandemic. I’m not depressed as I don’t feel hopeless; I do think in a year or two the pandemic will be downgraded to an epidemic. I do see a way out of the pandemic (cough, cough, vaccines, get yours if you haven’t already, assuming your doctor has okayed you for it). I just don’t want to do extra this year. I don’t care about thriving this year. I just want to keep my head down and continue to survive so that I can make it to the next year.
I am happy for those who have found a way to thrive and who are living life like it’s 2019. You deserve that happiness. There should be no guilt for wanting to be happy in dire times. I deserve happiness too, but for now I’m languishing and that’s okay too. And that’s really what I’m trying to say here: if you’re an EMW who is languishing this year, that is okay. You’re not alone.