By KP Bhatia, E.I.T, A.M.ASCE
I wish I’d known the importance of a work-life balance. As a new civil engineer, I spent the first two years right out of college trying to learn everything I could. Work became my life. I had no hobbies and no friends outside work.
As a result, I soon lost touch with things that are equally important, like personal relationships and trying new experiences.
Working at a large engineering consulting firm in downtown Philadelphia, I naively thought that hustling came with the job and that I was expected to be on my toes all day. I pulled many all-nighters, working on as many projects as I could, never saying no to senior engineers.
I spent hours of my personal time solving problems that could’ve easily been solved by senior professionals at work. All I had to do was ask, but I felt that I might come off as weak if I asked someone for help.
My drive to learn was so visible that a fellow engineer thought I was “still living life like I was in college,” and it wasn’t long before I realized there was some truth to it.
Once I noticed the serious impact working nonstop was having on my mental health, I knew it was time to get help. So, I sought mentorship through ASCE’s Mentor Match program. I created a profile and reached out to industry leaders willing to mentor young professionals such as myself.
Within a week, I was matched with an experienced professional engineer in Hawaii. We connected once a month online, and I asked him questions I was afraid to ask colleagues at work. Most importantly, this experience showed me it was possible to have a fulfilling career and a happy personal life at the same time.
Working with an experienced professional — especially someone who could see the bigger picture — made me a better engineer. I now realize that things as simple as taking time off regularly, maintaining frequent check-ins with my supervisor, and being patient will help me maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Learning is a lifelong journey, and the field of civil engineering is so vast and technical, there’s something new to learn every day. There are always new problems to solve — but these problems can only be solved if you’re healthy physically and mentally.
KP Bhatia, E.I.T., A.M.ASCE, is a staff engineer at Olsson in Phoenix.
This article first appeared in the May/June 2023 print issue of Civil Engineering as “Wish I'd Known.”
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