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RED Engineering & Design
Structural Engineers
March/April 2017
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Work-Life Balance
by Chris Pinkus

Chris is Red Engineering & Design's structural engineering intern. He is currently a senior at North Carolina State University.
As young millennials attempting to balance work, school, and a personal life, it is easy to find ourselves taking on the role of Carl, played by Jim Carrey, in the 2008 film, "Yes Man".  As engineers, we pre dominantly have "Type A" personalities characterized by ambition and drive where we tend to favor quantity while at the same time trying to maintain quality. Consequently, we tend to say yes to every academic, professional, and personal opportunity presented to us. While Carl was not an engineer, he tended to accept every opportunity that presented itself. This helped him to live a happy and fulfilling life, ultimately he found a girlfriend and was promoted at work, while also finding the time to bungee jump off bridges. Maybe it helped that, apparently, Carl had a few more than 24 hours per day. That is not an option for the rest of us.

Think of life as a structural steel shape. The more elements that are added to the shape, the harder it is to find the resulting centroid or "balancing" point of that shape. Each aspect of life, whether it be school, work, or personal, represents the elements that make up the steel shape. The parallel axis theorem is essential to structural analysis and requires the centroid of each element to find the centroid of a shape in its entirety. Finding the centroid of a rectangular element is trivial and consequently most structural steel shapes can be simplified into rectangular elements. However, life isn't a perfect wide flange beam composed of only three rectangular elements. Think of life as a structural steel shape with a few core elements that make up the major demanding aspects of life. Life is fluid, and as these aspects continuously change additional steel is either welded or ground away from the core elements. Consequently, the centroid of life is continuously moving, making the task of finding a balance seemingly impossible.

As young engineers, our minds are wired to be "yes" people. However, realistically speaking, we know it isn't possible to take on every endeavor. Sorry, but Carl was fictional. The empirical symptoms of such an illness include, but are not limited to: stress from the lack of a fulfilled balance, lack of sleep from trying to fulfill that balance, and a false sense of failure when a balance is not achieved. It's a living cyclic hell. Discussed below are a few suggestions for millennials struggling to achieve perfection in every aspect of their attempted work-life balance.

Become comfortable with change, there will be a lot of "firsts".
The years of young adulthood are defined by change and thus, you will experience a lot of things for the first time. This change can range from filling out a timesheet for the first time to buying your first house. Don't be afraid to ask for the advice of older peers who have already experienced your new changes. Their wisdom could save you a lot of headaches. 

Accept failure.
It is almost guaranteed that you are going to fail when you try something for the first time, or as a matter of fact, the first few times. This failure may not necessarily occur in your new endeavor. With a new time demanding obligation, your failure may occur in an existing aspect or your balance due to a lack of proper time management. Accept failure, own it, learn from it, and make the proper adjustments moving forward. 

Lastly, learn to say no.
Learning to say no affords you the opportunity to focus on prior demanding obligations during a very complicated period of your life. Oftentimes, we say yes to various ideas, tasks and invitations simply to appease the person asking. The idea I want to convey is that you should carefully weigh the opportunity cost of each yes. The idea that "no" can be a good thing is counter-intuitive at first.  But once you have more time for bungee jumping off bridges, the positive aspects of "no" become more apparent. Your time is precious. Use it wisely.

I would also like to mention that struggling to find a work-life balance isn't just an issue for millennials. This struggle will persist throughout your adulthood. The only difference is the continuously changing aspects of life that you are trying to balance. Balancing the demands of work and life takes practice.  Just as a structural design requires iteration, our time management skills also become more refined and improve with experience.

Latest Structural Engineering News: The Stad Tunnel

Even the Vikings avoided the rough waters of the Stadhavet Sea and carried their boats overland. Fast forward to today, and the world's first ship tunnel is being built to avoid this treacherous and dangerous area.

Currently, the Norwegian government has appropriated more than $315 million to start work on the ship tunnel on the Stad peninsula.This one-mile tunnel will require 7.5 million tons of rock to be removed and, when finished, will result in a passageway that is 121 feet tall and 85 feet wide. It will allow passenger and freight vessels weighing up to 16,000 tons to pass through virtually hazard-free. Work begins in early 2018 with completion set for 2021-2022. 

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