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  • Kim Meninger

Failure is Where the Growth Happens

Failure is Where the Growth Happens

In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we talk about the benefits of failure. While most of us want to continuously learn and challenge ourselves, many of us end up playing it safe. We get stuck in fixed mindsets that keep us from reaching our full potential and living the lives we want to live. My guest this week, Zach White, is a consultant who began his career as an engineer and now helps engineering leaders to achieve their career goals without burning out. He shares his personal story of how his approach to his career led him to hit rock bottom. He also shares how he found his way back with even greater career success once he got clear about his values and learned to set boundaries. Zach shares practical advice to help all of us avoid burnout and authentically achieve our definitions of success. About My Guest Zach White is known around the world for changing the game in career coaching for engineering leaders. He has worked with hundreds of leaders at top companies worldwide to achieve breakthrough results and escape burnout. Zach is the founder and CEO of Oasis of Courage, a fast-growing company with unique and proven coaching programs exclusively for engineers. He also hosts a top-rated show, “The Happy Engineer Podcast.” As a coach for engineering leaders, Zach understands the journey firsthand, holding both a bachelor's and master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and spending over a decade building his career in the Fortune 200. Zach is affectionately known as the World’s Best Lifestyle Engineer, and your coach.


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Kim Meninger Welcome, Zach. It’s such a pleasure to meet you. And I’m so excited for our conversation today. Before we jump in, I’d love to invite you to introduce yourself.

Zach White Well, thanks, Kim. It is amazing to be here. Thanks for the invitation. And yes, Zach White my company is Oasis of Courage and long story of how we got here. Can we might talk about it today? But in brief, what I do now is help engineering leaders at all levels, to experience the career of their dreams, inside the context of the life of their dreams. In other words, how do we create success without burning out? And the challenges of being in a technical career path, whether it’s manufacturing or writing software, engineers, if you are one or no one, there are some things that come with that. That particular bundle of the identity of being an engineer that can create some challenges. So love the work we do now and coaching and training for those engineering leaders. And it’s, it’s a huge gift to help them create success.

Kim Meninger So why engineers? What’s, what’s sort of the bit of the backstory on that?

Zach White Well, once you’re an engineer, you’re always an engineer. I am at my heart of hearts an engineer, I started in mechanical engineering at Purdue boiler up granted, at the time of this recording, it’s a very hard time to be a Purdue fan we just lost in men’s basketball in the NCAA tournament, and an unbelievable game was terrible. But I went to Purdue studied mechanical engineering, and built my career at Whirlpool Corporation, just like every other engineer wants to do go out be successful, you know, go for those promotions, make something of yourself. And I did it all wrong. I was so hungry for success, Kim, but the only strategy I knew at the time was work harder, get smarter, leverage my intelligence. And if I don’t know what to do, just keep studying, keep learning and keep working. And I drove myself into a really deep burnout that ended in divorce and depression, disappointment, embarrassment, and asking a lot of new questions about, like, how do you do this, there has to be a better way, I still want to be successful. But this really hurts, you know, this rock bottom experience of life. And coming out of that is where all of what is now the systems and strategies and tools, we coach our clients and was born learning how to do it a different way. And happy to say, that worked. You know, I doubled my income. I got five promotions in five years had so much fun in my career after that, and now turning around and saying, Okay, how do we help people not go through what Zack did.

Kim Meninger So there’s so many different pathways that I want to go down. But I want to start with the first of all the vulnerability that you show and saying that I really appreciate it. I also am I’m, I’m thinking about this from the perspective of your being a male too. Right? And I wonder, what was it that led you to believe that that was the right way? Obviously, you learned the hard way that you said you got it all wrong. But what is it about? The system or the environment? What kind of messages were you going to? How did you how did you think? Or how did you get to a place where you thought this is what I need to do?

Zach White I do think it started in school for me. You know, when you’re studying even back as far as high school, if you don’t get the grade, you want it on the test. It’s usually because you didn’t actually apply yourself, you know, you’re if you’re smart enough if you just study, you can get the grade. And in my home, my mom always told me Zack school is your job. And it was expected that I would do my best in school and I was a straight-A student and I did well Valedictorian, all those things. And I built an identity around my intelligence, which I think is really true for technical talent. We win in the workplace through intelligence, at least that’s what we believe, initially. And so we’re really focused on that. And then in college is the same thing. If you don’t understand the material, you need to keep studying, you need to keep working at it until you figure it out. And you build this kind of culture of I either know it, or I don’t know it. And if I don’t, that means I need to study more. And that’s where it began. Then you enter the workplace, and you look around, and depending on what company you’re in, there’s a culture there, but especially in the engineering side and product development. There’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of this lone-wolf hero mentality. And you see people all around you working these crazy hours. And the higher up the ladder you look at seems like those are the hardest working people. And even if that’s not entirely true, you just infer subcon Honestly, if I want to be successful, I need to work harder than the other people on my team. You know, it’s, it’s gonna all come down to who’s willing to put in the most for the company. And nobody actually told me that can. It’s just this subconscious that’s looking around and taking notes and saying, oh, okay, well, so and so got a promotion, and they’re the one who works 70 hours a week. So that must be the way these experiences create beliefs. And then those beliefs drive our actions. And our actions create results, even if those results are not the ones that we wanted. And so it just reinforced for me this idea of art, I want to be the smartest, which means I need to study more. And I want to get promotions and be, be somebody, which means I need to work harder than everyone else, this work ethic gone wrong, so to speak. And, yeah, it’s just, it’s a downward spiral. Once these things take root, and you don’t have any way out of the pattern, it really does become almost an addiction, until you crash and burn

Kim Meninger is such a powerful way to describe it. And I appreciate that you went back to school to when you’re sharing your story because I think that is a very big influence on how we see ourselves in these environments. And I think about that a lot too, just in terms of engineering or STEM jobs, where there’s always a right answer, or there’s always something more to know, right? It sort of it conditions your brain to think I just need to keep learning, keep doing keep working all the time. And, and that lone wolf piece that you mentioned, too, because it doesn’t prepare us for the, for the fact that once we get into our organizations, and well, there’s certain jobs that are more independent than others. We’re part of a team. Now it’s not, we’re not in an individual sport, we’re all competing with each other. Theoretically, we should be bringing all of our strengths together. So I don’t necessarily have to be the one learning all the time, I can leverage what you know. And you can leverage what I know. And we can be stronger as a team.

Zach White 100%. And the idea of black and white the right answer. That’s another really challenging piece for engineers. You have folks who come out of school in some of the soft disciplines where they are used to living in an ambiguous conversation, talking about literature or talking about something where there is no right answer. And it’s about formulating powerful opinions and bringing your own perspective. They don’t understand the way that the engineering mind works. It’s like there’s the right answer. And there’s all the other answers. And my goal is to always have the right answer. And if you don’t, you don’t get the A. And then you come into professional life. And it’s like, wait a minute, you mean there is not a single right answer. There’s lots of ways to design a solution for this product there. There are many paths to write the code for this, like, it’s a whole different ballgame. And then to your point, it’s like, oh, and we all need to collaborate together to come up with one answer that may not even be close, right? It’s like, it’s a very mind-altering experience that not everybody adjusts well to that environment.

Kim Meninger How did you figure it out? Oh, this isn’t working? Like how did you know that you needed to make a change?

Zach White Kim, I wish I had a good answer to that. But the truth is, I didn’t figure it out until it was too late. So I was blissfully ignorant of how poor my life was trending. Especially in on the personal life side, my marriage was a mess. And looking back, I could have five been honest with myself, the signs were there. But I was willing to lie to myself about that because I didn’t want anyone else to know. And one thing I’ll share that I learned the hard way through all this is that I kept a lot of secrets. I was just stuffing it all on the inside, and pretending like everything was okay on the outside. But it wasn’t. But I had tricked myself into thinking that it was because I was so hungry for that success at work, I’d really built my identity around that and was letting everything else fall apart. And the moment that I woke up was when I came home from a work trip, expecting my wife to be at home. And I come into an empty house. And there’s a note on the kitchen table that says, I don’t think I can do this anymore. This isn’t working. You’re. you’re not here. You’re not showing me any of the love and concern that you promised when we shared our vows and I’m out like it’s divorced time and I was crushed. Kim was the worst moment you know, just a minute surrounding finding that note is the lowest I’ve ever been in my life. And you know, it was a wake-up call and unfortunately, I was unable to recover from that it was such a steep trajectory downhill it just didn’t end until I hit rock bottom.

Kim Meninger I’m really sorry to hear that and I, I feel like everyone has their own definition of rock bottom. But I’ve heard so many variations of it took me until I got to this point. And then I had no, no other reasonable option, but to make a change. And so I’m curious, I kinda have a two-part question you can answer as however you want. But number one is, like, so how did you? How did you, you have the strength and the clarity to pull yourself out of that and think differently about a world that where it sounds like there is such a fixed mindset in many ways? And, and then I know, we’ll get into this later, but sort of previewing the rest of the conversation, how do we keep other people from getting there? If it’s, you know, everyone sort of makes their own mistakes in life. That’s how we get through life. But, but you and I are both in these kinds of careers because we want to help people avoid getting to that point. And so I’d love to just start with your own personal story. And then we’ll move into, how do other people who are listening there may be thinking, oh, gosh, I am on that same trajectory, structure.

Zach White I like that you use the word clarity. Because clarity is power, you know, when you, when you have a sense of true clarity about who you are, your being your values, your purpose and, and then where you want to go, your vision and the goals that you have for your life, it’s so much easier than to make decisions and take action towards those things. And I was not clear on those before the divorce. And what happened during the rock bottom days, in a way, all of your ego, just, you know, peels off, there’s you’re just so vulnerable you’re so bear in existence. And then I remember calling my sister and it’s the first person I called after I picked up that note after I was done bawling my eyes out and to call my sister and she’s the first person who I told the truth, my marriage is terrible. Like, I’m going to end up divorced, I think I don’t know what’s going on my life’s a mess. I’m unhappy. Like everything that you saw for me at the last holiday gathering. Like none of that was true. Here’s the truth. And so I would say, clarity began by telling the truth, stop keeping secrets, stop lying to yourself, and be willing to be open with the people who have earned your trust. And I don’t mean, blab on Facebook about your problems. That is not what I’m talking about. What I believe in now, and I didn’t have it, then is having a small group, you know, two or three people in your life with whom you are fully known. That’s the phrase that I loved. I want to be fully known by someone and have no secrets with that person. And that is a very precious relationship. By the way. Not everybody has that. And if you don’t have that, that’s something to work towards. Who are those people? And how do you build that trust a whole nother conversation? But when I started telling the truth, Kim, things became clear of where I was not actually living my values. I wasn’t living my faith, I wasn’t honoring my, my family the way I wanted to, and investing time in them. I wasn’t taking care of my health, the way I wanted to just everything started to become clear. As I was truthful with myself and with others. That didn’t make it easy to take action. By the way, it was still really hard to motivate myself. And I think the other thing that happens in a rock bottom moment that’s forced on you is everything that’s in the long-term horizon of your life, all these dreams and goals and the things that we talk about, that it’s really easy to kind of convince yourself that life is going well because you can live out there in the future cognitively, you can avoid the pain of the present by dreaming about one day when things will be better. And it’s that’s a trap that I fell into, you know, I was in this really bad situation. But I had a big goal, a big dream, a really powerful vision of where I was going. And I could always make myself feel good by just living, you know, in my mind and this alternative universe called the future. Well, when you hit rock bottom, the future doesn’t matter anymore. It’s like you pull into the present moment. Forget about my goals, forgive my dreams, none of that mattered anymore because I’ve had so much pain. And it’s actually in the present where you can make real meaningful transformational change in your life. It’s right now it’s not a year from now. It’s not 10 years from now is when your life is happening. And the, the rock bottom experience pulled me into the present and actually showed me what it means to live now to take responsibility for my life as it is now. out not as I hope it will be one day. And I still come back to that lesson all the time. It’s a constant practice for me to say, yes, I want to dream. Like, I work with my clients on big visions, huge goals, promotions and lifestyle changes that they have dreamt about for decades in some cases. But it’s like, once we know that picture where we’re going, you must then pull back and focus on right now. Because this is the only moment you actually have to take a step towards that dream. And so I think those things stood out as the way that the trajectory changed you. And there was a lot of heavy lifting and work to do to then get back to the life that I live today. But that’s how it began.

Kim Meninger It’s so powerful to hear you talk about telling the truth to yourself and to other people, and how easy it is for us. To live in denial to live in the future like you’re describing, I think that’s just such a powerful way to think about it is, you know, what, what’s happening today doesn’t matter, because I’ve got this mythical future ahead of me and that that’s where I’m headed. And, and it’s interesting when some of the language that you use to describe where you were reminds me and use the word addiction. And it reminds me of addiction from a substance abuse perspective, right, of not being honest with yourself, lying, hiding, things like that, until you reach a point where it all comes crashing down. And you have to make some big decisions. And what’s, what’s interesting and not, not to diminish the experience of anybody who’s a recovering addict on the substance abuse side. But what’s interesting about what you’re describing is you went back to work, right? So, you know, now you’ve got, it’s not like something you can just never encounter again, or decide I’m gonna, I’m gonna live in this whole new world, you had to go back, you had to, you had to really actively, I’m assuming reshape your relationship with this space, where you’ve got a lot of habits, you’ve got a lot of beliefs, like how do you rethink what this relationship looks like? And actually make the changes necessary to avoid going right back to where you started?

Zach White Yeah, well, you know, rock bottom gives you the gift of a reset in the sense that you’re literally like your biology. And every there’s so much that happens, you have this blank slate, but it’s super true, that if you just step right back into those same environments, and that same flow, and that same work with those same people doing the same things, then your life will not change. And so the thing I did at that time that I will never regret, and it’s gotten me to where I am doing this work now, was I hired my first coach. I was also working with a therapist on the grief and the healing and the wounds of what had happened in my life. But when it came to my future and my work, I hired a coach and said, Look, I must find a different way to engage with my career, because I still have a dream to be very successful. That never left me. Alright, I had to push it to the side for a while during the time of healing and understanding what had just happened. But it’s not like I suddenly became unambitious. Like, I still wanted something great for my life well beyond what I was experiencing. And so I hired a coach said, I need help. Like, what’s the way to approach this and started building an entirely new set of mindsets, skill sets, tool sets, my approach new boundaries, a new way of being focusing on totally different aspects of my career. And it was transformational. I mean, again, I already shared the results were incredible for myself, to the point where people started looking at me and asking questions like, How did, how did you do that? Like what just happened? Like, please explain where you’re getting your results from. Because this is, this is awesome. I want what you’ve got. And yeah, so I really, that’s where I fell in love with coaching and started training as a coach while I still was an engineering leader because I knew how powerful it was to help my team. And then the rest is history ended up in 2019, leaving a really lucrative, very successful career that could have gone on and on probably to any level, I want it to be honest. But I had this passion that was born to go back and help people not experience what I did.

Kim Meninger Were you in the same company? Were you able to reinvent yourself the same exact?

Zach White Yeah, it was. I mean, to your point, it’s like, you know, the company didn’t care that I was going through a divorce. Like, that was my own problem, like I had work to do. And so there was a stretch maybe six months where things were really, really hard just to try to show up, put a smile on and I mean, I was depressed, like very difficult time to engage in the work but at some point give you that clarity, we just talked about a realized, look, this isn’t going away, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. And I need a new approach. And so I went out and hired a coach and just got after it. And it was amazing how fast things changed. When you really come at it with this radical responsibility, like, I don’t care how I got here, it’s not anybody else’s fault. Like, this is my opportunity to go change the trajectory of my life and my career, and I’m ready to take it. And yeah, I’m ready to get out of my comfort zone. And I’m ready to try new things. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if it works or not. Because can it can’t get any worse than this. Like, that’s the one freedom that comes with hitting rock bottom, as you suddenly don’t care as much about failing, which is something now with clients who have so much going for them. The fear of failure. And an overlay, we talked about impostor syndrome is like, wow, that is a gripping force of fear that holds us back from the life we could truly love. And that’s one of the gifts of just losing everything. Well, I’m no longer afraid of losing again, because I’m already at the bottom. And so yeah, I think it was pretty amazing how fast things changed from that point.

Kim Meninger So when you started to make changes, which I’m assuming you, you reference boundaries, right, I’m assuming that you were not working the long hours and giving of yourself in the same ways. Did you notice any pushback from your leadership? Were you in any kind of tension around the new way of working? Like, what did that?

Zach White Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. I mean, it’s very uncomfortable to be the person who leaves at five, when no one else does. And there’s a lot of people who will tell you, you shouldn’t do that. Especially if you’re the leader, you know, if the team still working, you should still be there. Nobody outworks the leader. And I get that there’s some, some powerful truth buried inside those sentiments. But we have to be careful with that. Because that’s predicated on a healthy culture. And if there’s not a healthy culture in the organization, then I don’t necessarily believe those things are true. And so I, I left, you know, when my work was done, and when I had set my team up for success, and there was nothing else I needed to do. I left. And you know, there were people who were upset about that at first. But what happens is suddenly, your courage to do something different, opens the door of possibility for someone else to ask a new question. Suddenly, they’re thinking, wow, Zack left at 4:30 today. And he’s still getting great performance reviews and promotions. This is interesting. Like, I wonder if I could be leaving sooner. Right? And then they asked me the question like, dude, how are you getting the work done? And it’s like, oh, well, I’ve stopped going to meetings that aren’t productive. I’ve stopped doing these things. I’m focusing my calendar around my highest priorities. I’m saying no, to low priorities, I’m pushing back. When people try to shovel their work on me, that’s not my job, like, telling them these things. And suddenly, people start asking new questions like, wait, what? I don’t have to say yes, every time somebody can, like, wait, what I can actually have some autonomy over my own calendar. And just because my boss invites me to a meeting doesn’t mean I have to go, like, your courage sets the tone for something more, that’s possible. And there were plenty of times that I ended up in hard conversations, where I just drew the line and said, Look, if this isn’t going to work for the organization, then that doesn’t work for me either. And we can go find a solution to that. And if that means, I’m not here, then that’s okay. But at the end of the day, your performance will speak for itself, and your leadership and your values and your attitude. And they don’t want to lose a great talent. Just because you have a boundary that is a little different than what your boss has, or whatever. Those conversations are hard. But I’ll tell you, I’ve never had a client yet, who got walked out the door and fired the first time something like this came up, it just starts a dialogue. And that’s what you need to do have the courage to make a new decision to start the dialogue. And if in the end, the company says, Look, you, you know, you have to stay here 60-70 hours a week, if you want to keep your job here. I call that a win. Because now I can make a clear decision is that the company culture, I want to work and if it’s not, then I’m going to leave and that’s a win for me. Because otherwise, I would have been reluctantly, you know, building bitterness and resentment towards the situation the whole time hating my life, working hours, I didn’t want to work and the company doesn’t win and I don’t win in that situation. So this is why my company is called Oasis of Courage, Kim, because I have full respect for the fact that these are difficult, courageous things we’re talking about and probably extra palms sweat just thinking about going in and having that conversation. But you have to have. Because if you don’t, you know, you’re not actually valuing yourself, right? It’s your own esteem and your own self-worth that gets crushed when you don’t step in to that environment and have the conversation. So, to answer your question, yeah, it created some conflict. But it always worked out every single time.

Kim Meninger I love that you call it a win to find out what the terms are. Because I think about that, too. I think you’re just getting data, right data to make informed better decision for you. And I think even going back to what you talked about before of how no one ever told you this, you were just watching and making, you know, you’re interpreting the environment. And the only models available were people who are probably doing the same thing, and reinforcing some of these fixed mindsets that this was the path, the only path and so you’re being courageous enough to do it differently, or helps you and helps the people around you. And I think about this a lot. And especially from an I’m curious if you have thoughts on this, too. You know, I think about it a lot in terms of gender. And oftentimes when women are the trying to be the trailblazer in setting these boundaries, it reinforces the narrative that women aren’t as committed that, you know, they don’t have the same drive, or they’re, they’re split loyalties to their families and to the company. And so it’s a different kind of scenario, I think, and I wonder, do you work with women as well around this, and it’s just also just, I’m very grateful to see men having these conversations, too, because I think that elevates the conversation to a human level, and not just to, you know, woman trying to live and get work-life balance while all the men are doing all the work.

Zach White Yeah. Kim a really important question. And to answer your little point, at the end there, yes, I have a lot of clients who are women. And in fact, you’re what amazes me is how courageous these women engineering leaders are, it’s so fun, to be their coach and to watch them step in and to your point, and not to discredit any of the challenges that male engineers face in the workplace. But, but I would definitely agree with you that when we’re talking about some of these similar actions, because of the existing bias, conscious or unconscious, that exists, it can be much scarier for a woman to go have that same dialogue because of the perceived repercussions. So this is a super be a great example. You want to draw hard boundary to leave the office at 5 pm. Because you have a family, you’ve got kids to pick up from daycare, you know, these unbelievable Heroes and Supermoms that are out there crushing it, and career and at home, it’s just my hat is tipped off to all of you. It’s just so amazing. And, and you’ll men as well who are doing those super dad, I get it. But here’s the reality, it is scary. And there will be different beliefs. They’re like, like, let’s not beat around the bush, there’s no HR in the room today, I’m gonna just call it what it is. There are very likely to be different beliefs that will surface. And so how do we handle that? What’s, what’s the way we deal with that for one, I coached my clients, let’s not pretend that that’s not present. Okay, that’s, that’s not going to help. Let’s also not use that as the excuse or blame or complain or become a victim to that. Right? So there’s a place in the middle of those two extremes. There’s the pretending like that’s not there, which is not true. And any female engineer knows that. And then there’s the will this law use that as my point of being a victim to it, or even worse, in some cases, trying to use that as the leverage to go get what I want? Because this is a narrative that can create power for me, like, No, we don’t need to do either of those two things. Let’s go in and have the. the truthful, honest conversation that says, here’s who I want to be in this company. I want to be a great leader, I want to deliver results. And this is Kim, if you’re my boss, I’m talking to you, right, we maybe we just started working together, etc. We’re in our one on ones. I want you to know who I am and what I stand for. Kim, I love this organization. I want to be a huge contributor to our success. I want you to always know that I’m giving you my best work. I want you to be able to count on me to deliver. And I want you to know that if I ever get to the place where I’m not going to deliver that I’ll communicate that to you. As soon as I hit a roadblock. As soon as I’m off track. If I get stuck, you’re going to know that we’re not going to hit those deadlines or whatever. I’ll always communicate that to you. So I’m not promising that I’ll always be perfect, but I’m promising that I’ll always let you know and ask for help. And so I’m laying this foundation of who I am and how I want to show up. And then I’m also including, and Kim, you know, one of the things that’s important to me is that as I crush it here in the workplace, that I crush it at home with my family, I want to be just as important of a leader to my kids as I am to my team here. And part of that means that there’s going to be times where I’ll need to draw a hard line on when I get out of here to go take care of my family. And I want you to know that if there’s a special circumstance where the company is in true, dire need of My presence, then I will always do what I can to support this organization. But it’s going to be the exception and not the rule when it comes to time with my family. And Kim, I want you to know that you’re never going to see, you know, anything slip in my performance because when I’m here, you’re gonna get 110%, like this kind of dialogue. Now, as a leader, when your team member comes in and tells you like, look, I’m going to take full responsibility for myself, I’m going to be the best team member you’ve ever had, I’m going to constantly be growing, I’m going to over-deliver all the time. Oh, and by the way, I’m going to leave at five o’clock. Like, that’s, that’s not a problem, right? Now. I know, it seems trivial and simple to talk about it here. And I recognize these are hard conversations. But leaders want this kind of energy from the team. And when you go in and tell your boss, Hey, I saw you scheduled the meeting from five to six, I have to leave at five. So I won’t be able to attend. Let me know what you need from me in advance. Share with me the notes afterwards. And if it’s really, really critical, I can check tonight after my kids are in bed or whatever. Or guess what I’ll be coming in 30 minutes early tomorrow, to make sure that we get that done. Let’s get creative. Let’s get outside the box. Because there’s always a solution. And if we come at it with that mindset, that openness to say there’s always a solution that will work for our combined interests. And I care about what the company wants. Like, it’s amazing the kind of freedom that that creates. Because now, by the way, if you’re, if you’re a female engineer with a male boss, guess what he’s, he’s kind of freaking out too, because he doesn’t want to screw this up and be in trouble any more than you do. Like, we’re all kind of confused about how to handle it together. Like, it really is kind of funny, like both people are just so afraid about what’s going to happen to themselves that they’re not actually thinking about the other person. So make making it easy in that way. It really, really helps.

Kim Meninger Well, and I just so appreciate the, the honesty and the really candid conversation I because I think sometimes we’re afraid to talk to our managers in these ways. And we hope that we can kind of do this in the background and that it’s not going to change anything but, but I’m a big believer that as humans, we’re constantly making up stories about each other and ourselves. And it just doesn’t work. Right. It’s so much more effective. If you go in there with that. Here’s who I am. Here’s what you’ll get from me. And here’s respect and return.

Zach White Exactly. And it’s proactive Kim, like you said, You’ve got to be having this conversation all the time. It’s ongoing, it starts from the beginning. Because then when you get to that moment where you need to draw the boundary, nobody’s surprised. Right? You are being in full integrity to what you said you would do in that moment. And your boss may even be unhappy, because in the moment, it’s inconvenient to create some stress or strain, or they have to find somebody else to do the work. But they can’t say that you didn’t honor what you said you would be like you’re in full integrity, right? That’s important. And it gives you that chance to not take such a big withdrawal from that relationship bank account. Because you’ve already laid in, hey, here’s exactly what you can expect. So the problem with a lot of my clients is they don’t lay that foundation and they don’t come to me until now they’re in this really bad situation where their boss is running them over all the time. They don’t feel like they can say anything. And now they’ve, you know, 50 weekends in a row they’ve compromised, and they want to draw a boundary this weekend. Well, guess what that is going to be hard. Because your boss expects you to do what you’ve done 50 weekends in a row. Like, let’s just be real that first time is going to be a real doozy. But you’ve got to draw the line eventually.

Kim Meninger Well, and one of the things I think about too, going back to what you talked about when you hit rock bottom, you’ve got nothing to lose is that if you always believe that you have another option, that you can stay empowered in these kinds of dynamics because if your biggest fear is I’m going to lose my job. Or you know, I’m, I’m going to have to leave then you’re not going to assert yourself in the way that works best for you. It’s always this desperate attempt to keep someone else happy. And I think, you know, I wonder if you have thoughts on how do I stay empowered, and okay with the possibility that this conversation isn’t going to go to the way that I hope but again, it’s going to be a win because I get the information that I need? Like, how do I realistically stop being so desperately attached to this one role?

Zach White So a cognitive distortion that happens that we believe, if I lose this job, I’m in a, I’m in a world of hurt, this is going to be terrible, or even that this conversation is a potential job-ender. Like there are very few conversations you will ever have in your career that the outcome of that one chat is you’re fired, like, they exist. But believe me, it’s way more rare than, than you might think. So yeah, your, your mind is warped, based off of this primitive survival instinct of our autonomic nervous system. And I’ll just remind everybody, your subconscious, is wired for survival, not for success. So don’t be surprised when it treats you this way. And it creates these fears. It’s like, expect that and that’s part of why building courage and advance of needing it is part of what we do in our coaching. Because if you wait until that big moment, it’s too late. You got to strengthen that in advance. But to kind of get back to the idea of well, how do we, how do we change this, I like what you said, and I’ll just build on it that when you have a set of beliefs that are bigger than the moment, those grounding, you know, growth mindset, types of beliefs, those, those affirmations, those statements that guide your life, you can even call it a core value, if you will, there’s something that you really grip into, that says, no matter what happens, I’m going to make… I trust the process of life, I can always recover from any setback. And as an engineer, I like to make this logical, because logical arguments are great for engineers. And we learned in engineering school that when you’re testing something, Kim, you don’t, you don’t test it within the zone of known success. Because then you don’t learn anything. You test things out at the edges, you test things until they fail. Your test to pass is a bad test methodology you test to fail. And we know that we practice that we design experiments in that way as engineers. And we know that you learn more from failure than you ever learn from success. Passing the test doesn’t teach you anything. Failing the test is what teaches you something. And so you take that reality and say, Well, it’s interesting that in my job, I know that pushing to the edge is how we improve the fastest, how we learn the most. But in my life, I want to stay nice and safe around the things that I know. And that’s completely backwards. The logical argument would be, let’s push it out to the edge. And if you fail, I promise you that you’re going to learn more from that failure than you ever would have by just staying safe. And it’s going to make you ten times better. Right, you’re going to learn from that in a way that you never could have if you hadn’t. And so we love growth, we love to learn, we love all these things. But we say we hate the idea of failing. But failing is where the most growth, the most learning and the most advantage comes. So in truth, I really ought to love failure just as much as I love success. Because that’s where the real learning happens. And when you start to buy into that belief, like if I win, I’ll celebrate. And if I fail, I’m going to learn 10 times more than if I had won. And I’ll celebrate those kinds of beliefs when you really anchor that in your subconscious which you know, part of what working with a coach does is we help learn how to get out of this out of our heads and really embody these things but that shifts everything because now you can go into that meeting and the outcome doesn’t matter if I win I win if I fail I went it’s a pretty pretty cool way to live.

Kim Meninger That’s such a great I love the logic right because I think that helps with engineers but also with, with everybody and so I think that’s a great place for us to wrap up although Zack I could seriously talk to you all day but for those who are listening that are thinking I, I really want more of what you’re saying and what you’re doing where can people find you?

Zach White Kim, I could do this all day too. Thank you so much. I’m having, I’m having a blast. But you know if someone out there listening is in a STEM profession. You’re in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and you want to really explore this deeply if what I’m sharing resonates with you and you’re looking for growth or promotions in your career and you want to talk to me, I’d love to extend an opportunity just for your listeners can to get a free call with me. And if someone wants to take advantage of that, it’s really simple. We call our coaching program, the lifestyle engineering blueprint. And you know, I’m a mechanical engineer by, by degree, but I’m a lifestyle engineer by the school of hard knocks Kim. And so if someone wants to chat with us, that just grab your phone and text, the word lifestyle, just that one-word lifestyle, to the number 55444. So it’s lifestyle, text, that 255444 We’ll send you a link, you can grab a time, my team will just get a few questions from you. And then they’ll get you on my calendar to have a call, at least at the time of this recording. I still take all of those, maybe if it’s a year from now, you might do a session with someone else. But would love to do that It’d be an honor. Maybe you’re not an engineer, or if you’re not ready to have a chat, then just jump over to the happy engineer podcast. That’s where I hang out. And you can keep digging into these topics. And every other way to connect with me is there in the show notes of the happy engineer podcast.

Kim Meninger Thank you so much, Zack, I really appreciate the work you’re doing and so grateful to you for taking the time to have this conversation.

Zach White Kim, you’re welcome. And I, I can’t say enough in terms of acknowledging how important the work you do is imposter syndrome and fear and these things that grip us and hold us back from our dreams. Overcoming that can be one of the most transformational things anybody goes through. So thanks for what you’re doing. Thank you.

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