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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

The organic career: 10 principles for fewer goals and more flow [Wise Wednesdays]

This month, I was invited by an engagement and equity initiative of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California to give a webinar on career transformation. Of the respondents to a pre-webinar survey, only 10% had experienced coaching and 55% had contemplated changing career.

A study by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center found that job success is 85% soft skills and 15% hard skills. Yet our educational and training system are still almost entirely dedicated to hard skills – as are most traditional professions. Skills for better communication, decision-making, sustainable performance are optional, remedial or only available for the higher echelons of leadership. What surprised me was that the figures were extrapolated from a study of engineering education by the Carnegie Foundation published in 1918! Yes, we’ve known this for over a century.

Structural engineering is a profession where the hard skills really matter. There’s a career structure based on qualifications and years of experience, like in medicine. A sense of urgency to jump through hoops and pressure to climb the career ladder is present as it is in many professions and industries, today.

My job as a transformational coach isn’t to add more prescriptions, rules and pressure. Instead, I shared 10 principles I learned from my journey and that have helped me navigate the uncertainty and complexity of a 21st century career without losing too much of my wellbeing, sanity or passion.

The organic career

It’s so easy to get drained chasing goals and expectations. What I’ve learned is that an organic career (that flourishes through the challenges, embraces the twists and turns, and focuses on fewer but more aligned goals) is healthier than a cookie-cutter one with endless moving goalposts set by others.

Perhaps these principles which I’ve shared over the past few months will be a reminder for you to turn challenges into opportunities, not to try harder but to slow down and go deeper into who you are and what you want to contribute to the world:

  1. People don’t leave jobs, they leave toxic work cultures.

  2. Millennials aren’t lazy. They’re just not into exploitation.

  3. The four horseman of the burnout epidemic: meaningless productivity, busy-ness, urgency and moral injury.

  4. Constant urgency is toxic. Give yourself permission to slow down.

  5. There’s no such thing as time management. It’s choice management.

  6. Meditate an hour a day. If you don’t have time, meditate two hours a day.

  7. The freedom to follow your path, requires the courage to leave your past.

  8. Don’t let your ideas die in the graveyard of fear.

  9. Dream big, take one tiny step at a time, every day.

  10. Confidence isn’t a requirement, it’s a result. Action trumps perfection.

Disaster Risk Reduction and other 21st century career options

I discovered many of these engineers are interested in disaster risk reduction (an area of policy I worked on during the renewal of the United Nations’ 2015 -2030 global framework for disaster risk reduction).

As a career choice, Disaster Risk Reduction is an emerging profession. It can save large numbers of lives and can certainly give meaning to the technical skills. It ensures buildings in every country are constructed safely and in areas at low risk of earthquakes, floods and other hazards.

This is especially relevant today as climate change proceeds and extreme weather events are predicted to become more frequent and more extreme while urbanisation accelerates and megacities rise across the world.

It’s a complex area of policy involving multiple disciplines across the social and natural sciences as well as overlapping jurisdictions and institutional representations at local, national and international level. So it requires a highly skilled and resilient “workforce”.

But if the structural engineers working to protect the future of cities aren’t fully supported – not just to learn the hard skills but also to navigate the pressures of the job and the uncertainties of 21st century careers - how can they be expected to deliver their best thinking to solve these complex problems?

I believe this is a billion dollar question. Not just for engineers, but for all of us engaged in work. The world is more complex, we’re facing potential disasters (and disruptions of all kind) on a global scale and we’re not quite equipped. Industrial era jobs are harmful on two counts: 1) they don’t address the real challenges we’re facing very well; 2) as a result, they feel meaningless and draining.

But you can do something: slow down. It’s the shortest path to clarity. The world depends on it. Have a good week, Amina If you’re ready for change and feel transformational coaching is a good fit:

  1. Be in a room with likeminded professionals doing transformational work to let go of limiting beliefs. The next Leaders Circle is on January 16th. Sign up here to receive the registration link in advance.

  2. Invest in one-to-one transformational coaching. We work together for 3 to 12 months to create a new career and life trajectory. Email me for a conversation at with “Transformation” in the email title and tell me about your biggest challenge.

  3. Not in London or the UK? Join the (free) online Circle on November 14th, 6pm UK. Register here for further information.

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