I just thought I was a stressed person: that always feeling a little stressed was normal; that taking multiple sick weeks a year due to burnout was to be expected when you were high-achieving and driven; and that letting go of my standards would mean I was letting go of myself and ultimately failing.
It wasn’t until 2018 that I started therapy. My heightened stress was impacting me both physically and mentally and was something I could work on. She talks about her journey here on ASCE Plot Points. You also writes about finding her best self here.
I studied environmental engineering for the reasons many people go into engineering. I liked math and science and prioritized sustainability and conservation. I graduated with my B.S. in 2012 and started my first full-time position at a large international firm.
After five years, I decided to try a smaller local firm of about 40 people, which then led me to an even smaller local firm of two people. As I experienced different jobs – different types of companies and different environmental engineering focuses, from remediation to industrial stormwater to green stormwater infrastructure – I noticed something still didn’t feel quite right.
Noticing that something doesn’t feel right takes practice. It’s so easy to get caught up in our daily routines, our judgments and expectations, and the assumptions we make about how we “should” feel. We ultimately learn to ignore our gut response in many ways.
Mindfulness came into my life more formally at this time although I wasn’t fully receptive to the concept yet. A therapist told me to try walking and eating more slowly and without multitasking. I thought that sounded like a true a waste of time. A year later, following more life changes and regular therapy sessions, I connected with a mindful eating coach and that’s when my mindfulness practice began to change my life.
Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally,” per Jon Kabat-Zinn (https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/pages/about-the-author). You can take advantage of mindfulness by inviting meditations, gratitude, mindful eating, or mindful awareness into your daily routine and then time, space, and patience to practice just like learning any new skill. (teaser to mindfulness series?).
I left my last full-time engineering position in January 2020 to take a sabbatical to reset and reflect. I spent some time in Seattle before traveling for about a month and returning home earlier than I anticipated as Ecuador closed due to COVID. I journaled sitting outside in the common areas of hostels in beautiful places in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos and had wonderful and inspiring conversations with new friends from around the world. I realized that I was ultimately rediscovering myself more than 10 years after making one decision and going to college.
When I returned home I reread Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, and then it hit me: I am a connector. I love bringing people together. I love leadership. I love sharing new ideas, books, movies, and music. I love helping people reach their full potential.
I also reflected on who the people were in my life who inspired me: those with freedom, flexibility, and independence. As I grew my mindfulness practice, I noticed that how I feel each day is far more important to me than what I do. Yes, they are inherently linked. But I’d more frequently been making choices based on what I thought I was supposed to do versus how I felt.
These realizations led me to take a course to become a meditation and mindfulness teacher and then start my own business (fleeceandforests LLC) in July 2020 to help others grow mindful connections. Now I use my experience as an engineer to teach technical professionals the importance of mindfulness and how to incorporate these practices into their lives to not only manage stress, but to improve interpersonal communication, increase empathy and compassion, and create stronger and more resilient teams and leaders.
Becoming a civil engineer gave me the experience I needed to bring me to my new chapter and will always be a part of how I problem solve and approach the world. I believe it’s crucial to encourage ourselves, our friends and coworkers, and the next generation to grow their truth whatever that may be, and however it may change.
Elyssa Dixon is a registered Professional Engineer, mindfulness and meditation teacher, and founder of fleeceandforests LLC. Elyssa is the incoming President-Elect for the Seattle Section and incoming Chair of the Committee on Younger Members. She worked as a civil engineer in consulting for almost 8 years and realized that her passion lies in helping others succeed. Elyssa's mindfulness practice profoundly changed her life by improving her wellbeing and making her a better leader and team member. She trained as a meditation and mindfulness teacher and understands what it means to be driven and to want to make a difference while managing interests outside of work. She couples her unique understanding of consulting engineering with mindfulness and leadership to teach how to use mindfulness practices to improve personal wellbeing and create more resilient teams and leaders.
Visit her website