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As a technical professional, you think differently than most people. All those years of engineering school taught your brain to analyze and think logically at a higher level than most folks. That provides you with a tremendous ability to create designs that serve a need and to offer solutions to complex problems. The tradeoff of that linear thinking is the occasional challenge for you to take risks, to speculate in the absence of data, and to focus on the big picture.

For the first part of my career, I managed all life decisions with a complex spreadsheet. I thought in terms of only giving out what I thought I would fairly get in return. Everything was mathematical to me. Unfortunately, my career was following that same mindset. I worked 40 hours a week and expected some compensation for every hour I worked above that. I started viewing my ability to make more money only in the context of working overtime and getting paid for it. That put me on the standard career track — no extraordinary promotions or opportunities to grow. I was thinking in the short term only and how what I did today would affect the spreadsheet. That was about 14 years ago.

I was reminded of that time in my life recently when I was onsite with a client helping them prepare for an all-company meeting. The meeting was going to include a day of games, free food, and drinks, along with a few team meetings. Essentially it was a big party for the employees and was going to be a great expense to the company. The only catch was that the activities were going to extend about two hours after normal business hours. Numerous employees, many of whom were young engineers, asked if they would be compensated for the additional time, or if the company would pay the mileage on their car if they did not want to take the company-provided transportation. It was mind boggling. They were counting pennies. And in the interest of getting every cent they could, they were exposing themselves to upper management as short-term and small-minded thinkers. I know this because I got to be behind the scenes as the company leaders were reacting and discussing these absurd questions.

In the end, no additional compensation was paid and everyone had a great time, even those who were asking for more compensation to attend this fantastic event. But in all this, I was reminded of a time in my life when I counted pennies and about how finally one day I woke up and started thinking about what it takes to get to the top. As such, I started acting how someone at the top would act. I stopped counting pennies and started focusing on the biggest things I could imagine. And it worked. No more counting pennies.

Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.

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