I figured I was having an early midlife crisis.

It wasn’t anything too dramatic or cliched- I didn’t cash out my 401k to go buy The Car. It was just one of those moments when you look at your house and your marriage and your kids and (most acutely, in my case) your career, and think that even though it’s all there on paper, something is missing.

Maybe I think I’m supposed to feel empowered and accomplished when examining my life. Instead, I was having this persistent feeling that I could be contributing more, or that I should be exercising some part of my brain that I’ve been neglecting.

I set out to be an engineer because of the feeling of accomplishment that comes with designing something that will improve our world, then seeing it come to exist, in a function-able way. Lots of engineers will tell you this, that their job satisfaction comes when you see your plans constructed and think to yourself “I did that”. But much of civil engineering, if done correctly, simply disappears.  Perfect design means you never have the irritation of getting your shoes wet stepping out of your car into a puddle. It means you can turn the tap on and have fresh, clean water, or that you can drive home at a speed that doesn’t make you want to scream into your steering wheel. Many of us only notice these things when they quit working efficiently. But maybe as Professional Engineers, we are missing something integral to the human existence. Maybe, instead of just preventing you from feeling discomfort, civil engineering can actively be used to increase your happiness.

A month ago, I started at SWT Design and found myself in a room of creatives. I listened as the team talked about moments and understood that they define moments as the unique, memorable user-experience they create by thoughtfully designing a space, not simply as a split-second of right where I should be. All those years of taking philosophy electives and working for a landscape firm no longer feels like deviation, but instead like preparation. And I know we’re in the honeymoon phase, but I’m finding myself looking forward to what we can do together. Engineers and landscape architects are so different, and by looking at the world from opposite sides of design is invigorating that part of my brain I was neglecting because I know where we meet will be far better than where either of us could have arrived on our own.

I do want a Tesla, though. Maybe for my next midlife crisis.

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