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I've been struggling lately with a work experience that I have been taking personally and I would like your advice and/or encouragement.

I'm 24 years old and I recently graduated college. I landed a job as an electrical engineer for a reputable company. I'm beyond grateful for the opportunity.

Part of my job is to work with mechanics to troubleshoot issues we see on our field tests vehicles. On one particular day, I went to make a quick change to something and it turns out that I had an incorrect value populated in a program I was using and it caused there to be a little holdup (a few hours) in the work that day. Without going into a lot of detail, the mechanics gave me a hard time for this and I can't get over it.

Once I knew what the issue was, I went out an fixed it immediately.

I knew it was going to be hard to walk into their presence again knowing that they would give me a hard time. I quickly fixed the issue and then briefly tried to tell them what I had messed up. Well they took that in the wrong way thinking that I was trying to explain my way out of what I did wrong and that after all, I know what I am doing. I was just owning up to my mistake and letting them know that, but they took it another way. They even went as far as mocking me by telling me that's why I make big money because I know all these things.

I then tried to ease the tension by letting them know how much I value their experience and that I want to learn everything I can from them. I was genuine because I know this from experience.

Then comes the next day and I had to go out there to ask them a question not related to the last issue. I could have bet on their reaction when I walked in to see them because that is exactly what happened. At first they ignored me and when they finally acknowledged me, I tried to ask how things were going but they interrupted by saying, "now what did you do wrong..."

I brushed it off and immediately went to the issue I came there for. It turns out that I received some very helpful information from them but I still feel like they hate me. I know that any future work I do will be second guessed and I will always be made fun of.

Why do blue collar workers always feel like we went to college to stick it to them and make more money. I have the utmost respect for guys like them but I am terrible at communicating that. It doesn't help that I stammer also so when they guys pigeonhole me, the worst/embarrassing side of me shows. I've seen first hand how blue collar and white collar relationships can go sour so I make every effort to avoid that happening but too often I fall short.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, I am taking this personally. I know that I will be working with these mechanics in the future but I know this sour relationship will eventually eat at me. I am certainly not the one to snap back but rather be hard on myself. I've even had thought of quitting even though I know I wouldn't do that. I'm not afraid to own up to what I did wrong but at the same time, I have a hard time getting over things.

I also want to add that a few months prior to this I made a similar mistake that was a quick an easy fix and this recent issue seemed like the cherry on top of all this.

I am the kind of one who will definitely learn from this. However, I don't want to be so nervous that I miss something again. I am afraid of this happening even though I know I shouldn't be.

So without this post getting too long, I want to know if you have had similar experiences and how you dealt with them. How do you handle mistakes when you are young? How do I avoid taking this personally? What perspective should I have on this?

I would really appreciate any help.

Thank you

  • 9
    I've dealt with a lot of mechanics. Most were pros, some were sophomoric jocks. Childish people are a fact of life. The mechanics probably had higher expectations of life and seeing a 24yo "college boy" come in at a higher rank probably doesn't sit well. Nothing you can do about it. I can say with near certainty that expressing how you feel will not help. Just do your job, own mistakes, and look for that promotion up & out. If it were me: "There are many components to my job. I'll make a mistake or two. Deal with it. My boss' name is XYZ." I also have a high tolerance for confrontation. – acpilot Feb 7 '17 at 3:50
  • Do you have any colleagues doing similar work as you ? Have you asked their advice about how to handle something like this? (it might depend a lot on company culture) – Radu Murzea Feb 7 '17 at 12:10
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    Realize that the folks on the line have a lot of collective wisdom. If in doubt, ask them how it will affect them. Make sure you work with them to get stuff done. Be prepared for a little ribbing before becoming accepted. Don't screw up on your end and waste their time (often their bonuses are from productivity in widgets/hour, although Deming would be upset at that). – Jon Custer Feb 7 '17 at 19:26
  • ". I have the utmost respect for guys like them " - Why? Sounds to me like a bunch of immature idiots that a jealous because you have a better education. – ayrton clark Aug 18 '17 at 10:23
  • @ayrtonclark Because while you site in your comfy air conditioned office drawing out schematics, these are the people getting their hands dirty with blood, sweat and tears, in dangerous and sometimes toxic environments to implement your drawings. – Jack Aug 21 '17 at 8:08
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Just soldier on and be extra careful and professional, it's a job, not a popularity contest and after you prove your worth for a while they'll get over it.

Half my work career was blue collar, in general we didn't think much of white collar workers until they proved themselves useful to us.

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    This is true in any industry. I've been on both sides, having come up through the ranks. In the Corps, "butter bars" or 2nd lieutenants rate about as much respect from enlisted men as a kindergartner UNTIL they show they know what they are doing. Most of them knew this already, were humble, and took their lumps like the Marines they were. Others came out ready to conquer the world and couldn't be told they were wrong. They still took their lumps...just more of them. – Steve Mangiameli Feb 8 '17 at 20:14
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Having a lot of work experience engineers formally educated or otherwise, this situation sounds like common banter at this point. You showing that you are sensitive to their remarks will only make them worse. Be confident in your work, but don't be afraid to fail. It sucks making a mistake, but mistakes happen. All of us will be mistaking them until we die. The important part is that we are able to learn from our mistakes. Do an amazing job through failing and learning, get promoted and shut these guys up.

6

I would go along with the answer by @jcmack to pick yourself up and get on. What I would add is that there are psychological angles here that you would be best to get a grip on.

It is normal to chew over a mistake. It is rational to want to undertake some damage limitation. It is rational try to meticulously plan to avoid such situations in the future. Where things are, to my mind, going wrong in your case, is that you are now starting to blame other folks for the fact that you feel bad about what happened. This wont work in your favour. Acting hurt and defensive about a siutation that other people expect to quickly blow over can only be counterproductive.

Take a step back and see that its normal for a rookie to be treating a mistake very early in their career as being far more serious, and taking it far more personally, that someone who had made such a routine mistake after a couple of years on the job. Everyone subscribes to the view that to make a mistake is human. If people were feeling recentful to the "college kid" its only human for them to feel more comfortable when seeing that they are "only human too" and "clearly no better than anyone" when it comes to making the odd mistake.

A related situation is being hired into your first manager role and quickly making a wrong decision for all the right reasons. I am sure you can see that getting defensive and making excuses is totally conterproductive in that situation. So it is best you treat your current situation as a lesson in how to roll with lifes little punches.

6

Get over it and don't take it too serious or personally.

My best guess is, that they are used to a rough tone between themselves and if you chicken-out you just encourage to keep going. If you can, have a fun response and go with the flow if you can't just leave it behind. Someone (hopefully not you) will do the next stupid thing and will get the heat until the next thing happens.

For the future: stop making a difference between you and them, white- and blue-collar. Just work with them like you do with every other co-worker.

And never, ever look down on them or their jobs or deny to do a job because it is below yourself. Try to do jobs with them together. Get your hands dirty.

And talk to them before you work in their area. Ask them for their opinion of the change you are planning. Is the time okay? is there something you should know about that machine?

It can also help to spend social-time with them (breaks, lunch, ...) and get to know them on a personal level.

  • +1. Let go of their not letting go and ignore it, or just say "yeah, yeah, I know." – keshlam Feb 7 '17 at 13:26
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How do you handle mistakes when you are young? How do I avoid taking this personally? What perspective should I have on this?

I'm going to answer your questions starting from the end because I think changing perspective helps resolve most any problem.

First and foremost, it sounds to me like you haven't really forgiven yourself, so the first thing I would say to you is to forgive yourself and move on.

Then, I would tell myself that we are all on the same team. I would not see the mechanics as "blue collar workers" and myself as "the people who 'went to college to stick it to them.'"

You may not think you think like this, but I copied and pasted these words straight from your post, so abandon this thinking. You're on the same team.

The thing about being on the same team is that you forgive each others' mistakes, including your own. So forgive yourself again. Move on again.

And when you're on the same team, you'll take things personally, but you'll know that you were doing your best to contribute to the betterment of the team, so you forgive yourself yet a third time and move on even further.

By then, you should have forgiven yourself three times and moved on accordingly as well, so your perspective has probably already shifted enough for all this to be in your rearview mirror, but if it hasn't, don't worry, because there will always be someone to take you down a notch, whether it be one of the mechanics or even another electrical engineer.

And when that happens, and it will, because there will always be someone better than us, cherish it because if Katherine Heigl movies are anything to go by, that person will be the one who really loves you for you.

1

Thanks for the thoughts everybody. I never quite thought of it in a way that I am starting to blame others because I feel bad about what happened. The more I think about it, the more that is true. I now see that this is the result of not moving on from what happened. The more I think about it, the more defensive I will get internally only to try and make myself feel better. The fact is what it is and no feeling of acting hurt or defensive will erase what happened. I so bad want to be on good terms with everybody, but don't we all? Sometimes this causes me to express my feelings in ways that are in fact counterproductive.

Also, as much as I try to not express the difference between me and them, I realize that it is showing in ways I didn't see at first. They hated it when I was trying to explain to them what I did wrong. I've learning that it's far better to just shut my mouth and do the work instead of explaining things.

Thanks again for the thoughts.

  • I would mark this as the best answer if I were you :D. – Teacher KSHuang Feb 8 '17 at 7:36
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I would also say something akin to "There are many components to my job. I'll make a mistake or two. Deal with it. My boss' name is XYZ."

Probably a bit softer, more like "OK, I made a mistake, take it up with my boss (XYZ) if you think it warrants it."

This helps them because they know it's not up to them to correct your mistakes (in what sounds like a nasty way!), there is a hierarchy that will do that for them. If they don't use that route, then you know they are just whining.

They are possibly trying to 'nip it in the bud' or angry that you seem to get away scot free (possibly because they get repercussions if they do anything wrong). So if you show that you do get it is noted when you mess up, it may soften them a bit as they know that 'improving' you doesn't always fall to them.

If your management is a bit poor, this might not help as they feel like the lines of communication are not there and they 'have' to enforce it in their overly brusque way.

I wouldn't quit, but definitely start looking at the overall culture with a critical eye. In my experience a good manager/management team will iron out issues like this on both side. If this goes unchecked it may mean that interactions will become overly negative and fault finding (sometimes I have seen in other places, regardless of any blue/white collar associations) and this can be detrimental to the success of projects as a whole.

(A good manager often fixes this by showing both teams that they have both an appreciation of the good work, and of the impact of mistakes, however to tackle this they will need the trust of both teams already so it does need to be an experienced, good manager).

0

How do I avoid taking this personally?

The simplest answer is "don't".

Anecdote Warning

My father is an aircraft mechanic, and I've been around him and his coworkers. The general culture is there is very much one of "thick skin". That is, they all make fun of each other, especially by telling jokes at others' expenses.

What perspective should I have on this?

These mechanics are tight knit, have been working together a long time, and have their own culture (and yes, I can confirm there is a bit of a blue collar / white collar, us vs. them attitude).

The longer they have been working, the more new employees they have seen come and go. If a new mechanic makes a mistake, they're going to give him a rough time. You're not a mechanic, but you are new, so you still get the same rough time.

My advice moving forward is to take it in stride, brush it off, and continue to develop a relationship with them. Only if it truly is impacting your ability to perform your job should you escalate the situation.

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