Saturday, October 31, 2015

3 Scary Points About Being An Adult

My unofficial ten year high school reunion is next month. I say unofficial because I combined my Junior and Senior years in one and graduated in 2004 instead of 2005. Looking back, it's amazing how much high school is actually missed. (Never thought I would hear myself say that.)

We never believed our elders or the advice received and it has come to life. And as many know, the reality of adulthood can be scary. 

Time Goes Quickly 

In grade school, we'd moan at the thought that it was "only October." The holidays were two months away, my birthday four months away in mid-February and spring break about six months out. 

Wait- Christmas is less than 8 weeks out?! And it's almost 2016? As we grow older, we start to realize how fast time actually goes. With 8-10 work shifts, half your day is gone by the time you get home. 

If you have kids, adding the after school programs into the mix, like taking my nephew to flag football practice, leaves a couple hours left in the day before your pillow starts calling. 

I try to live in the moment because I have a tendency not to enjoy what I currently have but at the rapid pace time travels, it's important to know what's ahead.

Your Childhood Starts To Become History 

It was my senior year in undergrad and I was missing a social and humanities elective. Being an engineering student, I scrambled to find a class I wouldn't fall asleep in. I ended up choosing "American History: Post Civil War." 

The professor focused on a lot of the different movements to show how culture changes and she dug up information that we never told in our grade school learnings. It ended up being one of my favorite courses and I actually saved the book. The semester was coming to an end so she started to wrap up the material. And then it hit me how old I really was. 

"Today, we'll cover Oklahoma Bombing, and Columbine. We'll wrap up with September 11 on Thursday." 

How can it be that the three most traumatic events in my childhood were being discussed in textbooks? I sounded like my grandmother when the professor asked me my take and I answered by re-living the moment: "our school was shutdown for a day after Columbine and a week later, they implemented lock-down drills on the opposite schedule of fire drills." 

The students all turned to me in awe to have lived this reality. Those who were alive, were too young to remember and the rest were born into a society with lock-down drills and school shootings. 

It was an eye opening moment for me to know that my child hood memories were not only memories, but becoming American history. 

Consequence Are Real 

When I was a child, I used to get so paranoid if I missed an assignment. I laugh at my younger self. The scariest part about being an adult are the consequences. 

If I missed sending the product flow to my peer, it can impact the business we're trying to bid for. When I forget to pay my phone, they cut it. 

There are still things that don't have major impacts but the majority of the issues we deal with do. 

Relationships aren't about having fun and getting dinner with someone. It is about seeing the potential life long partnership you can have with this person. 

The hardest part is our words have more meaning and can create more harm. Even yesterday, I was reminded about how breaking my commitments can really let down my friends. 

As I look around and see my friends buying homes, getting married and having children, the scary part isn't how we reached this point in our lives. 

The scary part is how what we say and do can pass us so quickly, it is becoming history. How about that for a spooky thought? I think so. 

Happy Halloween. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Why Some Men are Intimidated by Career Oriented Women

It was my Junior year in Undergrad at Arizona State. I was tackling a normal course load of about 16 credits. My goal was to graduate with honors in my engineering field (while having some fun along the way); get married and have a child within 10 months of graduation. It was quite simple.

The Engineering Student Council had recruited me the year before and it was a great extra curriculum where I would interface with industries across the valleys, older engineering students and receive mentor-ships from professors and even the Dean on a regular basis. On one spring afternoon, we were called to go to a lower income school district to talk about engineering careers to 6-8th graders. We wanted to pump them up and teach them how good grades now, equates to scholarships later. Some of these kids didn’t have college on their radar because of the finances, a sad story we don’t talk about enough.

They looked bored and were not remotely interested in what I had to say. Well, three of the 8th grade boys tried to get my number, but that was the extent of their interest. We were failing miserably and the awkwardness was killing my peers. So I reached into my back pocket and held up my first smart phone – Motorola Android. Their eyes widened and I said: “Why should you become an engineer? So you can make a better version of this!” Now they were excited. For the next couple of hours, we talked and did some experiments and they were sad to let us go.
On the 45 minute commute home, I realized I had found my calling: Leadership, with a focus on technical development. From that point on, my whole world view had changed. I wanted to inspire people all of ages on innovation, science and technology and be a mentor to those around me. Relationships went from being my priority to being something my mother talked about.

Looking back, I know I made the right choice. But on this journey, I have learned that some men are intimidated by career oriented women. Growing up with four boys, I was always one of the boys, so this concept never became a reality until recently, where I stepped my feet back into the dating pool. The intimidation is real and can create conflict in relationships and sometimes leads to ending the relationship before a chance is even taken. Or worse, women tend to feel discouraged and question their career decisions.

Although we don’t have arranged marriages in my culture, I still receive marriage proposals, which are basically a formal request to date. Last summer I was asked by a cardiologist and we went out for coffee. I thought to myself “how bad can it be? I make pacemakers and he implants them.” He spent a good 40 minutes giving me his back-story, which wasn’t too impressive but I was respectful. When it got to my turn, he asked what excited me and I said my career. I spoke a little more about that and his first follow-up question was “would you ever consider being a stay at home mom?”

I was speechless and wished Google translate could take what I had said and repeat it in the native language of Mars. Luckily the barista at Starbucks kicked us out because they were closing and I almost gave that teenager a hug for saving me!

When my frustrations and heartaches grew, I was on a mission to find out why. So I conducted informal surveys across 10-15 men with different job titles. My method had no rhyme or reason. The first set of men I asked was at work and I asked them casually in a response to a question they had for me about how my weekend had gone. The second set of men was more fun since it was done at bars or restaurants, so no filters!

And this is what I found out, where I later grouped into the three themes: Culture Changes In Society, Successes differ between genders and General personality traits.

}  Most men don’t know how to react or communicate to intelligent women
}  Women who are gullible and easy to control are easier for men to be with
}  Male dominated world and women came in as pests taking jobs with little to no training or education
}  Napoleon Complex ( condition of being small in stature by aggressively ambitious and seeking absolute control)
}  Men were used to being the breadwinners
}  Own self failures result in resentment towards women
}  Success for men and women are defined differently
}  Women tend to be more emotionally intelligent
}  Women can come off as harsh or dominant

The results weren’t too surprising but I did some research to understand how it originated.
First, the cultural changes in society mainly stemmed from World War II. With the surplus of men deporting overseas, women were forced into the industry to maintain our economy on-shore and when the war was over, they basically said “we like working.” The Women’s Movement had another piece of the shift and it helped when women started to get elected into higher positions.

Next, defining success to women is more based on personal worth and relationships. How am I perceived at work? Am I approachable? Most men define success strictly on materialistic attributes such as title and salary. This causes disconnects and resentment. If I made more than my signification other but thought it was so great half the company looked up to him, he may feel so small that his female partner made more than him.

Finally, your personality is the deal breaker. Regardless of career choice, salary or title, your attitude towards someone defines your relationship.

In my previous post, “Defeating The Intimidation,” I point out three ways to try and help the situation, which are: Value Their Career, Let Them Lead, and  Don’t Try and Be An Engineer With Him.

The afternoon drive home from the middle school was a wake-up call that I was born to be a leader and I happened to have a great passion for engineering. Yes I struggle with not being able to hold onto a relationship for more than six weeks with someone but I deserve someone who values me for me.

Not only have I firmly defined my worth and will never second guess my career decisions, I have a new understanding for why men feel the way they feel and it has helped me communicate better. So maybe I’ll be able to onto a man for seven weeks before he goes off screaming.

Tima Erakat conducted her first professional talk at the Society for Women Engineers Regional Conference in San Luis Obispo on February 28, 2015.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Your Interview Brand

You got an interview. 

*Insert happy dance here*


Anxiety kicks in. 

It's natural to be nervous for an interview. If you weren't, I'm positive your arrogance won't get you the job. But how can you prepare yourself enough to not freak out about what's to come? 

If you don't have any experience in the field but they're giving you an interview, there's a reason. You won them over with something on your resume or your elevator speech that intrigued them enough to sit with you. 

They can see what you're capable of and the interview is to capture a picture of your potential, by analyzing your traits. So now the question is "How will you distinguish yourself?" 

Prepare by creating and mapping out your brand. Of all the candidates they are talking to, why will they choose you? 

There's an easy way to do this:

First, write out the 3-5 behaviors you demonstrate well. 

Then, list 5-10 skills you have to support your behaviors. 

Finally, select 3-5 examples that'll match to those behaviors and skill set. 

You want to come prepared with 3-5 examples because it is never a good idea to repeat the same story twice. If you told your story well enough, they will pick up on traits and link it back to a question they asked earlier or later in the discussion. Or if you are worried they didn't, you can add a one liner statement to link it back for them.

Another reminder is to not constrain your examples. For example, some people tend not to give community service examples as it may not link to an engineering role. But community outreach says a lot about your character.  

Finally, be genuine. We have a tendency to practice and prep for something that we lose our passion and voice in the process. My dear colleague, Vanessa, was chosen to present a recent campus accomplishment to the CEO. She was nervous and practiced and practiced and practiced. When it came to the big day, everyone sense her nerves as if they were crawling on them. Two mins into her talk, she paused, took a deep breath and said "I'm not reading my notes any longer."

As she started talking, it was instantaneous that the CEO felt her passion. He walked away praising her superiors on the culture and engagement the team members had on this site. Her genuineness surfaced and you want that during any first impression you're making. 

Your personality, character and traits are what surface during an interview. And you have an opportunity to paint your vision so they can see where you will take yourself in this role. It is okay not to know everything but being confident to jump in and know what you need to learn is half the battle. 

If you believe in yourself, they will believe in you. Confidence is the winning factor. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wait- I'm Truly An Introvert?

I'm tired. I get home and want to just have me-time. I use my drive home to reflect and the time at home to relax. 
At first, I thought this was a positive thing. Let's leave work at work and relax to be able to take action all over again the next day. 

But when I think about making time for those I love, it doesn't exist. My friends can tolerate the occasional 'I'll stay in tonight' and my family loves me and understands me enough to 'leave me alone.' 

When I get a family of my own, I can't just tell my significant other or kids to 'go away.' It doesn't work that way, right? 

So thinking about this and a recent conversation I had with a friend, I asked myself- am I really an introvert? 

After completing all of the manager assessments, it relieved me as an extrovert. But am I just acting to get to where I want to go? 

Women need to overcompensate in some cases, especially around achieving executive leadership positions. We speak up in meetings. We are assertive in our questions and answers. We constantly attempt to be present and contribute.

And don't get me wrong - 

I love to talk. I love to be center of attention. I love to be in control.

But is the root of my exhaustion because I'm truly an introvert, living my life as an extrovert?  

These assessments usually reveal a black and white answer. With this recent discovery, I think it's important to acknowledge who I am and where I want to go. From this, I can put triggers in my life to help maintain the brand i am setting for myself. 

Minor changes: 

-Not setting back to back meetings at work to allow time for reflection
-Eating alone and listening to music to decompose 
-Take control of what I want to participate in (and why)

I love a good party and I have a tendency to throw out a comment to a conversation I'm overhearing, but those small things may not make me an extrovert. 

In order for me to succeed as a leader, I need to be balanced at home and at work, and if I'm truly an introvert, how can I be balanced at both if I'm talkative at work and quiet at work? 

As humans, we are not binary. We can have more than one trait at a time. 

Quite a concept. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Falling In Love Changed Me As A Leader

My posts are inspired by my experiences and conversations on a daily basis. If I learn something that I believe can be beneficial for my audience, I grab my smart device and start writing. I organize it in a clear and concise manner to be understood quickly. 

Well, that is sort of true. 

Yes my posts are inspired by my experiences. In reality, they are inspired by all elements of that experience- the actual event, what was said, what wasn't said, what was heard, what was felt and the reflections on what didn't happen as well. Our actions are triggered by emotions and engagement is best achieved by getting an emotional connection. (What Simon Sinek stresses in 'Starting with Why.') 

So once I'm inspired by the full experience, I write. I pour my heart out. I laugh and smile but sometimes tear up and exert sighs of anguish. Only after it is all down on paper, do I start to re-organize it in a clear manner. And the worst part is that I sometimes keep it so professional, that I miss articulating what was really in my heart. 

I know I do this at the fear of losing my niche. But today I want to try and capture my true feelings, at the risk of seeming emotional. 

Before the Magic

For years, I was closed off emotionally. I struggled to articulate what I was feeling and my relationships did not always seem genuine. I have always been caring, outgoing and fun but how connected was I really to those around me? 

As I look back on my early years in college, I missed out on opportunities because I wasn't really opened up enough to know they existed. I created constraints of what I could and couldn't do, which led me to miss internship opportunities or casual dating with a new friend. 

And Then It Happens

I remember not too long ago when I was sitting across the table from a friend of mine. He skipped the pleasantries and started to pour his heart out to me. I froze and I remember my exact thoughts were "why the hell is he sharing this with me?" I was never taught to open up and if I did, it was after years of knowing someone. That cold November night was one I'll never forget. For hours, we talked about all of our struggles, relating to family, friends and work. I felt very awkward, as if I were doing something wrong but at the same time I felt complete. 

The Lesson 

The first time I realized I had truly fallen in love with this man, I cried. I cried out of denial, anger and fear (most people are crying from sheer happiness!) I never believed in falling in love so I was upset that I let myself fall into this trap and I was confident it would make me weaker. 

But it turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. 

The reasons are not what you expect. 

Falling in love has:

-Made me more receptive

-Increased my empathy and patience level 

-Created a pathway to see things from multiple perspectives 

-Allowed me to become more vulnerable without jeopardizing my confidence. 

As a leader, your ability to connect is the most critical aspect and with this transparency, you create trust. Even though I'm still struggling on a personal level with this so-called "love," I know I have been shaped into a completely different person from it.

I believe I am a better person because of this life altering event. I was told recently, "people let you down, but you cannot let that limit your ability to love." 

When I first read it, I linked it to the act of love or being in a relationship. (And it does.) But after thorough review, there is more meaning to that statement. The first being that you can never lose the ability or the capacity to love and second, how things may not always go as planned but you need to keep going. It is bold to combine love and leadership but when you take a step back, they go hand in hand quite well. 

So next time you're partaking in an emotional discussion or acknowledge the feelings you are having for that special someone, remember to think bigger in how else this can help you or how it already has helped you! 

No matter where you are, what you're doing or who you are with, never hesitate to want to say (or sing) the words- "almost like falling in love."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Using Your Emotional Strength

Emotions make up who we are. In the workplace we tend to suppress what we're feeling since most often it is perceived as a weakness. But how can we take our emotion and use it as a strength? 

As women, we are sometimes questioned of our ability to lead and take risks. The use of our intuition can be mistaken for lack of confidence. This can be detrimental especially when trying to accelerate up the corporate ladder. 

I've learned to not suppress my emotion but translate what I'm feeling prior to speaking. Our intuition is usually right but when we start a sentence with "I feel" or "I can sense,"  we lose our audience's attention. 

So try and pause when you get that gut feeling to articulate what you want to say. For instance, your colleague suggests a solution to a problem and the instant she has finished her sentence, your stomach clinches. Rather than stating "I don't think this is a good idea," try and figure out why your stomach clinched in the first place. You reach into your memory bank and unlock that time when we mixed up two products by trying that process she suggested. 

You're then able to state "If I may, the last time we did this, we didn't have a successful outcome. What other options do we have?" You're able to remind the team of what happened and by asking a probing question, you don't immediately shoot down your colleague's idea. 

The other issue we have with emotion is that it is easily surfaced. No matter how hard I try, if I'm defeated, exhausted, mourning, or just plain stressed out, I cannot hide it. 

What I've learned during these times is to stay invisible. I may not be able to call out sick but I can limit my interactions and focus on my objectives for the day. 

The emotions we discount are the negative ones, even though they help us grow the most. But think about how the positive emotions have shaped your life. 

-When you're being daring and willing to jump off a 20ft post in front of 100s of strangers. 

-When you're energetic on a project and get your team to accomplish the goal three weeks ahead of schedule. 

-Or even when you're overconfidence leads you to walk into your managers office asking for the top project on the site. 

We are born with emotion and we do have the ability to use them as strengths. However, with gender differences in the workplace and a fear of showing emotions, it's critical to use them wisely. Sometimes your intuition is right- don't 
be afraid to use it as a guide. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Just Communicate

There are thousands of blog posts, books and training on effective communication. Yet, we as a society still struggle with it. With technology in the palm of our hands, we are glued to our devices and connected to millions- but who is really talking? 

The last few weeks I have been internalizing on my accomplishments, my goals and my behavior that may or may not be associated with the first two. My biggest strength AND weakness is communication. And I'm starting to see why. The three elements of communication below sum up the internal and external struggles I've been having. 


We hear conversations. We partake in conversations. But what is really going on? Understanding is the core definition of effective communication. When you can understand what is or is not being said, you can teach it back, challenge it, or start contributing (either by risks or continuous improvement). 

The difficulty with understanding is that we're not listening to begin with. The reasons could be arrogance (I already know this) or ignorance (I don't need to know this). Don't waste your time or the person's time, who are trying to communicate with you. 

Ask yourself: 
How can I / will I contribute? 
What is distracting me from understanding this? 
Why am I here if I think I know this or don't need to know this? 

If you're the smartest person in the room, you're probably sitting in the wrong room.


"Trust? She's bringing trust into this?" It's okay if you thought that. But in the last few months of taking on a new project, I found myself holding back information. I didn't trust how I would share the content or how it would be perceived. I didn't trust my new partners and the agendas they carried in their back pocket. 

The other factor with trust is our preconceived notion on what I can offer better than the next engineer. So, too often we tend to over share or under share because "they don't know" or even worse "they don't need to know."  

If I compare conversations that I have with my most trusted colleagues versus team members I barely know, I tend to share information:
-with more emotion
-at a more leveled playing field
-in a non-threatening manner
-and even with vulnerability to create empathy with my words. 

The understanding element is almost instantaneous because you stop what you're doing and give your undivided attention to this person. 

There are pitfalls in this case as well. For starters, you can get too comfortable with your trusted circle and not venture out for a more diverse support group. Next, it can inhibit your ability to create a brand for yourself in how you communicate. And lastly, if your trust is ever broken, you may lose authenticity since you could potentially regress to a new communication form.

Trust is important to enable effective communication but be cautious of how you define it. 


I decided to write this post primarily because I've been struggling internally. What's bothering me? Who's bothering me? When I realized that communication is one of my stronger skills, it was with this internal struggle that I admitted it was a weakness. 

As a leader at work and even within my family, my behavior is being emulated and I'm turned to by many in their hour of need. I have a habit of suppressing what I want to communicate in order to truly listen to others. This was doing more harm than help. At first, I was proud of myself! I didn't try and fix a problem or try to relate their problem to one of mine. But I stopped trying to understand because I wasn't capable of doing so. Basically, by 'shutting myself off' I was unable to teach, contribute or empathize. 

The worst issue was how I started to make assumptions that were mainly based on trust. For example, if I have someone in my life who knows me better than I know me, I tend to stop communicating. She knows how I'm feeling or sees my smile is radiating the room. No matter how well this person knows me, I never communicated what was buried in my mind. 

From time to time, it's okay to surrender (lack of a better word) and just open up. By doing this, you remove the weight you've been carrying and the solution may be right there when you start speaking. 

Remember, there actually is a positive side to assuming and it's called risk taking, when done right. With the little information you have and high confidence you carry on your baby, it's ok to assume what has or hasn't been communicated and move forward. 

My message  

Being constantly on the go, we don't communicate as well as we should be. And even worse, with time being a scarce resource, lack of communication can lead to failed projects or even worse broken relationships. 

Next time you're sitting in a meeting, look around. What body language are you picking up on? Who is scared, exhausted, energetic or passive? Who can you rely on and who are you wiling learn to learn from? If you try to bring each of the three levels of communication above (in moderation) wherever you show up, I believe you will be more successful in the long-run. 

It won't hurt to stop assuming; start trusting; so you can understand what's being said. Don't show up in a glass box. At the end of the day, you are the number one person at a loss for not communicating. 

End of Transmission 

Picture courtesy of