The story behind “The Art of Being Civil”

197HThe idea for this blog started in 2008.  My mother was visiting me in Australia from the United States.  While we were in Sydney, I proceeded to make some observation of the world hoping to make my mom laugh. My mother smiled and responded tactfully,

“Where do you come up with this shit?”

I didn’t really have an answer for my mother as to how or where I come up with “this shit”.  I think I just shrugged my shoulders and gave her a cheeky smile.  But it was in that moment that she planted a seed in my head that maybe I should consider being a writer.  I guess she thought I needed to document all my Stephanisms.

Although the thought of writing crossed my mind before, the idea, even after my mom’s suggestion laid dormant for many years.  Like most people, I was too busy.

I look back and I’m not sure what I was really busy doing.  I certainly wasn’t exercising or engrossed in any hobbies at the time, but somehow I was too busy.

This thought process changed in 2014.  I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to be “too busy” anymore, especially when it was not anything tangible I could identify.  I certainly didn’t want to be too busy at a job I didn’t enjoy, especially when it was somehow shaping how I spent my personal time.

So I quit my well paid job, and I just stood still for a while.  Actually, I was so still, I became the exact opposite of “too busy”.  I had no direction and didn’t really care.  I was just enjoying doing nothing.  This lasted for about three months and was documented through my weight gain.

I look back and think I was in shock because I didn’t just quit my job.  I was making the decision to quit my profession with no real direction as to what the next step was going to be.  My brain was spinning. Eventually, it became clear to me – I reached a point in my career where I wasn’t learning anymore, or at least I wasn’t learning at a rate that could foster job or self-satisfaction.


So the story about this blog really starts back to 1996, when I took my first step towards completing my degree in engineering. I loved my years at university.  Besides the fun that a campus education in the United States can offer, I really enjoyed everything that I was learning.  It was heavily in the maths and sciences, my strong subjects.  The rate I was learning was amazing- sometimes too quick.

Then, I took my first job as a bridge designer, and the learning continued.  I was taking the textbook stuff from university and applying it to real life.  My bridges were no longer schematic diagrams!

Also added to the mix of learning was some stuff that wasn’t in my textbooks like budgets and getting along with difficult people with limited interpersonal skills.  I would soon learn that this skill would come in handy a lot.

But as soon as I recognized that the rate of learning was slowing, I left and went to another company and role.  I learned more.

This quest eventually led me to an entirely different country and that learning curve was the biggest.  There were certainly technical differences, but the real challenge came from the culture shock of working on a major project with what seemed like people from a thousand different nations.

From there, my career kept expanding to different types of roles or projects, but then it all just seemed to slow down.  I was still learning but at diminishing returns.

When I was last in the United States in 2013, I threw a New Year’s Eve party for my family.  As part of a game, I interviewed my three nieces (10, 6 and 4 years old at the time).  One of the questions I asked them was,

“What is the meaning of life?”

The youngest answered with confidence and self-assurance with “walking”. I remember this vividly as it was so sweet and innocent. I also remember thinking that this 4 year old probably has the meaning of life figured out better than any adult I know.

I’m not sure what the meaning of life is, but I hope the answer is as simple as walking.

If I had to define the meaning of life, part of the equation would include learning.  Yet, most of us just associate learning with something we do at the beginning of our lives so that we can spend the second part of it in a “good paying job”.

Although I think learning is happening at some rate for even those that are not conscience of its presence, there are very few of us humans walking around with learning as our primary objective of life.

So I had a choice and I decided that it was time to put learning back at the top of my priority list.  I made a list of goals:

  1. Find a part-time job where I could use my current skill set but was in a role that allowed for learning.  The part-time bit was key – I needed the time to pursue the rest of the goals on this list.
  2. Use the right side of my brain in equal parts to the left so that the creative side of me doesn’t shrivel up and die a slow and painful death. I decided I wanted to start taking art classes and start a blog.
  3. I also realized that I had got so engrossed in the management side of engineering, that I lost my basic skills in math and physics. I wanted to revisit those in some way.  I was on the math team as a child and now I can’t multiply numbers without a calculator.
  4. I wanted to learn how to use graphic design software. It’s like CAD for artist.
  5. I wanted my life to be at a pace that I was eating out less and cooking for myself more.
  6. Read more…lots more.
  7. I wanted to be better at sewing.  All the women in my family are great at it and I suck at it.  It’s probably because I took shop and drafting in high school instead of home economics.   I think it is a good skill to have and there is nothing more satisfying when you can do something yourself.

So that’s how this blog happened and why I decided on the name of “the art of being civil”.  I’m a civil engineer, a novice artist, an observer and someone that enjoys making others laugh.

This blog includes all of my personal insights, but I hope to learn from my followers, too. I’m always looking for new topics for this blog.  If you have something you want me to write about or something you think I might want to post, please email me!