To begin with …“when the will is sincere, the heart is set right.”
Confucius said that. At the time, approximately a bloody long time ago, he was talking about how the route to achieving a harmonious society must first begin with a harmonious individual. Indeed, the secret to world peace was inner peace, and the secret to inner peace was that whatever we choose to do, we must seek to do it with our whole heart…
While reading this, I couldn’t help but think about how today you’re far more likely to hear somebody decry their work rather than embrace it. For a typical person their job is not defining who they are. It isn’t their purpose. It’s merely an exchange of a certain portion of time and effort to provide the financial means to pursue their true passions.
Engineers on the other hand, while rarely described as being “typical people,” can’t be so easily separated from their jobs. Bound by obligation, engineers are inevitably a reflection of their works. To paraphrase that ludicrous definition of “engineering” from that PD Textbook from first-year: we design stuff, we build stuff, we make stuff work, or if it already works we make it work better. We are defined by stuff…literally.
So while it’s fair to say that engineers are inextricably linked-to and in part defined by their jobs, more so than the average person, can it also be said that we enter into our work with a greater sincerity? After all, not every job is equal, and while it’s pretty easy to pull a Confucius and simply say, “People should just like what they do, and give all of themselves to it”, there are some really unpleasant tasks waiting out there and of varying degrees of importance. To quote a popular exchange from the 1999 film Office Space:
Peter Gibbon: “Our high school guidance counsellor used to ask us what would you do if you had a million dollars and didn’t have to work. And invariably, whatever you’d say, that was supposed to be your career…”
Michael Bolton: “…If that quiz worked, there would be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.”
Now, the eventual replacement of humans by robots for menial labour tasks aside, as well as the subsequent robot-wars when they decide that they also don’t want to clean up after people, there’s always someone at the bottom of the totem pole that has to do the work no one else wants to do. Indeed, a lot of coop jobs often feel a lot like sanitation engineering.
However, maybe there’s a dignity in doing the worst tasks. Maybe at the end of the day, engineers are like Spiderman, always doing the right thing even though we suffer for it. After all, knowledge is power, and “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
So, whether what waits for you are glamorous works and sweeping accolades, or ones a little more lack-lustre that few will appreciate, know that deep where western glooms are gathering, there’s a Dangerman holding up his fist and telling you straight-up, “Wolverines!”.
 i.e. the 6th Century BCE
 Edwin Arlington Robinson “Luke Havergal” 1897
 The film Red Dawn from 1984 with the Swayze.