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Turning 40 and Realizing the Crushing Power of the Wrong Path
Episode 544th July 2023 • Forty Drinks: The Podcast About Turning 40 • Stephanie McLaughlin
00:00:00 00:48:55

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Tara McFarland followed a path of shoulds straight through college and to a career that, while it may have been stable, dependable and well paying (just like her parents said), left her broken into a million pieces. Her journey back to herself passed through a spiritual awakening and some ‘woo woo’ stuff she wasn’t quite sure her analytical mind believed in. Despite that, she finally felt like she was in a flow, versus constantly fighting what was happening around her. She started thinking of the ‘woo woo’ stuff akin to God and religion. Feeling connected to something larger has helped her get more grounded, even though it sounds like it wouldn't necessarily do that.

Guest Bio

Tara is a catalyst for change in the engineering industry. She challenges the status quo of societal norms, helping her clients unlock the gifts they buried long ago under layers of expectations of how one “should” be as an engineer.

Her journey back to herself began when she burned out of her 20-year civil engineering career landing on her living room floor shattered. Recognizing she was deeply unhappy and completely out of alignment, she chose to lean into support from people around her, unleashing a life-changing emotional and spiritual awakening.

Guiding her clients with understanding and compassion, Tara creates a sacred space to examine their old stories and create new ones. Bridging the worlds of analytical thinking and intuitive flow, they learn to embrace all of themselves, unlock their gifts and lead with audacity.

Turning 40 and Realizing the Crushing Power of the Wrong Path

Tara McFarland worked as an engineer for the government department that owned and operated dams in the western United States making sure that the dams are safe for the people who live below them.

She wasn’t a typical STEM student. She was an artistic kid, a ballet dancer and she loved to read, though she was good at math. Her family was very science oriented. Her parents are both geologists and, as the oldest of four, Tara felt that it was expected that she would follow a science or engineering path. Her parents encouraged her to pursue engineering because it was a stable, dependable career; she’d always have a job and get paid well. 

Her course of study at the Colorado School of Mines was grueling and it was during that period that she picked up a habit of perfectionism. She went from being a straight A student to a C student and felt like it was a constant struggle to get through the material. She says she put on blinders and climbed straight up the achieving ladder, from bachelor’s degree to master’s degree to jobs where she could continue to achieve and advance. 

By her 30s, though, she had found a balance in the engineering world and a niche that fit her. In her early 40s she got promoted to a program manager, her first non-technical role and one that she thought would continue her professional advancement. However, she was missing key communication and leadership skills and there wasn’t enough support or training available to ensure her success. Instead she started to realize she felt like a square peg in a round hole.  

Most of her career, she struggled with feeling like an imposter despite positive performance reviews. Internally, she was a wreck. Externally she had her armor and put on a good facade of knowing what she was doing. She was aggressive because she felt like she always had to prove herself. And she thought there would come a day and a position where she’d finally feel effective and then she would be happy. She was constantly searching for signs of worthiness in her job by pursuing promotions. 

Tara says we’re conditioned to make things work, even if it doesn’t feel good for us.  

During this time, Tara was having chronic issues with her neck and shoulders. Her childhood love of ballet led her to be a Jazzercise instructor, but she had to give that up. Chiropractic and massage and acupuncture weren’t solving the problem. 

She was married with two kids and working so hard at work but didn’t realize that it all added up to too much stress for her body. 

After a particularly bad meeting at work, Tara took a sick day, sat on her living room floor and felt shattered in a million pieces. She felt like her career was crumbling. She felt like her entire 20-year career was a huge mistake, but her identity was wrapped up in her career. If she wasn’t a female engineer climbing the corporate ladder, then who was she? 

She turned to a bodyworker she had been seeing for a couple years, who had already been talking to her about stress. She reached out and said, “I’m falling apart. Can you help me?”

She decided she needed to make a change at work and transitioned to part time. In some of the space she created, she started journaling. She learned how to *just be* again instead of always looking for her next step forward. She found journaling helped her process heavy or hard emotions. 

At work she shifted her focus from project management to investigating how the teams are working, which felt like a much better fit. She worked part time for a couple of years and then left the safety of that job to start something of her own, though she wasn’t prepared for the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. Despite that, she finally felt like she was in a flow, versus constantly fighting what was happening around her. 

Entrepreneurship didn’t take off on the first try, so Tara started working part time at an engineering consulting firm. It’s a good fit because she’s able to bring her coaching and leadership development skills to this job while she’s building her coaching practice. But, with consideration to being in flow, she finds that the right people are now finding her and opportunities have been showing up for her. And her imposter syndrome has melted away. 

Tara calls her shift a “spiritual awakening.” The work she was doing with her energy worker was profound yet inexplicable. Her descent into the world of the “woo woo” unlocked parts of her that hadn’t previously been available. And her analytical, engineering mind wondered if she believed in what was happening, but she decided that it didn’t matter. 

“The stuff that I am believing in now is similar to, I was raised in a church, is similar to that idea and concept of God and everything else that goes along with religion. It's just a different form and, for me, it came through in a different way. But feeling connected to something larger than myself or to an energy or energies around me has really helped me to get a lot more grounded, even though it sounds like it wouldn't necessarily do that.”


The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing/Communications

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Stephanie: Hi Tara. Welcome to the 40 Drinks podcast.

Tara: Hi Stephanie.

Stephanie: So great to have you here today. I wanna talk about your transformation in your forties, which you have just characterized to me as a spiritual awakening. So I wanna get into that and sort of roll around with that and have fun with talking about that. But before we jump that far, why don't we sort of back up a few steps and let's set the stage for kind of where you were in your early to mid thirties. Why don't you tell me a little bit about your formative adult years?

Tara: Oh yeah, there's a lot there in the early to mid thirties. I was a newly minted professional engineer. I had my master's degree in civil engineering. I had a bachelor's degree in geological engineering. I was finding my way in the corporate world, in my thirties. I had just transitioned from a consulting job to the government and I was working for the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates a whole bunch of dams in the Western United States. So basically, I'm a dam engineer. That's all you really need to know.

Stephanie: And we can use that double entendre, right?

Tara: Oh yeah, we love the puns.

Stephanie: Now, let me ask you, what drew you to engineering?

Tara: So that's really kind of a curious thing because I wasn't really your typical math nerd or science nerd or anything like that. Growing up as a kid, I was actually very artistic. I was a ballet dancer. I was super girly. I loved all, all things like that. I love to read. But I was good in math and my family is very much a sciencey type family. So my dad's a geologist and my mom she also has a geology degree. She loves math, so she pursued her master's degree in engineering. I'm the oldest as well, right? I'm the oldest of four, and it was just always known that I would likely follow the science and or engineering path. So I went to the Colorado School of Mines, cuz I grew up in Denver, Colorado. And why not go to a really good engineering school that's in your backyard if you can get into it? And it took me five years to graduate. It was grueling. It was really, really hard. I feel like that's where perfectionism really started to set in big time with me. Like it was just so hard to move through all the stuff and to feel like I wasn't doing it. I went from a straight A student to basically a C student when I was in college. It was kind of like this constant fight to get through it. Now by the time I got to my thirties though, I had found a balance in the engineering world where I really liked the type of engineering that I was doing, which is soils. Uses a little bit of my geology and then brings in the civil engineering piece. I kind of basically was playing in dirt a lot and I'm always kind of like mission and vision driven. So to go into this position that was all about making sure that our dams are safe for the people who live below them, was really a fit for me. So then I was able to like continue making it work.

Stephanie: Nice. Well, I ask about the engineering because it sounds a little bit like it was the family business. Also I come from a family of engineers. So my dad was a Double E, my mom has a geology degree as well and loves to play in the dirt and play with rocks. Although she spent a lot of her career in solid waste management. I have a younger brother who's a mechanical engineer, and then my youngest brother is a quality engineer. So, me with my liberal arts degree, I don't know how I became the black swan, but, you know, I am. There's a paradigm that I have talked about in the past when I tell people about this whole concept of sort of first adulthood and second adulthood. And, the first adulthood is, is where you do all the things that you should and all the things that you are encouraged or advised to do by the people who are guiding or mentoring, or loving you. Our parents, our bosses, our mentors, all those people. But they're making recommendations based on what they think you should do to be successful and have a great and solid life. So were you getting that kind of guidance and or gentle pushing towards engineering from home?

Tara: I definitely was getting guidance and pushing towards engineering from home. My favorite subject in high school was history.

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: And when I started to look at colleges and what I wanted to do, um, but I did also like science, right? I just grew up in the environment.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: So when I was exploring what to do for colleges, the refrain that kept coming up was, well, what are you gonna do with a history degree? Do you wanna teach because you'd have to be a teacher if you get a history degree. And I was like, I don't wanna teach. That did not hold any kind of interest for me at all. Then it was also, well, you can get this degree, it's a solid degree, you'll always have a job. You'll be stable and secure and you'll get paid well. So, you are good in math. Why don't you just go do this? And I had good grades

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: cuz I'm a high achieving person. So yeah, they kind of pushed that way.

Stephanie: Yeah.That's one of the examples that I have used when I've talked to people about this I use a different, profession, but you know, grandpa was a lawyer and dad was a lawyer. So, I'm gonna go into law and I go to law school and then I get the corporate job and, you do all those things and then you wake up in your mid to late thirties and you're like, what am I doing? This isn't my life. I didn't choose this. And it turns out I don't love it and I might not even like it. So now I have this degree or this profession and I just want to kind of blow it all up. And it, it sounds like there was a little bit of similarity there for you.

Tara: For sure. Once I got through kind of the blow up phase, I started to use the phrase, all I did was just put the blinders on and go.

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: It was just a straight line right up that achieving ladder, get the degree, work, figure out what I'm gonna do for my master's, get the master's degree, keep working, go to the next job that's gonna pay me more money, try to find a place where I can keep climbing the ladder. And that's where I found myself in my thirties was in an organization where I really thought I was going to stay there until I retired.

Stephanie: Yeah, I've had that job too. Didn't work out so well for me either. So for about 15 years you worked for the federal government, and you got promotions and, so in your early forties, you find yourself, for the first time in a non-technical role, you got promoted to a program manager.

Tara: Right.

I had spent nine years in like their technical design arm, if you wanna put it that way of the organization. But I was always kind of interested in the big picture and like managing projects. I was never super interested in being like the go-to expert. So when the role opened up in this program management role, I saw that as a stepping stone. It was more of a lateral move at the time, but it was a stepping stone towards, oh, this is how I continue moving up the ladder. I didn't see it in the technical side for me, so I had to switch and go do something else. And so I took this role and I mean, I've had known most of the people in that office. I had worked closely with them. They all knew me. It wasn't like I was walking into something brand, brand new. And it was, it actually was a good fit, but what I didn't realize at the time was that I was really missing a key piece in terms of communication and leadership. I had no idea what I was walking into when all of a sudden I was gonna be in charge of projects that had multiple offices. They all have their different priorities, multiple disciplines. I'm all of a sudden dealing with people who are not engineers and don't speak my language,

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: and I didn't really know what to do with it.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. And was there support for you in that role?

Tara: You know, I would say no, because I feel like if there was support, I probably wouldn't have hit a wall necessarily. There was a little bit, but what I have found is that sending people through project management training and they go to four courses does not constitute support for developing leadership skills or developing communication skills. I found out in these project management classes that I had access to executive coaching, so I asked for executive coaching and I got it for, I think I had it for like six months. It was like every other week and it was okay. I think that what that did for me though was start to like trigger a little bit of I feel like a square peg in a round hole situation. Like all of a sudden it was, I really feel different than I think people see me.

Stephanie: Ooh.

Tara: I think it started to trigger something, to go through that. It didn't necessarily make my life easier.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: I needed more of it, really, really was what happening. But there was kind of like this trigger of like, something's not fitting.

Stephanie: So you just said something really interesting. You said it triggered something for you realizing that you felt different than how people saw you. Can you tell me the two versions?

Tara: Well, a couple years into this job, so this is after the coaching, this is a perfect illustration of the two versions of me. So I often felt like an imposter. Probably my entire career, starting from fighting my way through the Colorado School of Mines, I felt like an imposter because I wasn't super into the technical side of engineering. I just made things work, but I was kind of internalizing all of this perfectionism, imposter stuff, right? Well, we had a 360 degree review done in our office, and when I got my results, I looked at it and the HR representative sat down with me and went through all the results with me, and I was split. Literally had no mean. People either loved me and loved the work that I did and loved working with me, or they couldn't stand me. And I remember sitting there looking at these results and just going like, I don't even know what to do with this.

Stephanie: Right.

Tara: Right.

Stephanie: Where's the path forward from love hate?

Tara: Yeah, exactly. And I was like, I don't know what's happening. I'm just trying to get work done. And I thought we were all on the same team. So, that showed me how people viewed me and the whole time I was feeling not good enough yet I had people saying that they really liked to work with me

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: and they really wanted me on their teams. And I was always like, are you sure? I feel like that guy over there is smarter than me. You know what I mean?

Stephanie: Yeah,

Tara: So there was lot of that going on for me where I just had no idea even who I was.

Stephanie: But a 15 year plus career, cuz you worked in consulting before you went to the federal government. I mean, a 15 year career has gotta say that you're at least good enough at your job to hold a job. You know what I mean? If you felt like you didn't even know what you were doing there, I'm curious about that sort of dichotomy.

Tara: I think that's where my ability to compartmentalize and put blinders on and just kinda walk down a straight line without even thinking about it is really where that comes in. There's this great quote that I heard in a personal growth and development class where it's like the universe will whisper to you and then it might get a little louder and it might start talking to you and then it might kind of like tap you on the shoulder. And then eventually you need a big whack with a two by four to wake up. So I'm the two by four variety because I was here going, I don't really feel like I fit in. I don't know. I never feel good enough. It didn't matter that I was getting really good performance reviews throughout my career, none of that mattered. Internally, I was just this wreck. on the outside, I had this really good facade that I knew what I was doing. I was pretty armored up. I was pretty aggressive and assertive because I felt like I had to prove myself all the time. But I thought that's what I did and I thought that if I just keep checking off these boxes and I get into a position where I finally feel like I'm effective, even though I was being effective everywhere else, if I feel like I'm effective, then I will be happy. And I was constantly searching for that outside of myself in a job by seeking out promotions.

Stephanie: That sounds terrible.

Tara: Yeah,

Stephanie: Oh my goodness. It sounds exhausting. It sounds stressful. It's funny though that you talk about the universe. I usually say that same thought the universe is gonna keep sending you the same lesson over and over again until you learn it, and it's likely to get bigger and bigger until it gets your attention. It's sort of the same thing. And I'm a two by four girl as well myself for sure.

Tara: We're conditioned well to make it work. I think that's really what it comes down to is that in general, that's one of our roles is to make things work, even if it doesn't feel good for us.

Stephanie: Yep . Speaking of feeling good for you, how were you feeling at the time?

Tara: At the time that all of this was happening, I had been having years of issues with my neck and my shoulders. Like I was super active, I was a Jazzercize instructor. That love of ballet continued on into Jazzercise. Um, and I ended up having to quit doing that because I just had this chronic tightness that I couldn't get rid of. And then switched to a different type of workout at a gym where at least things were a little bit more varied in terms of what I was doing and how I could modify, cause you can't modify easily if you're on the stage. And so really I had spent, God up to this point, I probably had spent almost 10 years working with various chiropractors and massage therapists and trying some acupuncture and whatever, just trying to keep my body together. So, and it wasn't working.

Stephanie: Hmm.

Tara: I would go to these massage therapists and inevitably, it still happens today even though I'm much better, but inevitably they would just be like, why are you so tight? You're so tight. It would be hard for them to work on me and I would just be like, I don't know.

Stephanie: Right.

Tara: I had no idea what stress did to my body.

Stephanie: Yeah. I'm chuckling a little bit because I feel everything you're talking about. I have a chiropractor who I love, who I've talked about in the past, who keeps me functional. I have a pair of massage therapists that I switch back and forth from, and, yeah, my massage therapist laugh at me that my traps are rocks. And, if I'm not at the chiropractor pretty regularly, then I've headaches. Yeah. I get it all in my neck and head. That's where I hold my stress as well. So I feel you. As a matter of fact, I do acupuncture every week now as well, just to try to get up and over these humps of stress and of holding things in the body,

Tara: Oh, yeah. I still have to do all of it. If I don't, it all comes back.

Stephanie: Right. And I have to remind people when I have regular massages that it's not necessarily oh, I'm going to the spa for a day. It's body work. Because if I don't do it, then I break down. Yeah. Yeah.

All right, so your body's starting to break down. You're having massive issues holding stress in your body. You told me that at least once a month you would wake up and not be able to even turn your head.

Tara: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that sucked. So it meant I wasn't sleeping well too. And I mean, I was working full-time. I'm married. And at this time, I think my oldest was in preschool because we ended up having kids later in life. And so my oldest was like preschool and the youngest was like a toddler. And I'm just juggling all the things, saying things like, everything's fine. I should be fine, because my husband helps out a lot. He's super involved and I was able to do the workouts and go to yoga classes and see the people to try to keep me together. I was not putting two and two together that this actually was way too much stress for me.

Stephanie: So when you did finally have that realization, what did you do?

Tara: Well I had the realization, like I said, two by four. I had a talk with my supervisor and my superior about a certain meeting that I had been in on this big project that I was managing about how I looked angry the whole time that I was in the meeting. I didn't even really talk in that meeting. I took notes, so I thought I was doing, doing well

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: because I was just sitting there taking notes. But, I had offended some guy who had 35 years experience and they felt like they had to talk to me. It was in that moment that I was sitting there talking to both of them, feeling like I wasn't being heard. I think a lot of what I felt like I was running up against was like, I feel like no one's hearing me and I wasn't feeling supported in this. I just felt I keep being told I need to change something, except I really don't know how to change it. I just remember going home that day and taking a sick day. I started crying in that meeting, it was such a mess. It was just, you know, don't wanna cry in front of my supervisor and my superior, but didn't matter. I just started to break down.

Stephanie: And, and I'm gonna try real hard not to go off on a tangent about men who complain about the faces we make.

Tara: Oh, I know. I wear all my emotions on my face too.

Stephanie: Oh my God. I try so hard not to swear on the podcast, just to make it as comfortable for as many people as possible. And just so anybody listening, please know that I am strangling my inner pirate right now cuz I want to go nuts

on Tara's behalf because that is bs.

Tara: We won't go off on this like super huge tangent, but I will say that the most trouble I think I have had with it in my career has been with men who are much older than me complaining about how I was acting or what I was doing or whatever else.

Stephanie: Or what your face looked like.

Tara: Or Right. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean,

Stephanie: I'm seething right now. Seething.

Tara: But it's also a part and parcel of we can't show up as ourselves at work. We're not allowed to

Stephanie: Right,

Tara: we've trying to like mold ourselves and stick ourselves in this tiny little box built for somebody else and then eventually for some of us, like me, it just falls apart. I could not do it any longer. And And after that meeting, I think it was like maybe another month or so of me trying to figure out what was I gonna do? And I just felt broken, I remember at one point just sitting on my living room floor and I felt like I literally shattered in a million pieces. I was just sitting there like, I don't know what to do. I was seeing my entire career just crumble, cause I was like, I can't take this. How am I supposed to advance up to like an executive level

Stephanie: Right.

Tara: if I'm doing this now and I'm like mid-level.

Stephanie: You're 45 at this point in time, you're 45, you're shattered in a million little pieces, and you have a husband and two kids, and a job that's not working.

Tara: Yeah. And 20 years of a career. I was wondering what the hell have I done for the last 20 years? I mean, literally, this was a huge mistake,

Stephanie: Right. right? My life was a huge mistake. Yeah.

Tara: Yeah. And my whole identity was wrapped up in engineering too, like who am I, if I am not this, female engineer climbing the corporate ladder and crawling through that broken glass ceiling. It was a huge existential crisis. I had no idea what to do.

Stephanie: So what did you do?

Tara: I phoned a friend. I had been seeing somebody for body work for I think at this point, maybe about a year, year and a half, maybe. And he was the first person who really started to kind of push me on like, how much stress do you have in your life? And I was like, you don't know anything. Yeah, yeah, it's fine. Um,

Stephanie: And P.S., a normal amount of stress, right?

Tara: I thought it was normal. Yeah. It was like a normal amount of stress. I hire you stretch out my body and, you know, keep my neck

from freezing up. And he just kind of kept at it. We would joke that he'd be like, I found all the little chinks in your armor. And I was able to like, get in there and talk. So at the time that this happened, I didn't really know who to turn to, but I knew that he had done personal growth and development work. Like he was super into all this stuff that I was like totally not sure about or actually actively saying no to. But I didn't know who else to talk to about this and he knew enough about my background and everything else that had been going on that I ended up emailing him. I think it was the same day that I read Brene Brown's blog post about the universe, it's not a, a midlife crisis, it's a midlife unraveling. She has a blog post on her site about that. And I was like, uh, I'm in this and I don't know what to do. And so the only thing I knew to do at that point was email this guy and say, I'm falling apart. Can you help me?

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: And he said yes. And so now I had somebody in my corner who really was supporting me and really was like, let me help you figure this out. And

Stephanie: And supporting you with no agenda either,

Tara: Right. Yeah.

Stephanie: let's make you better at your job. Let's make you a better mom. Let's make you a better wife. Let's make you a better daughter. Like no agenda other than oh yeah, you need help. I can do that.

Tara: Yeah, exactly. And he had done some personal growth and development classes and he had presented them to me like I think this might be good for you. And of course I had been like, don't talk to me about that stuff.

Stephanie: Yeah, if you're like me, you rolled your eyes for multiple years before you actually endeavored to accept any of the guidance.

Tara: Pretty much, yeah. I had been working with him for a solid year and a half, probably more than that, when I found out that he was like a shaman who did energy work, and I was like, oh yeah, I remember reading that on his website and I totally just not looking at that.

Stephanie: Right. You wouldn't even acknowledge it.

Tara: No. I was super, super shut down around anything like that. Part of it is just analytical brain. I'm an engineer. If I can't see it and touch it, it's not real. Things like that.

Stephanie: If I can't dig in it.

Tara: I can't dig in it,

Stephanie: Which is ironic, right? Because it's, it's, as it turns out, you can dig in it.

Tara: yes.


Stephanie: So I'm curious, this body worker that you had been seeing for a while, what was the first thing he offered you when you asked for help?

Tara: We actually talked like the next day or something like that. We had a phone conversation. And what he offered to me was the same thing he had been offering to me for a few months, which was to go to this three day class through PSI seminars, which is a personal growth and development company. Before I had been like, no, at the time I was talking to him on the phone, I was like, no, still don't wanna go.

Stephanie: You're losing your conviction. Yeah.

Tara: Yeah. I'm like, still don't wanna go. I know who to ask if I'm ever ready. Cuz at this point I'm trying to figure out what my next step is like, I can't go do this right now. I mean, it was kind of funny. But then, but then he backed off, at least he didn't push it, he just kind of backed off and we just continued talking. I, I think I was seeing him like every other week or something for the body work. So he basically just started coaching me in my sessions. So

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: I was like getting a two for one, some little life coaching

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: some body work. And I think I just started to like really open up a lot more and let some of the stuff out that I'd been holding inside for so long.

Stephanie: Meaning just talking about it.

Tara: Talking about it. and I had had emotions coming up during body work, which was new for me. I had done a ton of body work with massage and things like that, and I never cried on the table until I started doing this type of work.

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: So I was starting to get a little bit more comfortable with, okay, I can be emotional in front of somebody and things like that. It was like I had this little nice context of space where I could go to this appointment and I could fall apart if I needed to. And then I would like gather myself back together and like go back out into the world and try to function, as all of this stuff was happening. And meanwhile at work, I was finally to the point where I was like, I have to ask for what I need and what I need is to get off this project.

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: And probably not to work full-time cuz otherwise I'm not gonna be able to figure anything out.

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: So it was just kind of a process over a couple months of just kind of going, okay, now that this happened, how do I put it back together?

Stephanie: So you ask them to go part-time and they say yes.

Tara: They did. Yeah. It was funny because I felt like I wasn't supported for so long, and then when this happened and I started really asking for what I needed, the support was actually there.

Stephanie: Hmm

Tara: I wasn't told like, we can't do that because your position's a full-time position. They just said, okay, we'll figure it out. So I ended up cutting my hours and I had to juggle this project for a while cause it took like eight months to hire somebody into my position. But all the while I was working less. And really it's like my mindset started to shift where I went, I'm not gonna be climbing this ladder anymore, so I was able just to kind of be in the job without thinking, what is my next step? Which took a lot of pressure and stress off. It was like the next step was just for me to feel okay with who I am.

Stephanie: Wow. And how are you using these newly found hours in your days and weeks as part of this journey?

Tara: Oh man. I was journaling a lot. There's a lot of journaling.

Stephanie: Had you just started journaling at this point, or is that something you'd always done?

Tara: I was picking it back up. I actually like bought a notebook and like wrote in it, you know?

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: I had maintained a blog for several years. I had this little tiny corner of the internet that I had been basically using as a diary essentially that other people could read. But as I started going through this process, there was just stuff that had to be written down that nobody else read. I just had to get things out. So I did a lot of journaling, and not much else initially. I was just learning how to how to just sort of be again, instead of, what am I doing?

Stephanie: Right, right. Can you describe to me what you found as the benefit of all the writing and the journaling? What did that do for you?

Tara: For me, journaling is my outlet, a lot of times. When something's happening that's heavy or it's hard or I just have all this emotion, I don't know what to do with it. Writing it down for me is very cathartic and it also was helping me understand that I might have a story to tell and it just helps like relieve some of the pressure of the heavy emotions that are coming up.

Stephanie: Okay.

Tara: It's just my way of getting it out. I've talked to my husband before about this. He's tried it, it doesn't work for him. He gets on his mountain bike.

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: Right. I'm like, I need to do that and write it out.

Stephanie: Speaking of your husband, how were things going at home while you were falling apart into a million pieces with two little kids and a husband and a home?

Tara: Oh, it was bumpy.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: I would say it was really bumpy. My husband was very supportive, going part-time he's super supportive of that. Initially that's kind of where it was he was being supportive, but when I finally went to the three day class and it was like my head exploded, that's when things turned on and now it's figure out who I am for real. I took a few months of like not doing much of anything and then I went to this class and then it was kind of like, game on. What am I actually gonna be doing with my life? How do I want my life to look? Oh, I can have a vision? That's interesting. Well, does any of this stuff fit my vision? It was kind of rough because I had to still be a mom and I still had to have a relationship with my husband, but at the same time, we were almost not even in the same book for a while.

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: It got pretty bumpy and it was really uncomfortable for probably like two years.

Stephanie: Wow, that's a long time.

Tara: Yeah.

Stephanie: The visions that you were developing for yourself, did they include your husband and your kids? Was that part of what you wanted for yourself?

Tara: They did. And I didn't tell myself this, but looking back, I think it was some kind of an energy I was in wasI have created this life, like some of what I was going through in terms of like waking up and what am I actually gonna do and who do I want to be didn't really include running away from the life that I created. I mean, I definitely sometimes wanted to because it just felt like I can't even keep myself together. How am I supposed to keep anybody else okay? Right. And so it got kind of dicey, but at the same time, the overall vision was still we are a family unit and we are moving forward. Eventually, well, you it's got a little stuck there.

Stephanie: Sure, sure. Yeah. Not every marriage makes it through the unraveling. Part of the reason I ask, sometimes people realize, I chose somebody for the wrong reasons, or I'm with the wrong person. Or, as I grow this person is either isn't allowing me to grow or isn't growing with me, you so sometimes they don't make it. But, that sounds like a real conscious decision you made, not to throw all the babies and the bathwater out.

Tara: Exactly. But we got real close to that, I'm not gonna lie. When the pandemic hit, it was really bad. We did a lot of counseling, lots therapy. But we were able to work through it, but we walked right up to that line for sure.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: Yeah, it, it's rough. This stuff is really rough on relationships.

Stephanie: Yeah. I'm just curious, and not that this conversation is about him, but was your husband going through any sort of unraveling of his own or had he built a life that he was happy with?

Tara: That was kind of the issue that we had was he had built the life that he was happy with and he was happy with just being him. And what I couldn't understand was cuz I, cuz I went through the class and then I asked him to go to the class and he said, okay, yeah, I'll go to the class. So he goes to the class and then of course, I had this huge revelation and he went to the class and went, that was kind of cool. And then we continued on and, and did some more classes together, but what was happening was we were having very different experiences and I was really struggling to reconcile like, well, why wouldn't you wanna like dive deep and like unravel all this stuff? And he's like, cuz I'm fine with the way things are.

Stephanie: Yep,

Tara: It's not to say there hasn't been like any sort of expanding of worldview or anything happening for him, it just was very different. And so that was a lot of the tension that was going on. Especially as I was all of a sudden thinking about starting my own company and I had never ever thought I was gonna do that. I totally thought I was gonna retire in the government

Stephanie: Right,

Tara: and be very stable and all of a sudden I was doing things that are kind of scary.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. So you were able to stay part-time at your old job for a couple of years while you worked through some of this. Is that right?

So I would say in the fall of:

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: And so I just kept doing what I was doing and started to look for ways that I could bring in some of these concepts that I was liking. Also pointing out things that I was seeing, but I never really acknowledged that I was seeing them because I always thought that like, oh, maybe I got it wrong. But really it was my intuition talking to me.

Stephanie: Gimme an example.

Tara: Well one of the examples was this project that I was on, the one that I kind of joke now was the one that broke me. But there were so many communication issues between offices, between different disciplines and it always seemed weird to me because we were all supposed to be on the same team cuz we all worked for the same agency and we were supposed to be all working together to do whatever we needed to do to make sure that the dams are safe. And so I always had trouble with like, why is it that we always seem to be kind of fighting a little bit, like there's a little bit of in-fighting on every project. And this particular project, it sort of felt like we never quite really gelled as a team. So, once I started like doing the personal growth and development work and starting to trust my intuition, then I was able to go to my supervisor at the time who had changed by this point, and say, hey, I think we should look at how our teams are working. And, I had been listening to Brene Brown podcasts and at this point I think I've been through almost all of her books. And I was starting to get this idea that maybe it wasn't just me.

Stephanie: Right, right.

Tara: So I had this proposal to take a look at this stuff that I presented to my boss and he agreed. And it turned out I I didn't just happen to be in the right place at the right time, but he happened to be somebody that I had a relationship with because he had moved up within the group I was in. So I had known him for several years at this point and he also was looking for how can we improve the way we do things. And so it ended up being a really great synergy between the two of us because he was too busy to address it, and I was looking for something to do as I was exploring like, what really is my next career going to look like or what am I gonna do with it? Cuz I don't think it's the engineering stuff,

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: at least not the way I've been doing it. So yeah, so I'm working part-time and I was able to get this ball rolling and interview a whole bunch of people who had worked on our projects and asked people what did they think went well, didn't go well, what are our opportunities. And, I had so much fun doing that, that I was like, oh, this is what I'm built for.

I was super excited to get on these Teams calls for two hours at a time and just have people brainstorm and just dump ideas and whatever.

Stephanie: Interesting.

Tara: And put all together and figure out like, Hey, what's going on there? So that's basically what I did. I had a couple other duties, but that was my main focus for the remaining time I had there, which was awesome. Otherwise, I'm sure I would've left earlier.

Stephanie: Right, right. So you made it through the pandemic at that job. You, you were Well, you know,

Tara: Pandemic ish. I mean, like 20 21,

Stephanie: it depends on how you qualify

Tara: still kind of a mess.

e: yeah, yeah. Almost through:

Tara: At the time that I left my job, which was November of 2021. I had registered an LLC and I was working on building a coaching business. It's funny, like sometimes the trajectory that people can go through when you start unraveling and figuring out like, what is it I really wanna do and how do I wanna help people? When I first kind of started leaning into this, I was like, I'm going to change the engineering industry and I'm going to bring them all the things they don't know that they need. Which, I have learned you don't do that. it's a little egotistical to do that.

Stephanie: Well, and also you can't move mountains.

Tara: Well, right. And I think that I was trying to move mountains.

Stephanie: Yeah.

he next year launching it. So:

Stephanie: Mm-hmm. And yet its not a straight line.

Tara: It is so not a straight line. Now I'm okay with it's no straight lines because I did that for a year and then now I find myself again, I'm working part-time in an engineering consulting firm. Now the difference is that I am actually bringing my coaching into that firm because where I work now, they built in leadership training into their culture, which is like unheard of, but it works really well. And it's funny cuz I feel like I wear two hats all the time. Like, I still have this other company over here and I'm working that and I'm figuring it out and I needed to kind of go back into the engineering space because now what I'm finding is all the people who want to do what I'm doing are finding me. We're all finding each other,

Stephanie: Right.

Tara: And now I have this group of core friends who we just want to bring in like a broader conversation. We need to talk about leadership, we need to talk about the human factors that go along with our industry.

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: And the last few months have just been amazing with opportunities that have been showing up.

Stephanie: For your own business or for the consulting business that you're back at work at? Or both?

Tara: It's not even my own business, but I would say like just the opportunity to step into something different within the context of the industry and to show up differently. And to notice what happens when I show up and I'm like, I like to do life coaching and training and all these, but I can still speak your language.

Stephanie: Right, because now you can run a true AB experiment, right? Because you spent all that time in this precise environment as Tara 1.0, and now you're in the same environment, obviously a different organization, but the same engineering environment, and you're a Tara 2.0

Tara: Mm-hmm.

Stephanie: and it's a whole different experience.

Tara: It's completely different. I started to recognize last summer that the imposter syndrome thing, that was starting to go away. Now it's something that maybe shows up and I go, oh, that's what that is. I've been able to become the observer of everything that's happening around me, to a certain extent, so that I can not react so quickly the way I used to react. That's the beauty of doing all this unraveling work is to get to the point where it's like, oh yeah, I'm doing that again. Well, what do I wanna choose this time?

Stephanie: Yeah, for sure.

Tara: And, really understanding like where my leadership comes from and seeing that really when it comes to leadership, it's totally an inside job. It's all from the inside out. Cuz the most effective leaders, I believe are the ones who are so grounded in who they are, that it's almost effortless for them to show up. Cuz they don't have to try to pretend to be anybody else. They're just showing up as them. And then you can just lead from that space.

Stephanie: right,

Tara: It takes very little effort to show up yourself once you like really grounded in this is who I am and this is what I stand for, and these are the things I want to do.

Stephanie: Yeah. Wow. That's interesting that your experience of that engineering environment has changed so completely just by, well, there, now that goes back to one of the Wayne Dyer quotes, which is, when you change what you look at, what you look at changes, right? So, you've changed how you look at that engineering environment and now it's changed.

One last question I wanna ask youcuz this is something I think certainly that I know I sort of not struggled with, but, it was part of the whole eyerolling through the recommendations and advice of people. A lot of this stuff is kind of, I'll just categorize it as sort of like woo woo out there, right? You even called it a spiritual awakening.

Tara: Mm-hmm.

Stephanie: But you're an engineer, come on. You're like, as right angled and solid feet on the ground as there is. How does an engineer bridge that gap between what you can see, feel, and touch, and the spiritual realm, whichever pieces or parts of it are relevant and interesting to you?

Tara: That was the whole crux of the spiritual awakening was me being able to do that. Because one of the things that started to happen as I was working with this guy on the body work, I told you like emotions were coming up and I eventually found out he was a shaman and energy healer. And when we started to do more of that type of work, really weird things would happen.

Stephanie: Oh, like what?

Tara: Well, he would sometimes be like, oh, I need to clear some energy. And I would just sit there and close my eyes and I would kind of feel his hands waving and he wouldn't ever really touch me, but there was this one time I'm sitting on the table and he's just doing whatever he is doing. Then all of a sudden I felt like I was engulfed in like this tornado of light and it felt like something was trying to get in and I was not having it. So I'm sitting on the table like this, waiting for it to be over, and I've got my hands on my head and I'm like, what the hell is going on? And eventually, he stops clearing whatever energy there was. And he looked at me and he was like, Tara, they're trying to communicate with you. And I was like, who? And he's like, your guides, those guys up there. And I was like, wait, we gotta talk. Right? So so you say woo woo, like I went in the deep end of that and so it has been a process of like, yeah, I've got all this like super analytical stuff, and do I actually believe what's happening? I don't know. But then eventually I just had to trust that it doesn't matter. The stuff that I am basically believing in now is similar to I was raised in a church, is similar to that idea and concept of God and everything else that goes along with religion. It's just a different form and for me it came through in a different way. But feeling connected to something larger than myself or to like an energy or energies around me has really helped me to get a lot more grounded, even though it sounds like it wouldn't necessarily do that. But yeah, it definitely was like this whole like back and forth, like I didn't wanna tell anyone that's what was going on

Stephanie: Mm-hmm.

Tara: or that like, I was starting to believe in all this kind of weird stuff over here in left field and its not really accepted, especially the circles that I run in, you know,

Stephanie: Yep.

Tara: but I'm getting there. It's still a practice to talk about it and to just be pretty matter of fact about some weird stuff happens sometimes, and I'm okay with it.

Stephanie: yeah,

Tara: And I think everyone needs to learn how to follow their intuition and then that's like kind of part of it.

Stephanie: Right, right. That's what I was just gonna say too, is that, yeah, maybe some weird stuff happens now and then, but, you no longer feel like you're in a million pieces. You are happier, more solid. You're finding opportunities, you have a positive outlook on your future, none of which you had five or six years ago when you were a straight and narrow, feet on the ground kind of person.

Tara: Exactly. Yeah.

Stephanie: So even if it's weird, it could be the key to unlocking something that might make things better.

Tara: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

Stephanie: I like your connection of it to a religion, cuz it is, it's about believing in something you can't see and trust and faith. And for a lot of spirituality, I think it's about trust and faith in yourself and in your own gifts, and in your own, like you said, intuition. And knowing what's right for you. It's an interesting connection you made there. I like that.

Tara: Mm-hmm.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: When I first made that connection, I was like, oh, now it makes sense.

Stephanie: Right. Oh, I love that. I love that. Tara, thank you so much for joining me today and for being so generous with your story. We went into a lot of places I don't know that we had planned to go to, but, I think everything you shared is just so beautiful and I love where you are now and the fact that you're a true whole person again, and you can march forward, feeling good about yourself and what you're doing.

Tara: Yeah. Thank you. And I just hope to, show people that it's possible to show up as your whole self at work. And it doesn't even matter what you're doing, but like, just for my industry and for sure it's, what would it be like if we all showed up as ourselves and, and didn't leave pieces of ourselves behind?

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah.

Tara: could we really accomplish?

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. Great things. I'm sure. Thanks again for joining me. I wish you all the best.

Tara: Thank you.




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