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Have you ever ask yourself what is your purpose in life? What you are doing with your life and where you are heading? Why does the world seem so difficult and stressful at times and pleasant and peaceful other times?

I never seriously pondered over these types of questions until I started spending more time in isolation away from home, family and friends. There were two particular events that I experienced early in my career that forever changed my outlook on life.

Perspective on Life

After graduating from university, I started my career working for a company that engineered and manufactured industrial equipment such as process heaters, waste heat recovery units and burner management systems for oil, gas and petrochemical industry. The company had variety of international projects and I got the opportunity to travel the world performing start-up and commissioning services.

One of these trips was to a petroleum site, a four hour drive from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, located in the heart of the Western Desert away from civilization and completely isolated from the outside world. There was no cellphone reception and the Internet hardly worked at the camp. I spent close to 6 weeks in the desert and my daily routine was to wake up at 5:30am, start work at 6am and finish at 6pm. More than half way through my assignment and without much communication with the outside world, I was starting to feel burnt out, exhausted and annoyed with everything. I was hoping my trip would end soon so I could get back home but just like any large construction site, the progress was slower than my liking due to a variety of challenges and issues.

There was one particular day that we got hit by a massive sand storm. As a result, the entire construction site shut down due to safety concerns and everyone was ordered to go back to the camp and stay in their rooms until the storm passed.

Being already frustrated with the lack of progress on site and now the storm causing havoc and delays, I went back to my room feeling discouraged. I spent the next few hours reading my book and waiting. I could barely see anything out the window and the sound of the wind was disturbing and somewhat frightening. I was reading a self-help book at the time which was coincidentally the most appropriate book I could have read at that moment. The book talked about how we often get caught up in our negative thoughts and emotions and through our mindless negative thinking an external world is created that cannot be enjoyed or tolerated. It also described the initial step to tackle the negative thoughts was to be aware of them first without reacting to them. I came upon a chapter in particular that to this day has had a significant impact on the way I view life. The idea of it was that when we are confronted with a tough and difficult situation, our options are to completely accept it as is, confront it and try to change it, or remove ourselves from that situation. I knew removing myself from the job site was not an option, not until I had completed my obligations.

I put the book down and first began to observe my negative thoughts and feelings and concentrated on being as present as possible without reacting to any of my thoughts. I told myself my best choice at that moment was to accept my place and situation and confront my challenges one day at a time, knowing that it would be over in near future. I thought to myself, never in a million years I would have imagined being where I was and going through the full desert experience that one could only see in the movies. I started concentrating on all the positives of my trip and having met many friendly and helpful people and all the valuable experience that I was gaining by being in the field. Suddenly, to my surprise, I found myself no longer feeling stressed and my mind felt at ease.

I realized it was my choice to either feel negative or constantly look towards the day I would leave the place or to focus on being as present as possible and soak up all the knowledge and experience I could get and channel my energy towards doing my best to get the job done. From that moment on the remainder of my trip went a lot better. Although it was exhaustive and challenging at times just like any journey, it finally came to an end and I walked away from it with a great deal of memories and experiences that will stay with me for a life time.

The Path to Success is Challenging

Have you ever wondered how capable you are as a person? How many times did you doubt your abilities only to prove yourself wrong? How often have you been overwhelmed by fear and doubt before you took on a hard task, started a new role, or faced a new challenge? Feeling fearful and having self-doubt are natural emotions that everyone experiences on day to day basis when faced with adversity. Often, the natural response is to feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable, and even procrastinate or freeze and shy away from taking any action. However, what if most of these feelings meant that you are entering a territory of self growth and development which will help you become stronger, wiser and potentially a better person. One thing is certain is that even the most successful people on the planet face the very same emotions but what they choose to do with these emotions is the key to their success.

During one of my field trips to an offshore platform in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Qatar, I was faced with a challenge that at the time seemed to be impossible to overcome in my mind. After three long weeks of work and having finished all my scopes and activities, I was eager and looking forward to leaving the platform. However, a day before my departure it all came crashing down when I heard over the radio that the site operation manager requested to cancel my helicopter ride back to the shore. The site was having difficulty scheduling a technician to come out and troubleshoot one of their faulty equipment and it was decided that I should look into resolving their issue; even though, it wasn’t part of my scope and frankly I had no experience with it. I was told I wasn’t allowed to leave the platform until the equipment was up and running.

The equipment were sootblowers on the process heater consisted of rotary and retractable units that used steam to remove the soot which formed over the heater internal process tubes over time from combustion. Each unit came with its own motor controlled from a motor control center and a standalone Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) for monitoring and controlling the operation of the units.

I recall feeling trapped on the platform knowing my departure depended on getting the sootblowers fully operational. To add insult to injury, there was very little documentation to assist with the troubleshooting and commissioning process. I spent over a day trying to figure out the logic and sequence of events and eventually was able to get the units working properly. Although, the entire experience was new and stressful, I came out of it knowing I completed something I had never done before. From that moment, I promised myself to never have any doubt and regardless of how hard of a challenge I face in the future, to embrace it rather than shy away from it. Since then every time I am confronted with an uncomfortable or difficult situation, I use it as a motivation to push the boundaries of my limits with willingness to learn and grow. Even if there is failure involved, it would be an opportunity to learn from mistakes and bounce back stronger.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I came to the realization that no amount of preparation is enough to be entirely ready for new challenges or difficult situations. However, how we choose to perceive and react to them at every step is the key to our well being and happiness. We can’t go around being happy and cheerful all the time as that would be silly and frankly boring. Happiness is a state of mind and starts with living in the moment experiencing and appreciating everything life throws at us.

Regardless of how difficult life may get, to succeed is to fight, push forward, have the dedication and discipline to stay the course and believe in ourselves and our abilities. Despite all our goals and objectives, one fact that cannot be overlooked is that we spend most of our lives interacting with people. I believe what makes us truly happy is not just the result of our individual success or achievements, but it is the true connections and love that is established between people and the experience and memories we build and share with our families, friends, coworkers or perhaps even strangers.

Written by: Nima Peydayesh, P.Eng.