Guided by the Past

By: Charlie Tang, P.E., LEED AP
Senior Project Manager – Site Development

Sometimes we don’t recognize just how much our everyday lives are influenced by the experiences of our past. As a child, I was a strong introvert. Being outgoing and talking to people was far outside my comfort zone and I found myself looking for any and every excuse to not have to interact with people.

On top of things, I struggled academically for years and was involved in special education leading up to middle school. My mom was a full-time computer programmer at Dow Chemical who put her career on hold to be a stay-at-home mom to help me. High school was challenging and left me feeling that college may not be in the cards for me.

I was constantly hit with setbacks and roadblocks that seemed to only grow stronger the more I tried to break them down or overcome them. My parents, however, ingrained in me the idea that at the end of the day, these struggles will pay off as long as I keep grinding and putting in the hard work. I started to see the truth in those words as I became more involved in sports. In both soccer and martial arts there were many obstacles that I eventually overcame through the support of my family and guidance from my coaches/instructors. When hard work wasn’t enough, I had to figure out different ways to achieve those goals. It was then that I realized that this approach could also be applied to my academics and soon, my grades began to skyrocket.

After applying to several colleges, what I once saw as a pipe dream was now in my reach and I got accepted into a top tier public school, the University of Texas in Austin. It was almost as if someone above was looking out for me and rewarding me and my efforts in life, and I couldn’t believe it.

I chose to start my college career pursuing Civil Engineering, given that I was still trying to identify my strengths and it was a more generalized major in comparison to other disciplines. It didn’t take long for me to see that college was a whole new playing field and the stakes had just been upped. Of course, college was difficult as it is for most students being on their own for the first time with a sudden loss of constant support. I was struggling again, experiencing immense feelings of DeJa’Vu and daunting thoughts of defeat and failure that got heavier with every semester.

Before throwing in the towel, I did some soul searching and realized I had already been in this situation before and prevailed. I reverted back to the past, worked hard, did the grind, and most importantly, found different ways and techniques to achieve my end results. Along the way, I discovered that I was a visual learner and adapted using a few of my strengths to learn things in a non-conventional manner. I eventually graduated and got my first job as a civil engineer.

I would be lying if I told you I didn’t have to face similar challenges in my engineering career. In fact, they started early in a failed attempt to pass my engineering license exam. But with hard work and being creative in learning concepts in different ways, I eventually obtained my license.

Looking back, I realized that the best way to overcome obstacles was to not wait for the obstacles to arrive, but rather anticipate what obstacles COULD arrive, and proactively strategize how to overcome them. I had learned that rather than hitting the obstacles head on, I could find ways around them through innovative, creative techniques and different methodologies. Some of these methodologies would be very non-conventional, but in the end, successful execution was all that mattered.

In time, I landed in the field of Site Development where being creative and finding ways to overcome specific site conditions are essential components of the industry. Using the experiences of my past, I have found great success in this line of work through my ability to be adaptive and find needed solutions. Throughout my career, I realized that the same approach I was doing in my daily life to survive could be applied to the workforce—hard work, perseverance, and strategizing in anticipation of upcoming impediments.

Every person is unique and their personal life experiences guide how they approach everyday situations, just as I have been guided by mine. As a leader at EHRA Engineering, I strive to bring out the best in people and encourage everyone to play to their strengths, create a vision, have a plan or strategy in place, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to be creative and use new methods of thinking to overcome any obstacle you face to achieve your goals.