Early Career

Small Fish in a Big Pond

Staff Reports

About the author: Hello! My name is Ann and I grew up in Hennessey, Oklahoma. I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in May 2011, and a master’s degree in Construction Management in May 2012.

Upon graduation, I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to work for Williams in the Engineering and Construction group. I found myself in a male-dominated group, and one of the few employees under the age of 30. With vast knowledge and experience surrounding me, I quickly became overwhelmed.

One of the hardest transitions to make going from college to a professional environment is how we rate or “grade” ourselves compared to others. After a test in college, the professor will publish the range of scores on the test. This allowed us to see how we performed compared to others in the class. Some classmates were excited to see their grades, others not so much.

However, at work there aren’t tests or finals. Instead, there are projects. And it was easy to carryover my college trained mindset into the workplace, and compare my progress and performance to others who have managed projects for most of their career. If I found a fault or noticed I was lacking in a certain area, I immediately assumed I had failed, which was not the case. I eventually realized that projects are not the same and are never black and white. Often projects do not go exactly as planned.

Comparing my progress against that of someone with 20 years of industry experience, I was selling myself short. Everyone has different experiences, strengths, and weaknesses that contribute to the outcome of a project. I had to remind myself that success is measured in many different ways.

In school, we focus on our grade, graduation, and securing a job. In the work environment, it’s not about an individual’s success, but the success of the project and team as a whole. We should always strive for improvement and set goals for ourselves, but we should not define ourselves based on how we compare to others. Our focus should not be just on personal performance, but rather the relationship and collaboration between team members that will ultimately result in a successfully completed project.

I no longer feel like a small fish in a big pond, but am now swimming upstream as a part of the school.