How To Overcome “Unfair” Life Situations With Andrea Clough
We all find ourselves in “unfair life situations” once in a while. What you need to do is to expand your vision and spot opportunities around you. The show’s guest today is Andrea Clough, the “The Engineer Whisperer.” Andrea shares with Tony Martignetti how she grew up in communist Romania with little water and electricity. She wanted to finish her education but she lacked resources to go to college. Through her friends’ help she found a job in Germany, then later to the U.S. Not only did Andrea achieve her dreams. She went beyond that and thrived in her field! Life may seem unfair to you. But you will always find opportunities to create the life you want. May this episode inspire you! Tune in!
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How To Overcome “Unfair” Life Situations With Andrea Clough
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Andrea Clough. Andrea is transforming good engineers into great engineers. She's a killer combo for translating their strong technical skills into powerful business and people skills. She's called by our clients “The Engineer Whisperer.” Andrea believes that taking your life and career to the next level is like climbing a mountain. In order to see the amazing view from the peak, you have to plan, train, collect your gear and work with a guide. You cannot do it alone relying only on yourself. Andrea has years of well-respected corporate expertise and experience in finance, HR, project management, strategic integration, business operations, marketing and procurement. She is a Certified Professional Coach and accredited by the International Coaching Federation. She was born in Europe, speaks four languages and has traveled around the world. Her perspective on life, laughter and work will pull you in like a good box of chocolates. It’s amazing. I'm so honored to have you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you, Tony.
What a great intro. There are so many elements about your intro that dragged me in. First of all, the Engineering Whisperer, which is so cool and these climbing mountains. As you know, I have a book that was launched. It's called Climbing The Right Mountain. I'm all about that and I love mountains. To top it all off, your experience has been across so many different disciplines which is powerful. It creates a lot of value that you can bring to the table. I'm honored to bring this story to life in the show.
I'm excited to be here.
For your sake and the audience's sake, I want to share how we work on the show. What we do is help you to share your story through what's called flashpoints. These are points in your story that have ignited your gifts into the world. There might be one or many. What I want you to do is to share them all. Along the way, we'll pause and see what's showing up. With that, I'm going to turn it over to and you can start wherever you like.
I'll start more towards the present. People asked me how did I become an Engineer Whisperer. They're always shocked. Why do I work with engineers? The term was gifted to me by a good friend. She said it. In the beginning, I was reluctant to take it. As I shared it with a few of my clients and friends, their excitement was, "That describes you." I started to own it. Why engineers for me? When I started coaching, I was working with HR in a strategic role. I thought all the HR friends can be excited that I'm doing something more people-skill and people-oriented. I thought that they raise their hand, support me, work with me and be curious, but that wasn't the case.
I had to find some other so-called clients, other victims of mine. I was part of an underground change movement led by engineers. They invited me in. I had a few friends there and I sent a few emails to ask if they knew someone who would be interested. All of them replied back, “Andrea, can I do this? Can I pick some of your clients? Can I do this with you?” Soon I realized maybe it works this way. Maybe I can look around and see who are the cool people that I want to work with based on the assumption and my experience that they're going to say yes to. That's how I became an Engineer Whisperer. I started to have a clientele of engineers. When I was working with my accountability buddy, we were figuring out who we want to work with so that we turn it into a niche in marketing and have some words to express what we want to work with.
Everything that helps us live a comfortable life were created by engineers.
She asked me the simple question, “Who are you working with right now?” I said, “Engineers.” “Do you like working with them?” I said, “Yes, I do.” That took me to the decision of, “Why do I like working with engineers? What's about engineers that draw me in?” I realized I had engineers all my corporate and career life. They were always around me. I could always pick them out from the crowd and they would also pick me out from the crowd. They would always find me and we would have these amazing conversations. We would go on and on and lose track of what's around us, time and people. For me, it's like, “I love what engineers do. I respect them for it.” I went a little bit deeper and it pushes me. Why engineers? What is my personal connection to them?
I grew up in Romania. I'm Hungarian. I grew up with these regular events of the water and electricity was turned off. I remember these days of sitting in the house with my parents and my brother. Nobody could do anything because it was getting dark. We didn't have lights. My mom couldn't cook and clean. We don’t have water, so we were sitting around and doing some verbal play. That's all we could do. Everything that I wanted while growing up as a little girl was first to have the basics and power. I went further to have access to education, the internet, roads and infrastructure. I realized that everything that I wanted in my life is created by engineers.
That took me to this different level of connection with engineers and respect for what they do. To this day, when I speak with one or someone who's connected to an engineer, I remind them that their work helps us to live a full life. Most of us in the US and developed countries, every time we wake up, we turn on the water, flush the toilet, take a shower, open the fridge, cook on the stove, have a coffee, use the microwave, get in the car and use the internet. All these things had been created by engineers. Everything that we do that we take for granted that helps us to live a comfortable life to then go out and do our mission and our work has been created by an engineer. That is my real connection to engineers and why I am so curious about what they do and how they do it. I want to impact them to do their best job so that it will benefit every one of us.
That was a beautiful explanation. I love how you took us from where you are now working with engineers to your childhood. This is where I was going to go, anyways. I was going to ask you these questions of seeing where it comes from. There's something about that that does make me think like we all have an engineer inside of us and we're doing engineering of our own life in some way. We're creating things through the ability to physically build stuff. Whether we like it or not, there's an engineer in each one of us. I loved how you made that connection to everything we touch has some engineering component to it. It's building that foundation of what do we need to survive. Everything is coming with some element of we need engineers to bring that to life. What about your family? What was your dad's occupation? Were there any engineers in your family?
Not in the sense that we think about an engineer. My dad was an auto mechanic all his life. My mom was a postal carrier. I grew up during communism but they grew up in the midst of it. I joke with them that they have been brainwashed. I believe this to this day. They had a hard life. Both my parents are from small villages. They met in the big town where I was born because they both went to work there. As they were working, they both enrolled in a high school after work. They called it “night school.” That’s where they had met. They have high school diplomas and they couldn't have the means and the support from their parents. They both grew up with single moms. They didn't have the money and the support to go further. They entered the workforce. I wrote about these flaws. It's my own work to find my family patterns of what do I have. They were young when they had my brother. I came along a year later as a surprise. Two young adults trying to make ends meet and no support with two small children. They had a rough life. They could have been engineers but they didn't have the opportunity to go and pursue it.
How did you navigate your way to coming to the US? Tell me more about the journey from those humble beginnings to where you are now. Did you stay in Europe for quite some time or did you move to the US at a young age? How did that all come to be?
I thought coming to the US was a joke that turned into a reality. To tell you how the joke happened, I had a so-called regular childhood, poor but happy. I finished high school. Because of my parents' upbringing and the lack of their opportunities, they supported me and my brother to continue to what I call the theoretical school. It’s a regular high school and not going into the workforce. I finished high school. We were also supported to go to university. I got into the local university with a scholarship. Everything was paid. I was always a top student. That wasn't a problem for me. I love to study. I got in and I was super excited. I’m the first one who got in from the family.
I'm doing this and then it hit me after the first semester. I remember the day I went in. Back then, the results were posted on a piece of paper that was posted at the university. We had to physically go there and read the tests. There were some people's names with top scores that I've never seen. Two and a half months into college, I've never seen these people and I didn't see them taking the test. I was like, “Who are these people?” One of my colleagues said, “That's the rich kid whose parent is too rich and they don't have to attend. They are going to buy the diploma.” I heard about that before from everybody. It wasn’t until I was standing in front of that paper because if I didn't do good and be in the top 1%, I wouldn't get my scholarship. I couldn't go to college. I couldn't pay for it. I was competing with ghosts. I was so mad.
How life has it, one of my high school friends didn't go to college. She went to Germany to work and then study there for a year. As I was having a conversation with her and I was complaining, she said, “Come on over and we'll hang out. I'll find you a job.” I was studying German-English back then, so going to Germany made sense to learn the language. I did. I was so mad that I jumped into the opportunity. I was 18 or 19. I went and lived in Germany for a year. I worked there and I returned after a year. On my way back, my other friend who was in the US at Lake Powell, we were talking and she said, “Did you visit Christine? You need to come and visit me.”
I thought she's joking so I said, “Find me a job and then I'll be right there.” I just experienced going to Germany from Romania. She said, “Okay.” We started talking about something else. I thought it was a joke. A week later or so, she sends me an email with, “Here's the job and the paperwork. This is what you need to fill out and do. By the way, there are these four people who I also hired. I want you to be their leader, go to the embassy and then bring them over if you guys all get the paperwork sorted out.” I was like, “Okay.” I remember being more worried about how am I going to tell my parents now that in two and a half months, I'm going to leave again. They didn't see me for twelve months but I did. They were cool. To this day, I don't understand why my parents let me do the crazy things that I've done as a young adult.
It's about taking chances and leading into those risks that could breed opportunities. I think about my parents. They want the best things for us. You're the hope of your parents and they want to see that dream could be realized through you.
I understood later that my mom lived her dream through my adventures.
I want to come back to the feeling of fairness. I've heard a lot of stories. Sometimes, I think about it myself. It's a feeling of all I want is to have a fair deal to work hard and get what I deserve. When you see others who don't find that easy path or they find that easy road in, it is frustrating. You start to think, “What does it take to get ahead in the world when you're faced with those elements of fairness?” I love to know your thoughts around that in general because I'm sure this is not the only time that it shows up in your life where you struggle or deal with those feelings and emotions of life is not always fair.
Let me take you to another moment in my life that defined my future. I didn't know then, but I know now. It was after I returned from Germany. Going from a closed-in mindset to Germany, what I have experienced was that people can share openly what they think. They're not afraid and not worried about what others think about them. We were allowed to debate. I slowly opened up and share. I've never experienced anything like that. When I returned from Germany, I remember I was so excited to share with my friends what I have experienced, what I learned, where I've been and who I talked with about this different life.
Be yourself, share, and find those who want to hear.
I was excited telling these stories and one friend stopped me and said, “Andrea, I want you to stop now. I don't want to hear anymore because what you have done, I would have never done myself. I don't want to hear that people live this way. I'm fine where I am right now.” I don't know what else she said. What stayed with me is, “Stop, Andrea. Don't tell me that people live and think differently, and there's another way. I'm fine living in my miserable way. That way, at least we don't have that guilt feeling.” It’s the recognition that, “I am being controlled and brainwashed and I don't have opportunities.” It's a fine line between being okay with what you have and accepting where you totally not give up but give in.
For me, at age nineteen, it was like I hit a wall. It wasn't coming from a stranger. It was coming from somebody who meant something to me who I was connected with for years that I called a friend. I thought that they're curious and interested in my life, my growth and what I’ve experienced. When I went through that experience, one of those I remember was the crossroads of, “Now, what do I do? Do I continue to share? Will my other friends also reject me? Do I hide now? Do I hold it all in?" By now, I knew so much of myself. For me, the only choice that I had is to be myself, share and find those who want to hear. At that moment, unconsciously, I have already decided that this will not be the place where I'm going to stay.
It's funny you say that. You say that as a place, but it's more of a mindset and emotional place that you would stay. There are two things that I'm thinking about. I'll start with your intuition is starting to build. You're starting to see this element of the costs of your new life is your old life. You have to start to transcend that place where you were, the people, your friends and the things that have known you in your old life. Now, you're starting to shift into, “What do I need to do next to grow into the person I meant to become because I might have to leave some things behind to become that other person?” At this point in your story, when you think about all the things you've come through in your story, you are content with very little humble beginnings and you started to expand and see that there was a bigger world out there. There are ways to have a stronger voice to be bigger. Before you know it, you're starting to say like, “I can have bigger things and have more.” That experience, expansiveness and expanding world are part of your gift for the people. It’s allowing them to see that there's more to life than what you're experiencing because of the fact that you know what it's like to live small.
Yes, you're touching on something. What makes me stand out in what I do along with thousands of coaches out there is who I am. Who I am is because of the journey that I've been on and the experiences that I lived through.
Tell me more. What's next? As you started to exit this period of, “I'm here in Germany,” what made you move to the next chapter of your life, what did you do?
I didn't want to stay in Germany and I returned back. I had my friend who invited me to the US. I told my mom, “I'll see you in three months after the end of the summer.” The story goes that I told her three months but I'm here since, so it's been a little bit more than three months. That's important too because I came to the US with literally a big backpack and $100 because almost all the money that I earned in Germany went to buy airplane tickets. I came with curiosity. I'll be here hanging out with my best friend, and then again, life happened. The first day that I arrived, my husband met me. He remembers me arriving, my face, the place, everything. That's his story. I don't remember him.
For me, it was a big shock going from green and trees to the desert. I haven't been to Arizona and Lake Powell. It's a desert. I was pinching myself, “What am I doing here? Why did I come here? What am I going to do here? I have freckles and fair skin. What am I doing in the sun? What am I doing in over 100 degrees?” I remember why I was there. My best friend was there and there were others. It all worked out. What worked out was that my husband met me and I met him. He finally invited me on a boat trip and then we're together since. Him finding me became the next phase of my life. We started our life together. I always wanted to finish school.
I always wanted to have that education and the diploma. That was my big dream. With his help, I made my way. We made our way to Washington State. I enrolled on the business school at the University of Washington. I finished a Finance Degree. I'm the first one in my family who has a diploma. My brother tried but he didn't finish. I finished and it's cool. Besides that, it was a dream come true. We worked hard and my dream came true. I realized, “What else can I do?” It's that moment of, “This one is done and I'm still young. I know I have more potential. What other dreams can I dream that I can realize that they can come true?” I entered the workforce. I have a successful career.
We had my son. We’re doing it both. I knew I was capable. What happened on the other side was my relationship with my mother. Because I came last as a teenager, she's stuck in my head as my mom when I was 18 or 19. I got stuck in her head as a teenager. I worked hard to mend that relationship and to make it better. From the other side of the earth, it wasn't that easy. Every time that I went and visited, we would clash. I would fail miserably to make our relationship better. Part of my journey and leads into why coaching for me is that there was one time when I failed amazingly and miserably to the point where I walked out of the apartment and I didn't want to go back. I didn't want to have a relationship with my mom anymore.
There was one friend who I would call on every time these little failures happened. He would show up and coach me. I didn't know back then that's what he did. I called on him this one time as well. He showed up. We went and he asked me to go to a store to buy a pen and paper. I was surprised not to talk about what happened, but to buy pen and paper. I trusted him, so we did. We found the place and we sat down at a table. He said, “Andrea, draw a circle.” I drew a circle. “Draw in the circle what feelings you have that are connected to your mom right now.” I did. It was a nice pie chart and I was so proud.
He kept looking at it. I was like, “Why does he keep looking at it?” It felt like years. With one question, he created such a breakdown and breakthrough in me that I was able to finally see why I was failing, why it wasn't working, and also how to move forward. That one question helped me change my whole relationship with my mom and from there, my whole life. That's where I realized that if someone can help me do this and can be with me at that moment, I want to be that person for others. That's after this experience that coaching showed up in my life.
I love how the story unfolds. It's a powerful way to experience coaching the first time in such a period of a real need to mend that relationship and to make it come together. Seeing what can happen when you have that first experience and wanting to give that gift that you start to uncover that you can do this. It's one thing to say like, “I want to do this,” but then you start to see that you can do it. From your experience from here forward, you've proven that you have impacted a lot of lives since then. Tell me, what has been the biggest lesson that you've learned about yourself in this journey? There have been a lot of things you've shared but if you were to summarize what you've learned about yourself in this journey to becoming who you are, what would it be?
Self-love, forgiveness, acceptance and the word surrender comes in.
Those are powerful insights to have. You surrendered to what showed up and when you did, a lot of the things that happen next led to the next part of your unfolding. That's a great thing to see that happened. That self-love piece, a lot of us don't get it right. We say we do but sometimes we don't respect that we need to take care of ourselves. We have to love ourselves first in order for us to be loved. That's an important thing to remember.
Love yourself, forgive, accept, and surrender.
That is the biggest lesson that I had learned. I could not have loved my mom before I loved myself.
You talked about two different worlds. I studied post-communist countries. I was stationed in Hungary, Budapest and Poland. During that time, we went and talked to a lot of people who had grown up in those countries to find out what it was like to grow up there and work in those industries that were around that period of time. What I've found are the generations that we're trying to break out of that period, how challenging it is to see that you can have freedom, agency and ways to do things differently than your parents. They were only able to see things in a certain way. It’s how to be able to connect the different world.
The biggest thing between my mom and me is her personal upbringing, family and the social environment that she grew up with. She lost her agency. To this day, she's not able to make a decision that will impact her life, from buying a piece of shoes to a house.
Tell me about how you bring some of these lessons into your coaching and sharing some of those things. How does this come into your coaching with engineers?
The answer that comes to my mind is they come alive through me. I create what I experienced through the moment that I told you with that friend coach with others. I bring him into this space that is between knowing and not knowing. Some call it the flow or full creativity. I call it the edge. I sit with them there. This is a big deal because we're talking about engineers who grew up and were rewarded for four-plus years based on their knowledge. You learn, you know, and then you move forward. When I invite them to not know yet not to be afraid of not knowing and sitting with me on this edge, to find out where their edge is and then be able to sit with me, it’s that space that I know I have been where I didn't know what to do. There is no knowledge where we don't know, yet we're not afraid. There's that space where we are allowed to be who we are in this moment with our feelings, emotions and whatever shows up. It's a thought that’s been created through this experience of sitting on the ledge. That has served me a lot of pushing myself into such a curiosity where I chose to go forward without being afraid.
I thank you for sharing that. I feel that. I can imagine the people who experienced those coaching sessions are transformed through that experience. I'm sure you've run into a few people that reluctantly walk in these sessions like, "I don't know about this."
They do and then they walk out with, "How can we do more of this?" One of the things that I found a word for that stopped people in their walk is that my superpower is to stop time. Anytime I see something like that for an engineer, they stopped like, ”What did you say? There is no way you can do that. Let me bring 1,000 evidence that you can't do that.” We then enter into this discussion and take them somewhere. Suddenly, we're on the edge sitting and having fun. It's not a scary place. It must be me who makes it not a scary place but it isn't this scary place. It's fun to sit there.
We have covered a lot of ground, geography and mental geography too. To come to the last question, which is very unrelated to what we've talked about so far, what's 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?
A book that I read during COVID 2020 that impacted me is a book by Byron Katie, Loving What Is. I was talking to my best friend who got me out here to the US and how she was reading a book. She found something in the book that’s automatically like, “That is it.” I asked her, “How long have you been searching for that?” “Over seven years.” That has been with me with Byron Katie's book. I read it and it was this a-ha moment of, “I never asked myself this question how can I love what is. What is going on right now with me? Why the impact on me?”
It put me on this path of discovering what my family patterns are. Where are they coming from? What I'm doing at the moment, some call it the automatic responses, behaviors, thoughts, where are they coming from? Did I inherit them from my parents? Did I make a choice in wanting them or somebody else has given it to me through my travel? Where did I get them from? Do they still serve me at this moment? Do I want to keep them? Do I want to put them in a drawer? What do I want to do with them? I was able to let go of so many things. Since then, I'm living stress-free. I do not stress about things.
The way you described that is powerful. It feels like you opened up a new can of worms for us to dive into. This is what people most need now. It’s this element of in the slowness or in the quiet. You start to ask those questions that most need to be asked and pondered. That's when you start to get to the core of who you are and what you're all about. I thank you for bringing that. It’s the first time for Katie to be brought into the scene. Thank you so much for everything you've shared. Your stories, your insights and bringing your presence into the room. I wish we were in a physical room, but we're in a virtual room. I want to make sure and allow people to know where they can find you. You could tell us where you can be found.
If people feel inspired to connect, I would like to challenge them and invite them to send me an email. I can be found at Andrea@AndreaClough.com. I would welcome some reach out and a conversation.
Thank you so much. That's a great invitation. Thank you for coming to the show.
Thank you, Tony.
Thank you, readers, for coming on the journey with us. This has been and powerful hour of conversation. I'm so grateful that we've had this.
About Andrea Clough
What most people know about me is that I had a successful corporate career at a leading aerospace and software company.
I held multiple roles in Finance, Business Operations, Strategic Integration, Project Management and HR.
I was a strategic thinker who had out-of-the-box ideas and challenged the status quo in every conversation to create progress and achieve our company’s mission.
I stood out because of my passion in emotional and communication intelligence.
My ideas and continuous new perspectives brought value to my team and leaders, and I was respected for my knowledge, skills, and creativity.
Yet, at the basis of my success was my self-motivating work ethic (inherited from my grandma and mom), and my belief in myself and others’ potential.
At an early age I discovered that in order to go far I could not only rely on my own strengths, I also had to learn to ask for help.