When Your ‘Check Engine’ Light Is On

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The Uber driver was on his cell phone mumbling to someone and I couldn’t hear what he was saying and didn’t want to hear. But as I looked over his shoulder I noticed that nearly every light on his dashboard was flashing. All of them, from “check engine” to “inflate tires” were pleading for someone to pay attention.

“Excuse me,” I said, “Is the car about to blow up? Should I get out?” He replied, “Don’t worry about it, we are fine,” and drove on. The car did not blow up but it made me wonder, does anyone pay attention to dashboards?

Unless you work in a place that doesn’t have computers, you are probably dealing with operational dashboards that control your daily mood. Some are so complex that they measure your daily caloric intake. Some are so simple they are like huge thermometers. Do you pay attention to any of them? Probably.

Unless you have an old clunker, your car dashboard is full of lights that can flash when you least expect it or want it to happen. Some lights cause panic and with others, you just drive on. When some lights come on I just turn the radio up louder or drive faster. Although we may not admit it, all the lights are important signals. And when it comes to our careers, each of us has a set of lights flashing that are worthy of our attention. Using the car metaphor, here are a few lights on your dashboard and what they might mean:

  • Door Open /Gas Cap Ajar: Oops. Slight problem, like wearing two different shoes to work. You still have to stop and fix it.
  • Refill Washer Fluid: Dang, I need that but I can keep driving. Like getting a little behind in emails but allowing time to catch up later.
  • ABS: No one knows what this light indicates so turn the radio up louder and hope it’s not serious. Like looking at pivot tables in a staff meeting. Just get back to work.
  • Tire Pressure Low: This requires attention. Get out and make sure you don’t have a flat tire before you keep driving. Like having a coaching session in the hallway, pay attention to what you hear.
  • Service Vehicle Soon: Yep, all vehicles need maintenance and some need more than others. Like having a performance review and learning that you need lots of improvement.
  • Check engine: Could mean time for a new car. Or, for your career, could be time to take stock and decide if it’s time to look for a new job.

None of us have that sophisticated dashboard like that of a car that will shoot us warning signs about work, career or life. We have to create our own and know when to pay attention to it. If you dread getting out of your car and walk into work feeling nauseous I would say your “Check Engine” light is on.

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