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Final Thoughts: The Reasons for Speed Bumps on the Road and in Life

Robert Schickel on February 7, 2019 - in Articles, Column

Speed bump—the new term might be speed hump or traffic-calming device. Whatever they’re called, we’ve all come across them. Most of the time, speed bumps have a specific purpose, and they’re usually effective. Speed bumps cause you to slow down and take a little extra care. They slow traffic down in a school zone or a residential area or in a parking lot. But occasionally, they just seem to be bothersome. Either way, we notice they’re there.

I’m troubled by the parents in my neighborhood who drop their children off at the grade school, speed away from the curb, then slow down at the speed hump, and then speed away again (many of them on their cell phones at the same time). They obviously think these traffic-calming devices are just bothersome, ignoring the fact that there are other children all around. They’re missing the point of the traffic-calming device.

My wife and I recently traveled to Mexico and visited three different cities. In each city, we noticed that Mexico loves their speed bumps! There are speed bumps even on cobblestone streets where the speed limit is 30 kilometers/hour and your car will fall apart if you drive any faster. But cars slow down nonetheless; and even if for just that brief period of time, the driver and passengers are a little more aware of their surroundings.

Negotiating Bumps

I’m willing to bet that most of us have come across some “speed bumps” in our career. Some are life changing, and some may just be bothersome. A speed bump may be in the form of a job loss or location change, or it could be a very positive speed bump: a promotion or new job opportunity. It may have been small such as a move from one cubicle to another or large such as a move from Jacksonville to Chicago. All of these are worth taking note.

As a civil engineer whose work has primarily been in the transportation field and one who enjoys watching how people move about, it’s interesting to see how people negotiate speed bumps. Some try to drive around them, so only one wheel is affected. Some will change their route to avoid it completely. A few completely ignore the bump and roar over it. Some drivers will actually drive slowly and pay attention to what’s going on.

As a “seasoned” engineer, it’s also interesting to see how people negotiate the speed bumps in their career. Some engineers try to avoid anything that causes them to change their direction. They’re happy doing what they do and aren’t looking for anything more. They will “drive around the block” if they have to.

Others use these speed bumps to take note of their surroundings and see why they’ve been slowed down. Is there something there they should take note of? Is this an opportunity to take some time and use the “traffic-calming device” to re-evaluate their work environment?

Finding Purpose

I’ve come across some career speed bumps that, at the time, may have seemed more like roadblocks. But invariably, I chose to slow down and use the speed bump to take a little extra care and discover the purpose of the bump. As I’ve said: most of the time, speed bumps have a definite purpose.

I’m approaching my last career speed bump. I’m preparing for retirement: slowing down and looking around and taking note. I will proceed with caution across this speed bump, but I will not stop completely. I encourage engineers to notice speed bumps for what they are: reasonable devices to cause you to pay a little more attention to your surroundings.

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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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