I’ve always considered my self a deeply technical person. Mathematics and science were the things that always made sense to me. The things I could always return to when everything else in my life felt a little topsy turvy because those were the things I was best at, the things I felt the most comfortable with. I was always good at math, science and as such I became a good engineer. I know what I’m doing and know how to channel my skills in the right directions.
Given all of that information it would make sense for me to describe engineering as my passion. Interestingly enough that is probably the furthest thing from the truth. My passions in life exist in a space so far outside of my career path and job. It creates a great deal of frustration for me. I want to love what I do, in fact I think everyone wants that, but I just can’t seem to make what I do well line up with what I love.
I love to write. I don’t ever have as much time to spend writing as I want to. I feel like there are books in me that could be written and I want to write them even if no one will ever see them. The great physicist, Richard Feynman once wrote”I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world.” That is exactly how I feel about words.
I have a passion for words and stories. A great deal of that stems from how introverted I was a kid. I never had a lot of friends and making new ones has never come easily to me even as an adult. I used to read all the time to fill in the blanks. I would experience the stories of other people as a filler for the ones I wasn’t getting to create. As an adult I read as an opportunity to keep learning. Reading throughout my life has shown me how much power words can have. I’d like to have a part in that, even if it is as simple as this blog or a manuscript I put together but never publish.
If I had it to do all over would I have chosen to be a writer instead of an engineer? Probably not. I suppose I figured if I found the right job or the right situation I would be able to do both. And honestly I can. As my children get older I’ll have just a bit more time. A few extra minutes out of each day to put words on pages, to fill in a story one chapter at a time. In that sense I can make my peace with the discrepancy between what I do and one of the things I love.
The passion that has a tendency to haunt me is not writing, it’s teaching. I fell in love with teaching while I was in college, helping other people with homework. That love grew a million times stronger when I went to grad school. Part of how I paid for graduate school was through a fellowship that put me in a classroom in a Philadelphia elementary school about 10 hours a week. In that small amount of time I actually felt like I was making an impact. I saw kids who couldn’t quite put the pieces together work through their challenges. I did things as simple as help kids who couldn’t read and as complex as teach students how DNA was structured. I taught girls that math and science weren’t just for the boys. I felt like in some small way I was giving some of these kids with challenging home situations some hope, a little bit of light in their lives. It was a powerful experience and one I will never forget.
If I had it all to do again would I trade my engineering career to be a teacher? Would I give up my salary and my benefits for less pay and struggles with budgets and school boards? In a word, yes.
When I became an engineer it was because I wanted to solve problems, wanted to apply my skills to make people’s lives better. I haven’t really done that in my career. The reality is more politics and budgets. I’m one of those people with little interest in playing the games required of me to jump ahead of my colleagues. I’ll never be aggressive enough to climb the later. All I want out of my job are interesting problems to solve that will have some impact on people.
I realize teaching is not without its own politics, arguably more than my job will ever entail. At its heart though teaching provides an opportunity, every day, to help someone. Some days you’ll win, some days you’ll lose but the opportunity exists every single day. That is powerful to me. That is the opportunity I wanted to have as an engineer.
For now I can be content with the career that I have. I may never play the politics required of me to be promoted but I’ll always be a great engineer. I’ll always find clever solutions to the problems in front of me. I’ll always like what I do. Someday I’ll have both the opportunity and the backbone to make a change. Probably not in the next 10 years but someday. For now I’ll focus on putting more words on pages and excelling at what I do well. We’ll see what the future holds. I’ve got plenty of time ahead of me to do it all again.