Be An Engineer They Said…

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All of my life I’ve had an aptitude for math and science, but mostly math.  That resulted in a fair number of AP classes in high school and even more unsolicited recommendations – to be fair some were solicited – that I take that aptitude and turn it into a career.  “Be an engineer,” they said.

Unfortunately aptitude does not always translate to interest, for me at least and especially regarding math.  But never fear because I sure as hell let the voice of others telling me to pursue engineering overpower my own voice, which was nagging, screaming, and pleading with me to NOT be an engineer.  Proficiency in math notwithstanding, it was and still is the science(ish) that interested me.  Sort of.

Science caught my attention and held it, but only certain branches.  Chemistry was not my favorite science by a long shot, nor was it my strong suit which became utterly apparent with my poor grade in Intro to Chemical Engineering in my first semester at Carnegie Mellon.  Physics was more fun, in the loosest sense of the term, and it was a better subject for me than chemistry, so I opted to for Mechanical Engineering as a major because, well, “Be an engineer,” they said.

Throughout my time in college, I struggled.  I struggled with grades and I struggled with motivation, which in retrospect has become a clear indicator that a switch to a different major should have been in order.  But to switch scared me and at the time, I couldn’t handle the fear.  Plus…remember those voices?  “Be an engineer!” they said.   And so I did.  I graduated in 2007 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from CMU.

I worked 5 years as a mechanical engineer for a local construction company and to say I hated it would be a vast understatement.  But it wasn’t all for naught.  Two amazing, life shaping events happened during my stint in corporate America.

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Even as an engineer, I had to surround myself in my own photography for the motivation just to get through a day at the office.

First they sent me to Arkansas shortly after signing on.  The money was great, the work was easy so also unchallenging, but I was alone in an unfamiliar place with pretty much just my camera to keep me company.  At this time though, I was just dipping my toes into photographic waters so even my camera felt like a stranger.  So why was being sent to Arkansas life altering for me?  For one, it helped me to pay down a significant portion of my student loan debt and CMU did not come cheap.  But there’s always time to make more money so I don’t consider that life altering.  However, cheesy as it may sound, love happens when it happens and lucky for me, it happened on my trip back from Arkansas to Pittsburgh, I met the woman who would later become my wife and mother of my children.  She’s a pretty special lady (hopefully she’s reading this) so maybe she’ll get her own story in a later post, but suffice it to say that she is the one true benefit to having become an engineer.

Life altering event number two was at one time the most negatively impactful occurrence of my life but I now consider it to be the catalyst for most things positive that have happened to me.  You may have figured it out by now, but if you haven’t, I was fired and it was the single greatest thing to ever happen for me professionally.

There is something very comforting in knowing that no matter how unhappy you are at your job you will, in theory, receive a constant paycheck.  But comfort is a lifeline that many of us are afraid to sever and most of us don’t need to.  Luckily for me, and I can say that now, my line was severed by someone else.  I didn’t have a say in the matter.  Admittedly,  7 weeks before I was to be married, and on April Fools day no less, made for a very rocky period after the layoff, but being free to pursue what I loved and what I was good at provided, and still provides, everything I was missing as an engineer.

So what’s the moral of the story?  Go to school for engineering, suck at it, get fired, become a photographer and everything else just falls right in to place!  Just kidding, the moral is “Be what you want to be.  Listen to what YOU say.”

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