But … was engineering what you wanted to do?
I love numbers and seeing them turn into practical results. When I encounter a problem, I love getting out my spreadsheet and building equations to help solve the problem.
I enjoyed my first three semesters in engineering school. In my fourth semester, I became jaded — and started seeing my education more as a torture test than an education. Five semesters later, I got my degree. But I was still jaded. The last thing I wanted to do was to get behind a desk grinding numbers all day. So I got an outdoor job in quasi-engineering. I used numbers, but there was a physicality to this work which suited my macho attitude of that time. I took this job into building a business. The business had a little engineering behind it, but the business numbers were more important.
I have engineering training, worked a bit as an engineer, and worked around engineers. I would say that one out of five engineers is doing some real interesting work.
Three out of five engineers are what I would call “cookie cutter” engineers. They put numbers into the software, the software spits out the answer. There is no glory or sense of great achievement to inspire writing Medium articles. A real smart high school kid could probably do almost as good of job (but it would take longer to train him for a specific engineering task). BTW, I recognize the value of an engineering education is still important even for the cookie-cutter engineers. It’s hard to find those real smart high school kids who do be trained for basic engineering work. And doing the same cookie-cutter engineering for five years does put that engineer into a higher level of understanding of his topic than a rookie.
And one out of five engineers is borderline incompetent for even a cookie-cutter job. They don’t understand numbers very well. They went to engineering school because they were told they could get a good job. But not much love for the topic.
I wanted to do the real interesting engineering work. What I should have realized that I probably needed to spend some time in the cookie-cutter occupations to eventually find that interesting work. I was not willing to put my time in because cookie cutter engineering was too boring.
What stopped me from making that connection was that dream “Do the work you love.” I didn’t love cookie-cutter engineering. So I didn’t get the experience to land me engineering work I would have really enjoyed.
And I might not have had the intellect to garner those interesting engineering occupations. I was a C student and an advanced degree was not in my future.
These days, I would much prefer to be a cookie-cutter engineer than what I am doing today. Would I love this work? No, but I could accept its shortcomings. The pay is much better; I would still be working with more numbers than I am now. I have been quite competent in all my occupations, so there’s no reason to believe that I would not be a competent cookie-cutter engineer. But there’s no way I can go back to that profession.
For about a year, I used to watch Dr. Phil. One of his TV clients was a family. The husband was financially supporting the family as well as supporting his wife’s dream of being a country music singer. After about 10 years of the wife trying to make it big, the husband wanted to quit the country music dream. She did not, saying success was just around the corner — and only more persistence was needed. Dr. Phil had her sing for the audience. She was not bad, but I could see that she did not have that edge to make it to the big time. Another 10 years was not going to fix that. She too had bought into the dream of “Do what you love”. But it was costing her family a lot.
I think we need to establish practical hobbies to “Do what we love”. For example, the aspiring country music star could have been the lead singer in a small-time local country band — and not put her family into all sorts of financial hell. And some of us just might turn our “love” into our occupation. But there’s no entitlement to these occupations. Unfortunately that entitlement is being pushed on us by the self-actualization industry. I bought into it. I can see other people in my life buying into it.