I Don’t Know Where I’m Headed, But I’ll Know It When I Get There

Today, my desk-neighbor Erick had a question for me.  “So what are your big plans?” he asked.  “Are you staying here?  Are you looking elsewhere?  Where is Ms. Heather headed?”

I gave a little smile because I had been anticipating this question.  It has been on my mind a lot lately, and I am sure that many of my posts reflect that.  “Well..” I replied.  “I want to do something to help humanity, so I am looking for work that will help me down that path.” 

Erick’s response was something along the lines of, “You will grow out of that.  I used to want to do that, too.”

Personally, I have a lot of trouble understanding why I need to grow out of anything.  Since when is grow out synonymous with grow up?

As mechanical engineers, we learned the basics of thermodynamics, energy, and mechanics.  We were trained in problem solving and logic.  We can design airplanes, create life-saving medical equipment, and develop systems that clean water for poor regions that must go without.  We have the ability to create artificial things to better our way of life, and I believe that Theodore Von Karman summed it best when he said:

“Engineers create the world that never was.”

And it upsets me to believe that people like Erick, with the potential to do such great things, have lost themselves to work like this.  And it frustrates me to know that the guy that has the cure for cancer somewhere in the back of his head could be sitting in a dim room filling out paperwork and answering phones because he has resigned himself to mediocrity.  And it scares me to know that someday I might cave to those same temptations and find myself in their exact same situation.

My generation is full of men and women that want to make a difference, push boundaries, and change lives.  I struggle so much with this job because, quite frankly, I am one of those men and women, and I feel like I am missing my great opportunity.  I’ve got one life to live, and I’m spending it sorting airline parts in a windowless room lit with flourescent bulbs while people in Haiti have been crushed by weak housing structures that I have the ability to strengthen.  And while I acknowledge that dream jobs don’t come right away and it takes years to acquire the skills necessary to get them, I am not gaining any of those skills here.  All I am doing is straining my eyes for an unserved purpose.

I am looking elsewhere for work while I pass my days here, and I am being careful to apply for jobs that I believe will help me in achieving my great goal of self-fulfillment.  My peers have referred to me as “crazy” for being picky in a time when so few people are able to get any kind of job at all, but I refuse to settle for another job that serves only as interim.  As I was telling a co-worker earlier today, it is kind of depressing to know that I am working without any other motivation outside of the paycheck that accompanies the job.  I am filling time running in circles for a paycheck to pay my bills, and while some people are content living their life in this fashion, I am not.

Honestly, this blog can take hours out of my day depending on what I am writing about.  Although sometimes I struggle with content or believe that I don’t really have enough time to get into the writing spirit, I find that completing a meaningful post (such as this one) makes all of that time spent worthwhile.  I want the same thing out of my career — something that has a meaning of its own where the paycheck is just an extra perk.  And while I don’t know exactly what that is at this moment, I am okay with that as long as I am comfortable in knowing that I am on the right path. 

I don’t know where I’m headed, but I’ll know it when I get there.

And if people think I am crazy or foolish for chasing a dream that hasn’t really formed, so be it.  I’d rather be crazy and foolish than unfulfilled.

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