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Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Identity

A engineering degree completely changes the way you look at the world.  After four (or five) years of challenging course work, every object becomes a "free body diagram", every moving object has velocity vectors, and you see the inefficiencies in everyday life.  It even changes the words you use in everyday conversation.  The degree itself is so demanding that every waking (and some sleeping) hour of your last two years of college are spent in the engineering building surrounded by engineers that all think, talk, and joke just like you. After graduation the engineering segregation continues as you join an engineering group, filled with more people who think, talk, and joke like you.  So for 15 years of my life I lived in an engineering bubble.  The problem is, when I stopped working, I entered "The Real World", and I didn't know who I was.  After 5 years of school and almost 12 years of being an engineer, my identity was tied up into being an engineer. 

As I spent time with my kids, I started thinking about who I was before engineering.  Looking at who I was as a child, you would never have thought of me as a future engineer.  My childhood was filled with the Arts. I had played 5 different instruments, danced ballet for 14 years, and participated in several school drama productions.  I was never the smartest kid in school, and graduated high school in the top 25% of my class of 32 students.  This might seem impressive, except I graduated from a international school where a quarter of my class didn't speak English.  Going into college I wanted to major in Premed, mostly because of a childhood condition I had.  But Premed is not a degree, so I needed to figure out a real major for college.  I come from a very practical family, and though I loved the arts, I knew I needed a major I could make a living out of, in case the whole Premed thing fell through (and it did).  So I asked my dad "What can I major in that will get me a decent paying job right out of college?". His answer "Everyone hires mechanical engineers.". So that was it.  I was decent at math and science, so I majored in Engineering.  My decision to major in Engineering was more a practical decision than a heart decision.  I have no grandiose story of realizing as a young child that I wanted to change the world with my inventions.  Or stories of how, as a young child, I would always take things apart and put them back together.  Truth is I loved taking things apart, but always had parts left over after putting them back together. 

Being an Engineer changed me.  My profession left little time for me to do the things I enjoyed doing, like playing the piano, singing, or creating.  At work I always felt like I stood out because I was young and female.  I learned to disguise my femininity so I would blend in better. I learned that if I wore monochromatic outfits that consisted of pants a plain shirt, I would get fewer head turns while walking through a factory.   I turned off my natural caring personality, and learned to talk more about "what I did" instead of what the team did.  I learned it was acceptable to act angry when frustrated or irritated, but it was unacceptable to cry.  While finally having time to think, I realized I had changed who I was for the sake of my career.

Staying at home for awhile, I started to feel like me again.  Like who I had been before my career.  I started getting back into music and creating.  I taught preschool choir at church, and started crocheting again.  I realized that I had not loved what I had been doing for the past 12 years, which is why it was easy for me to leave.  I do not believe every woman should leave their career to stay home with their children, but for me it was what I was I needed to do.  I will  always be an engineer, and  I'm not sure if my days of working out the home are over.  But, for me, staying home during this season of my life helped me to remember who I was, and who God created me to be.

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