How you ever felt like you were in the wrong profession?
Have you ever woken up and, for the millionth time, dreaded going to work, wondering if you were justified in your feeling, or if you were just a lazy bum?
I feel like that everyday. Every second of everyday.
I am an engineer. A female engineer, to be exact.
One day I woke up and decided to go to college. I was nineteen years old, and married. By the way, don’t get married that young … but that’s for another blog post. I had no idea what I wanted to be “when I grew up,” so I asked the people that I trusted the most to help me decide: my then-husband, and my father. The choice was unanimous: engineering. “You’re good at math and science; you can work anywhere in the world with an engineering degree; the money isn’t half bad.” My then-husband even joked with our friends that he will be able to retire early with the “boat-load” of money I would be making.
That’s still funny, after all of these years. Boy was he wrong!
I spent nine years working full time and going to school part time. College was brutal. Seven years after graduation, I still resent the one professor who had made my college experience even more miserable than it was supposed to be. An ex-military, he treated us all as if we were in some military camp, yelling, screaming, belittling our efforts, no matter how big. One time, he walked into class, tossed our graded exams in the garbage can and walked back out. We had to fish for ours in between discarded coffee cups.
He was particularly hard on me. Being the only female student in most of my classes, he singled me out often and gave me an extra big slice of his mean pie. Trust me, it was not just my impression. On graduation day, he put his arm around me as we walked toward the stage and confessed having been especially hard on me and that it was for “my own good.” I wanted to strangle him, then I remembered that I wasn’t violent and walked on stage to accept my hard-earned college degree instead.
Graduating in 2008 was a matter of bad timing. The economy was terrible and only getting worse, and it took me five months to land my first job. Well, the salary was certainly not what I expected or was told I would get, and the sexism was even worse in the workforce. The fact that I had a vagina was not lost on anyone. The fact that I was a plus-size woman made me invisible at best, a subject of bullying at worst. Every project I worked on was reviewed with scrutiny. Every outing between coworkers was planned and executed behind my back; I was never invited anywhere. Even the few female coworkers chose to avoid me like the plague. I know what you’re thinking: you’re complaining too much, Meena. I know. I am, and at first, I thought it was all in my head. I thought that once I proved myself to be a hard worker and gain experience as an engineer, they will all give me a chance. I put in extra hours (at no extra pay.) I pulled all-nighters in order to meet deadlines. I brought trays of homemade cookies and consoled coworkers when they were going through a difficult time. I thought I was well on my way to carving a place for myself within the company.
One year after landing that job, I was laid off.
OK, I was one of ten people to be laid off, and by then, the industry I was working in at the time – construction – was more than just suffering. In the meantime, I fell back in love with something I hadn’t given thought to in a while: writing. I started writing my first novel.
It took me a long time to find another job, and I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that the same thing happened again.
Fool me once … you know how it goes.
I didn’t think it was a coincidence the second time around. I wanted to zero in on my share of the blame. I had to sit down and give it some thought: OK, so I am a female in a man’s world, but I have met successful female engineers so I knew that it wasn’t impossible to be successful in that profession. Was there something more to the story?
The truth that I was faced with was sobering: I never studied engineering for the love of the profession. Sure, I made it through college. Sure, I was able to learn a few things and meet deadlines. But what was missing, all along, was love, passion, a desire to be the best engineer that I can be. I am an alpha female, a hard worker, someone who holds herself to very high standards, so, economy aside, why was it so hard for me to identify with being an engineer?
Simple. I am not an engineer at heart.
I never took things apart and put them back together, as did 99.9% of all engineers that I know, when they were growing up.
I never dreamed of building things and seeing them operate.
I just wanted to … write.
It’s taking me six years to finish my first novel, which I am now having edited before I pursue publication – finally! It took that long, mostly because I have always had to prioritize working (poor me, I have to earn a living), but also because I wanted to fall in love my profession so badly. But make no mistake: there isn’t a day when I wake up and I don’t wish I could just write. I just want to wake up, write, have a little lunch, take a little walk, write, have a little dinner, take a little walk, write some more. Simple life. Simple dreams. I just want to tell stories. When would-be engineers were growing up, taking things apart and putting them back together, I was writing: short stories, poems, you name it. To this day, I am constantly coming up with ideas for new novels, constantly watching people interact and imagining my own version of what their lives must be like. Sure, engineers are creative and have a good imagination, but that’s where the similarities end.
I did get back on my feet, work wise. I am still working as an engineer, pretending that sexist jokes don’t bother me, or that not including me on a golf outing is not a big deal, or that my work is not more scrutinized than that of my male coworkers. But I still dream, of the day when my office will be a few feet away from my bed; the day when I will be pulling all-nighters, not because of some company’s deadline, but because I have an idea that is hammering in my head so loudly I just have to stay up and write; the day when bad guys die and good people fall in love and happy endings are not just a figment of my imagination, but a novel, written and printed, with my name on it.
What are your dreams, my friends? Tell me, because I will understand.