Can Work Wait? Why I took a sabbatical from engineering.

Recently, after a 2 month long road trip across the country with my husband, I decided that I had had enough. I was burnt out in my current field of engineering, and it just wasn’t something I was excited about anymore.

I enjoy aspects of being an engineer- I like solving problems and working with my hands. And I enjoy collaborating as well as communicating complex material in technical writing.

But the execution and application was really missing the mark over the last several years. It wasn’t fulfilling.

What AM I excited about, you ask?

LOTS of things: Art. Health. Nutrition. DIY skin and haircare. Writing. Fitness. Outdoor Adventures. Helping people.

It’s really quite overwhelming. And on my road trip I was constantly asking myself, “If I wasn’t an engineer, what would I be?”

If you would have asked me that question at any point during the first 12 years of my life, the answer would have been emphatic, “an author and illustrator of children’s books!!”

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As I said in my last post, from early on I was drawing and writing all of the time. I was even “writing” books before I knew how to read/write (scribbles with pictures can say it all when you have an exuberant little person “reading” aloud).

I found children’s books inspiring and exciting. I went to book writing camp and would meet author/illustrators- I KNEW that this is what I wanted to do.

But I was good at math and science. And I enjoyed those things too. Especially as they pertain to human anatomy. So you combine adult sensibility with those things and you get: a career in biomedical engineering.

But what about writing and illustrating? Why not now? 

No, we don’t have plans to start a family soon. This is not a post about staying home vs. staying in the workforce. I want to quit my job for me. I want to pursue something that I am passionate about.

I came across this article by Mercedes De Luca– Work can wait, 4,380 days.

In it she describes her choice to leave her engineering profession to raise her kids for 12 years. Now again I will say that my point (as well as Mercedes’) is not to talk about women in the workplace in the context of raising kids. 

Her point was to follow your passion.

She says, “for you, it could be to travel, care for a family member, pursue an interest, give back or just chill.”

In her case, her passion was to raise her kids. But it was also electrical engineering!

During those 12 years, she taught her kids how to code. She was involved teaching computer skills at their school. She took classes in her spare time to keep up with the current technology. She got her MBA.

So in reality, even though she hit pause on her engineering career, she never really lost sight of it as part of her identity. 

And from the sounds of it- following her passions paid off. She has since held positions as CTO, CEO, GM, and COO. But much more important than the high paying and high publicity positions she has held, she has again found a passion for helping the consumer.

I have two more specific takeaways from her story:

  1. Taking a break from your career is not ending it.
  2. Not having a grand plan is ok.

Taking a break from your career doesn’t have to mean that you aren’t developing skills that would somehow benefit it in the future, should you choose to go back.

HOWEVER, my second takeaway was the most reassuring: it’s ok to not have a grand plan. Mercedes just followed her heart, and made decisions as they were presented to her.

I think so often in this life of unlimited options and opportunities, and through hearing the countless stories of people who have “made” it, we get messages like these:

“Work, work, work to get what you want.”

“Set goals.”

“Make a plan and execute.”

“You won’t get anywhere unless you know exactly where you want to go.”

I am a planner , goal-setter, and perfectionist myself. So when I hear these things, it kicks me into overachiever mode. I can spend lots of time making plans, and never actually get anything done. I get overwhelmed by the massive to-do list and I become afraid.

What if it’s more simple than that? What if, I can just follow my passion? Follow my intuition? Follow my heart? And trust that (with God’s help) I can make the decisions that are best for me when the time comes?

Maybe aside from passion, the other operative word here is trust.

So I have decided that I am taking a break from my engineering career, and I am pursuing my dream of becoming an author/illustrator. I don’t have a grand plan. I don’t know how exactly I’ll go about it. I’m still afraid and insecure. I may go back to engineering, I may not. Engineering may be influential in my art and writing, or it may not.

But I do know that if I don’t try I will always wonder, “what if?”

“What if I trusted myself to succeed in following my passion?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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