I’m 48 years old, married, and have a son going on 16. Just like many other young adults he is starting to think about his future. Where will he be? What will he do? Who will he do it with? My stone-clad fatherly advice is always the same: Don’t stress about it! Enjoy life! Just be a kid!
I remember having the same anxieties. I struggled with who I was supposed to be, what was expected of me, how I was viewed, how I measured up, and where I would end up. There had to be an obvious path — a straight shot from Point A to Point B. After all, “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” right? It should have been natural for me to take the most efficient path.
So how did I get to Point B? How did I become a principal in an established consulting firm, in an upstate New York college town, deeply rooted in community values and culture where work is plentiful? I did not take the shortcut to get here. My journey has been more like a trip that starts out as a dream, goes into cruise control for a while, takes a sharp U-turn, then finally points in the right direction.
I never wanted to be an engineer. I was a shy, creative, and imaginative kid. I liked to draw and paint. I loved to doodle and sketch cartoons. So, naturally I wanted to be an architect! I had my drafting board in my room. I even created a logo for my company. All set…all I needed was a few clients. Oh, and a degree.
But I also had some mechanical and mathematical abilities. I would tear things apart, rethink new uses for them, and then try to put them back together. That never really worked out very well. And I was impressionable. Someone told me, “You’re good at math and science. You can’t make any money as an architect. Be an engineer.” So I did…but almost didn’t.
My third year of college I hated the thought of finishing school and being an engineer for the rest of my life. Luckily, my parents talked me off the ledge. They convinced me to finish my degree, to work for a while, and if I didn’t like engineering, pursue something else. So I did, until…
Five years into my career with a large firm in New York I was shipped off to do environmental engineering in New Jersey — all the fault of the recession of the early ’90s. I never really landed or found my groove and that darn “architecture thing” was looming over me. So I quit my job and got accepted into a master’s program for a degree in architecture. That lasted two days.
I was in a relationship and the thought of getting out of college with that much student debt and trying to raise a family just did not add up. So I abandoned my dream for the sake of the relationship. Two weeks later I was single again. I was unemployed, broke, broken, and had no clear direction. I moved into the room above my parent’s garage and sold most of my belongings just to generate some income.
A month later I got a call from a small municipal engineering firm back in “Jersey”. New York was home but New Jersey had the job and I jumped at it. There, under the guidance of a seasoned engineer and a young, energetic landscape architect, I found my niche. I latched onto municipal engineering and private site development work. I was able to be creative and solve problems, locally. I didn’t need to take on the world. I just wanted to help out a little around the block. I found my way. I found my comfortable cruising speed. And I haven’t looked in the rear view mirror ever since.
Andy Sciarabba, P.E., is a principal with T.G. Miller, P.C., Engineers and Surveyors in Ithaca, N.Y. T.G. Miller, P.C. (www.tgmillerpc.com) is a consulting civil engineering and surveying firm that serves municipal, commercial, institutional, and private clients throughout central New York. He would like to know how you like “Diversions;” Please send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.