Where will life take me?

Earlier this term MHA directors were approached by an upper Mechanical Engineering student, who wished to share their Mental Health journey by writing this story

In addition to running this blog, the mental health awareness directors also run Post Secret every term. This is a service where people can submit short anonymous secrets, confessions, or just about anything they want to get off their chest. We write them out and stick them up on a wall for everyone to see. You can submit a secret here: https://goo.gl/ATnDFX

If you have a story to tell or are interested in being featured on the blog, email us at engsocmha@gmail.com.

Hey there, I’m a 2B Mechanical student here at the University of Waterloo, and I wanted to share a story with you about some of my most recent experiences, thoughts and reflections. I only hope that I’m not alone in my thinking and that these words may have an impact on you who reads this, whether it be for careful reflection, a change in perspective, or as a source of guidance and/or reassurance.

Starting off with a little bit about myself, as I said, I’m a 2B Mech student, I’m involved in a number of EngSOC roles and events, and I like to consider myself an active part of our community, whether through social or technical areas. I’m a huge car fanatic (of course, being in Mech), so much so that I could talk your ear off about American car history and designs, like what differs between components on one generation of GM engines from another. I’ve had two co-ops thus far, both of them in automotive parts development and testing, and I will be returning to my previous job this upcoming Fall term.

So why is this all important? Well, the story I wanted to share with you is about the internal struggle I’ve been facing for what I could say has been most of my academic career, but arguably even longer than that. I’m sure many of us often face questions like “What am I doing here?, What do I want to do after I graduate? What steps do I take toward success? or (most importantly in my opinion) What makes me happy? Am I going to be happy doing this for the rest of my life?”. These are all very loaded questions, and I’m not going to say I have an answer for them, at least, not a set of answers that will apply to everyone, but I have had some experiences that I feel have provided me with some insight, and I’d like to share that.

Every so often I question my sense of belonging at this school. Sure I love the community and the culture, I get by decently when it comes to grades, and I’ve made a lot of friends who share similar views. And yet, I can’t help but feel like I’m not fit to be a “Waterloo Engineer”. I get by in school, begrudgingly learning the content so that I can go do work that seems like it’s only tangentially related, I get involved in a community, where I feel like I don’t have the skills or the drive to make a real difference, and I’ve strictly done work in the industry I’ve been interested in my whole life, and I feel like I’ve learned nothing new aside from exposure and information on a few subsets of specific industry standards. Despite all this however, I’ve decided to return to the same line of work, as repetitive and set as it may be, and I’ve been too scared to try something more analytical, or to take on greater responsibilities. But, why? Well… because these decisions are safe.

Sometimes we come to a point in life where things seem to be going perfectly well. We convince ourselves that we are on a good path, and that the odds are in our favor. But despite how well everything looks on paper, we still feel dissatisfied, and we make excuses as to why. I think that this has a lot to do with perspective. I have been in a position where I was creating excuses as to why I was feeling the way I was, like saying that I was disappointed with my work in automotive, only because that’s how things actually are in the real world, that there is no “tony stark” kind of engineering job in industry, just documenting or button pushing. While there is some merit to that statement, as there’s really only so much you can do in one company or one industry, I failed to realize that using that to justify boring work only leaves you feeling more empty about what you’re doing, and will leave you thinking that’s all there is to do, whereas I’m sure I know many people who could say otherwise based on their experiences. I had convinced myself that I could only do that kind of work because it’s all I’ve known and that’s all there is for me. The truth is that I’m worried that I might not be able to perform in a tougher, more technical setting, and that I may not have the skills to fit the part. Really, it’s your frame of mind that shapes what you decide to think and do, and how you decide to take charge of your life. Sometimes, you just need a push to help you into that frame of mind and to help you say, “Yes, I can do something rewarding. If I don’t know how, then I’ll learn, and if it’s out there, I can find it.”

So then what did it for me? Why the sudden realization that I’ve been hiding behind a sense of security? For me, it was a phone call that I received from one of my best friends, and someone in whom I place a great deal of trust.

Our school was hosting a leadership conference for most of the engineering societies in Ontario, held under the title ESSCO (Engineering Student Societies Council of Ontario), and I had initially applied to be a delegate. I wasn’t too sure what was involved in the role, but I was told it could be a very rewarding experience. I applied and got the position, however, I then realized how close this conference fell to my midterm week and I decided to reject my offer so that I could focus on my studies. It was only upon receiving the phone call I mentioned that circumstances changed.

My friend called me the day before the conference, and told me that someone had dropped out of the delegation and a spot was open. Again, I was faced with a decision which weighed on one thing, am I capable of succeeding should I go through with this? Is it really worth the potential of failing? I knew I was nowhere close to understanding the majority of concepts from my classes, and exams were practically at the door. Yet, against every conflicting emotion, I decided to go, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

The conference was amazing from start to finish. I had a great time meeting people, learning professional skills, and forming incredibly close friendships. I got to experience everything I loved about being involved at this school, only in a greater spectrum. It’s an experience I’ll remember for a very long time. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I also learned a lot about myself that weekend, especially after a certain speech brought it to light.

I listened to a keynote speech presented by Tim Lougheed at an evening banquet, where all I had been thinking experiencing came to a climax. Mr. Lougheed delivered a speech about the importance of having faith when moving forward in life. He told a story from his own experience of which the pivotal point was that during a time in his life when everything seemed stable and secure, he received a phone call which based on his answer to a question, could (and did) change the course of his life. This eventually broke down into this message: as young leaders and aspiring engineers there will be times in life when we are put to the test and have to make big decisions, whether that means moving away from home, or volunteering for an international cause, leaving a steady job, or some other life changing decision. When those times come, it is important to keep faith in mind, faith that people can lead you on a good path, having faith in yourself and your own abilities and above all having faith that you may end up at a time and place where you may offer the same opportunity to someone else.

I realized after this experience that there are things about myself and my life that I may not like and that there are ways in which I feel somewhat inadequate, but as long as I set those limits for myself, I’ll never be able to grow as a person. It’s not always easy to take risks, especially when you are the biggest obstacle standing in your own way. I’ve learned that the only way I can break past that is to have a little faith, to answer that call, and to say yes to opportunities and to myself. Having a friend or a mentor to guide you certainly helps, but at the end of the day, if you can stop and have a look at your life, take a risk and make big decisions, you’ll be able to move forward in life. You won’t always know where life will take you, and things may not go according to plan, but if at the end of the day you can say you made decisions you didn’t regret, and you enjoyed the time you had, you’ll likely have been more successful than many others.

If you find yourself becoming discouraged, afraid to pursue something you think you can’t achieve, then you will never achieve it. We never stop growing, and at different times in life we will continue to develop different goals, pursuits, and values. What’s important is trying to live each day by putting faith in the decisions you make, without fear of regret. At least then you’ll know that whether or not you achieved your goals, or acquired new ones along the way, you’ll have strived to be your best self. So take time, learn, find what really makes you happy, and take a chance when the time comes. You may be surprised by where life takes you.