In Chapter 1, I discussed some of the early beginnings of how I had tried to plan my life and my career. I had just secured a good job but was struggling to keep pushing myself, and life as an engineer in the oil & gas industry was rapidly becoming increasingly unappealing. But there was light at the end of the tunnel – I was switching jobs within the company (in order to develop project management skills to complement the technical knowledge I had learned) so I was optimistic that things would get better.
I feel that, before we go any further, I should probably clarify the title of this article. Hate is a very strong word, and probably quite an inaccurate one for this context. I just couldn’t think of a verb that depicted “to be bored with” nicely. Plus the title kinda sells the article, and sales is kinda part of my job…
Anyway, things didn’t get better.
What I had begun to realise as well was that my grand plan for my life and career had missed out the most crucial factor: me (but in two different ways – how I ticked and what I found interesting). I realised that I hadn’t thought enough about how I actually behave and what I really wanted to get out of life. These were not easy things for me to work out, however.
What I Find Interesting
Structures and machinery just don’t do it for me
Truth be told, I found many aspects of my job and the oil & gas industry generally quite dull. I found many parts of my engineering degree relatively unexciting – in my opinion, we didn’t really spend that much time doing stuff that I thought was “cool” and we studied loads of
ancient fundamental theories for things like bridges that never really did it for me. Some parts were super cool – I remember loving the lectures we had on car aerodynamics, renewable energy and cricket ball swing, and I was captivated by modules I did on entrepreneurship and marketing (I went into consulting because of these actually).
There were some rough winds though, and I remember having conversations with my Director of Studies at university several times about switching subjects but chose to “stick at it” (arguably a mistake, but engineering is a really useful degree to have!). My true interests lie in tech – I’ve been obsessed with computers (having built several) and mobiles (I was a smartphone early adopter) since I was young.
I’d only really enjoyed two of the jobs that I’d worked (I’m not counting my paper round) – one was retail sales (which is still my favourite to this day – I loved helping people out) and the other was strategy consulting (although the general culture left a lot to be desired).
Anyway, in short, I worked out that I love solving interesting problems. In fact, I’d chosen engineering as a degree because of the chance it got to solve problems. One of my favourite quotes describing engineering (Arthur Mellon Wellington) is: “the art of doing […] well with one dollar, [that] which any bungler can do with two“.
The key word is interesting though – I found most engineering problems uninteresting (structures and machinery just don’t do it for me), whereas I find solving business and consumer problems addictive.
“How I Tick”
My personal benchmark of success is how much of an impact you can have on people’s lives and how much you are seen as a role model
As well as loving problem-solving, I realised that I really wanted to be successful, and I didn’t want to settle for anything less.
In order to try and explain this, I’m going to refer to a funny, satirical article I read about a man who had been mocked by friends as being “unambitious” for leaving London, getting a decent job, buying a house, raising a family and living happily ever after. The crux of the article was to joke at out how people define ambition, and it being a reason why people flock to London in spite of the overcrowding and high property prices. It pointed out that you can also measure success as having strong relationships, a close family and free time to “actually enjoy life”.
I could definitely see the point the article was trying to make but
arguably in a sad way I knew that I could never be truly happy and live without regrets unless I tried to push myself as far as possible and to relentlessly compete to be “the best” at what I wanted to do.
This essentially threw a spanner into the works of just getting a decent job and living a quiet life. I’d planned to work “hard enough” at my job and not “bust my ass” trying to get to the top, but I soon realised that I couldn’t keep this up.
So the solution would be to just work harder, right?
Not quite, and this comes down to how people measure success differently. I realised my personal benchmark of success is how much of an impact you can have on people’s lives and how much you are seen as a role model. It is my hope to get somewhere along this path by building something that people truly love.
Armed with this new-found knowledge, I then set about course-correcting. In order to be able to build something people truly love, have the impact that I want to and work on stuff that I found interesting, I would have to either launch a start-up or work in a rocket-ship. In order to launch a start-up, I would need to have a great idea and a great team, but also improve my execution skills (I had no idea how to build a website/launch a business/raise money). In order to work in a rocket-ship, I would need almost an entirely new skillset. I also didn’t know what else I didn’t know. I did know, however, that I had to take action.