In November of 2016, I found an Engineers Without Borders conference online. The story of finding Engineers Without Borders is in this other post: Listen to your gut, to your instinct, to that little voice deep down telling you what is important to you. (Part 1/2).
So, I found this conference and I went alone. (My mom drove to Ohio State University with me but didn’t come to the conference.) Little did I know, all of the college kids at this conference were coming with their school’s chapter, and I was one of the only students–really, the only one–without a chapter. I had to introduce myself to everyone I sat next to in sessions, find tables to sit with other schools for meals…wayyyyy out of my comfort zone. If you know me, you know that these social things are nightmares. Anyway–the important part–at the end of the Saturday portion of the conference, there was a social at Champs restaurant for people to network.
Here’s how the conference worked: buses took everyone from the hotel in the morning to OSU’s campus for the conference, and then took everybody back to the hotel in the evening in a few trips. The night of the “social,” the bus was going from OSU, stopping at the hotel to drop people off who didn’t want to go to Champs, and then run a continuous loop from Champs to the hotel for a few hours.
So, Saturday night, I left OSU, got on the bus. At 9:30pm after being up and going (in dress clothes, being social, mind you) since 8am..I just wanted to go in and go to sleep. Almost everybody on the bus I was on got off at the hotel…another reason to just go in and call it a night. BUT. something was telling me to stay on this bus. I often talk about the Universe (or whatever you refer to it as) whispering to me, but in this situation, the Universe was literally screaming at me to ride to Champs. It was using it’s little invisible Universe hands to basically hold me to my seat on that bus..so I obviously stayed in my seat and I went to Champs.
When we got there, I AGAIN ran into the issue of having to join a table of people who all knew each other. (seriously, again, nightmare for me). Then, in a very full back room, I saw a table with two empty seats and went for it.
Is anyone sitting here?
I ended up at a table with two engineers, one guy and one girl, both around 27(?) who each belong to professional chapters of EWB. There was also another student who came as a lone representative of his school’s chapter, and while I really enjoyed meeting him, he didn’t really contribute to the specific main point of this story (sorry, nameless engineering student).
So after a day’s worth of EWB sessions and speakers and information, I knew this was the kind of career I was interested in. Somehow, I was placed perfectly at a table with two knowledgeable sources when it came to this type of engineering work! The topic of what am I doing after I graduate came up and I said…..Well? I have no idea.
How do you make a living doing this kind of engineering? After today, I know this is what I want to do.
Through the conversation, I learned that it is almost impossible to make a full living from EWB, especially at my age, but there is plenty of volunteer work. Somehow..the table’s conversation then took the turn of the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps? But I’m an engineer.
I had never thought about this. at. all. Turns out, the guy engineer at my table had been in the Peace Corps. He talked about his experiences, his friends’ experiences, the fact that the PC can get you scholarships for grad school…and the other engineer said that if she could give her younger self advice, it would be to join the Peace Corps. Eventually, the bus was there to pick us up and we all exchanged a, “We can get contact information tomorrow, see you then!” Of course, I did not get their contact information and can’t even remember their names. Typical Sarah. Maybe this story will make its way back to them?
On the bus ride back to the hotel I remember thinking, “The Peace Corps? Me? The Peace Corps? Peeeace corps. Peace corps.” Kind of testing out the idea in my brain. I don’t care how crazy this sounds, but I swear I knew right then that this was what I was going to do.
On the car ride home Sunday, I tentatively mentioned the idea to my mom. I pretended that it was just one option after college and that my mind was open to other things…but I knew. From this very day in November, the research started. Looking at the website of the organization eventually lead to Peace Corps cribs videos on YouTube, laughing and crying over stories shared by current volunteers through their blogs, scheduling Spanish to become a more competitive applicant, submitting an application in December..and well? now we are here. (Still watching Peace Corps cribs videos on YouTube and crying over PCV stories, of course).
Anyway, let’s wrap this up. In short: If I would have settled for a job like the internship (that I didn’t like), I would have never tried to find a career that fit me more, and never would have discovered Engineers Without Borders. No EWB conference would have meant never going to Champs, never sitting at that table, and never hearing about the Peace Corps. It only happened because I listened to my gut, to my instinct, to that little voice deep down telling me what was important to me.
We have to be proactive in finding things that are important to our souls. We have to be open enough to try new things and get the heck out of our comfort zones. So. Take that internship that requires you to move to a new city. Research everything you can about what other people are using your degree for. Go to community functions, join clubs.
Sometimes this proactivity means searching the internet to find an organization you’ve never heard of and then going to a conference in another state alone and forcibly introducing yourself to 100 people in a weekend. Sometimes this is what it takes to find yourself at the table in Champs, “coincidentally” in the right place at the right time, dramatically changing the course of your life for the better.