Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Do I Want to Do? I Don't Know

Going to do a me entry, which I haven't done in a while. Yay!  This entry brought to you without proofreading by my growing headache. (TM)

So as many of you know I have been scrambling to gain employment before my government money runs out and I start depleting my savings after having been laid off since May 12, 2010 (best half-birthday present ever).  One of the ways I have been doing this is making use of Clarkson University's Career Center, and attending the Career Fair last Thursday.  Essentially each company rep has their own space and you compete with other students to talk with them and force feed them your resume.  There are typically around 80-100 companies that attend, and I usually find 9-10 that meet my criteria of seeking someone in my major for a full time position is a city that isn't a dumpster fire.

Despite being introverted and not terribly adept at dealing with people, I'm usually pretty good at conversing with the reps.  I have a pretty broad intelligence so we can usually connect on something, but one recurring question kept throwing me for a loop.  "What do you want to do?"  Jesus Christ, I have no idea.

The easy answer is write for a living, but let's be practical.  I have a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and was a member of the first class to take Env. Eng. as an accredited major separate from Civil Engineering.  Being a relatively new program, the curriculum was a bit cobbled together.  I took the following classes (non technical explanations in parentheses):

  • Geotechnical Engineering (Properties of Dirt)
  • Human Exposure Analysis (Everything you touch is killing you slowly)
  • Water Resources I/II (How to avoid Hurricane Katrina situations)
  • Risk Analysis (I honestly don't remember, I had this class with the same professor as Ind. Hyg. back to back and they kind of blur together in my memory.)
  • Industrial Hygiene (Health/Safety Law Compliance)
  • Hazardous Wastes (Dangerous shit)
  • Intro to Engineering Design (Woefully inadequate introduction to what being an Env/Civil engineer is like complete with attempted procedural bullshit.  My only A)
  • Environmental Quality Analysis (How our crap is polluting nature and how badly)
  • Engineering Measurements (Surveying and Mapping)
  • Water & Wastewater Treatment (Duh)
  • Industrial Ecology (How various things affect the environment.  This one is pretty complicated)
  • Environmental Law (Duh)
Actually, as I'm going through this, I realize the problem is a bit different than I thought.  I can remember which classes I liked a lot (Water Resources, Human Exposure Analysis, Engineering Measurements, Risk Analysis and Industrial Hygiene) and which classes I hated (W&WW Treatment (probably shouldn't have gotten a job in that field, eh?), Geotechnical Engineering, and Environmental Law was just really boring).  The problem is translating the classwork into an idea of what I'd be doing in the industry (and where to look for jobs) and confirming that I'm in the right place.

I didn't fit at my old job for a variety of reasons both professional (my fault) and personal (their fault).  Part of it was the work I was doing was awful and didn't play to my strengths at all.  I was passable in most areas, deficient in others, and excellent in really only one.  While I still believe that firing me from a purely performance standpoint was not justified, the truth is that I really didn't belong there.

I can be a bit of an enigma, I think.  I know that statistically I'm one of the most intelligent people in the world.  My IQ is 148 which is the 99.93rd percentile, and I got a 1430 out of a possible 1500 (due to not answering questions) the first time I took my SATs without having studied at all in spite of not really being the best test taker.  I know there are different types of intelligence, and I'm not attempting to put myself above anyone (except you know, Texans and Pittsburghians), merely illustrating that I am smart and capable of great things.  But you'd never know it from looking at my grades in college.  My cumulative GPA was 2.53, and my GPA in Civ/Env classes was a 2.9.  Impressive, but ultimately low for what I can do.

The problem is that having broad interests, I tend to spread myself too thin.  Jumping around, whether it be in hobbies, in classes, or at work has often resulted in subpar performances.  But when given a few things to focus on, I tend to excel well beyond what anyone expected of me.  When I played baseball, I was always one of the better players, so for my first several years I filled in at virtually every position.  I was above average, but I always found myself frustrated and thinking that I could do better.  Later on when I played largely as a pitcher, I began to dominate.  I had a two year stretch where I was 20-1 between school ball (2-0), a travel league (9-1), and a local league (9-0), winning a sectional championship with the school team, losing in the championship game with the travel league, and winning the league championship in the local league.

It was no different in college, as I did far better in my focused engineering classes that at least slightly overlapped than I did in Physics, Chemistry, Calculus and my Electives, though i still underperformed with the broad range of material.  At work, it was no different.  The project I was able to take lead on, I was rewarded with a bonus for, and on most others I struggled.  I can remember a yearly evaluation in which my manager and the group VP both quipped that they'd like to get me involved in an even greater variety of projects.  That struck me as being kind of counterintuitive.  Wouldn't it make more sense to either focus me down a certain avenue in which the group was lacking, or allow me to continue to excel with the things I was doing well on?  It was like playing darts and throwing all of them at once in a giant handful.  On paper the best way to score high, but none of them wind up sticking.  (And you wonder why I wasn't sad to leave.)

I also tend to underperform when not challenged.  My best grades in college were in my hardest classes.  There are two I'm particularly proud of, a B in Environmental Quality Engineering that I took as a sophomore with a bunch of seniors after having failed the prerequisite, and a B in Atmospheric Chemistry, a class full of grad students.  Likewise at work, the project I was rewarded for was the most in depth project I worked on, and also the project on which I did the largest percentage of the work.

So where does this leave me?  I guess the issues have been that I haven't been looking for jobs in the right places.  I've been making the same mistake of spreading myself too thin and trying to send my resume all over the place simply trying to pick up anything where the word 'environmental' is even remotely in the vicinity.  I have a good idea what I want to do (Water Resources, Stormwater Management, or Indoor Air Quality), now I need to get my information into the hands of the people and the companies in those businesses.

This was enlightening.

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