As some of you might recall from reading my earlier posts, as I prepared to graduate from college I felt like a lost, little black sheep. Throughout the year, my classmates had been preparing for job fairs and applying for positions with prestigious companies, and I was.... not. And beyond this, I often felt unsupported by the engineering school which seemed to be so traditional in the types of career paths for which it advocated. There seemed to be no framework set up to help someone like me. Maybe there really was no framework, or maybe I just couldn't see it, but the funny thing is that since graduating, I have been asked many times by staff and administrators to share my "unconventional" story. In the past year, CIT has published a story about me called A Career Without Borders, and my experiences have been highlighted in the engineering brochure distributed to prospective students, and also in a brochure on Women in Engineering. I've also received emails from CMU students I've never met, asking about some of the things I've done and how they can get involved in similar projects and organizations.
The point is not that I've received all of this recognition. The validation feels good (although I am personally working to not be dependent on this kind of external approval) but more importantly, it just goes to show CMU really respected and had faith in me all along and that people who follow their heart and listen to their own voice are respected. It doesn't matter so much what you do; what matters is who you are, and, as Thoreau said, whether you go "confidently in the direction of your dreams." It is scary to stray from the beaten path. I remember I felt like I had just jumped into the deep end, and was feverishly treading water just to stay afloat because I didn't have a plan. It was exhausting. But finally I stopped searching anxiously for a lifeguard or something to grab onto and I realized that if I just extended my legs, I could stand up on firm ground. I was liberated; I took my first strokes and set off on my journey.
One of the things I appreciate most about the four years I spent at Carnegie Mellon is that I'm still connected - even though a year has passed and I'm an ocean away. Yes, I am still subscribed to the Engineers Without Borders mailing list, and I still get emails from Sustainable Earth and CIT (the Engineering school) and general updates about the University and Alumni Events. But more significantly, I'm in regular correspondance with the mentors with whom I developed close relationships during my time in Pittsburgh. And now, as I prepare to take another leap of faith when my internship comes to an end next month, these connections provide me with ideas and support for the next stage of my journey.
In a couple weeks, you will take your first leap of faith. Up until this point, the "system" has pretty much decided for you that you will go to school between September and May, and you will have the summers free to make mini decisions about how to spend your time. But now there's no more system - no more structure. Whether or not you have a map of what lies ahead, trust yourself and know that soon you will land on two feet. And in the meantime, while you're treading water, remember the resources and relationship that you established over the past four years - they will be your lighthouse.