Well, this post can potentially get me into a bit of trouble, but I think that if I’m to stay true to myself and my purpose for blogging (sharing my experiences and the challenges faced being a young woman in engineering), I have got to include it…
So I’m done with my degree and the new year is approaching. The working year in SA starts in January so the question of what I am going to do next year is something that has been coming up quite often lately! I’m on a bursary with a large, international diversified mining and resources company, lets call them X.  X has been an awesome bursar and the people there have been supportive and helpful throughout my studies. However, during the four, 6-week long stints of vacation-work I’ve done with them on a Ferrochome Smelting Plant over the past 5 years, I’ve realised that a career in maintenance was simply not for me! Vac-work gave  me the opportunity to work under various mentors and on some interesting projects but every way I look at it, I still find that this is not the career that I want to pursue. I love project management and operations so maintenance just did not align with my personality or goals. Furthermore, I simply did not enjoy the environment.
So about 6 months ago, I decided to address this misalignment and put in an application to move to the project management division of X. I thought this was a far better (and more dignified) move than getting myself bought off by another company. X had done a lot for me and I wanted to take it up with them first. Around September I heard that my application was unsuccessful and that I was to be stuck on the plant for the next four years…So, when the Global FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company Y came knocking, I decided to give it a go, and five interviews later, I got an offer in their Supply Network and Operations!   
As you can imagine, I was thrilled! Finally, a job that seemed like such a perfect fit (remember my thesis project was a supply-chain management project). Apart from that, their brand new Sandton offices were not just a little tempting…Everything seemed right in the world until X (who had no idea that Y had given me an offer) suddenly contacted me saying they have approved my move into Projects. Now this is where the fun really started. I was completely thrown off. All of a sudden everything: my future, my purpose, my career!!! was blurred. For a control-freak like me, you can only imagine how dizzying this was. I was torn between what I wanted to be, what I thought I wanted to be and what I thought I ‘should’ be. 
I took the approach that came naturally to me: I resourced. I talked to my friends, family, lecturers and mentors. I contacted other young women in the field, other bloggers and read anything useful I could find.  I made lists and drew up pros and cons, I compared and contrasted and worked myself up into a confused heap of nerves, terrified of making the wrong decision. These were both great companies after all, and both really great opportunities! From all this seeking and questioning, I only really learned two things: 1. By choosing business (Company Y) I would be divorcing myself forever from the field of engineering. 2. Nobody could make his decision for me or tell me which to choose, the decision had to be made by me.
So, having been filled with as much good advice as I could manage, and even more confused than when I started out, I decided to think about things very differently. I sat down and thought very long and very hard about, well, me. I realised that I’d been so caught up in the awesomeness and glamour of these opportunities that I’d completely lost sight of who I was and what I wanted my life to be. Emang (aka Afriquanwoman) gave me possibly the best tip of all:

“We often give so much of ourselves to our employers and sometimes, it does not do us the best of favours for our own personal careers. So definitely prioritise. Which company satisfies your own personal causes, I note your passion for development and social consciousness? You do not necessarily have to share all your personal goals with your employer, in some cases they will not match your employers, and that’s ok. But be true to yourself and your journey.”

I cut out all of the frills and fancies, the salary, the name, even the work and just looked inwards. I asked myself, ‘What are you passionate about?‘ and came up with the following:
  • Development in Africa
  • Women in Engineering
  • Education in Science and Engineering

And surprisingly, things became very clear, very fast. All my passions and interests lay in engineering. I read the Engineering News magazine each week, Popular Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering Today. I am an active member of ASME, an Engineering society, and Engineers Without Borders. I mean come on, I have a blog about how awesome it is to be a woman and an Engineer! Why wasn’t this as glaringly obvious before? Why was there so much confusion in the first place?  I am an engineer. I was born an engineer and I think like an engineer. This is the perfect fit for me, and I’m gonna stop trying to be someone else.

Well, I suppose there are many reasons for the confusion, all boiling down to me being too focused on what I thought I wanted to do and what I thought I should do.  In the end, it doesn’t matter to me if I end up on a plant, in a lab or in a fancy office. All that matters is that I’m doing what I love, what I’m passionate about and what is going to ultimately lead me to my major life goals. I’m going to follow the path that opens doors, and not just anyone’s random idea of what a ‘door’ is, but the right doors…for me! If I am really going to stay true to myself, then there is only one option.