By Joseph Bynoe
As a senior in high school, you are asked to channel the infinite wisdom you gained during 17–18 years of being a kid to choose a career that would potentially guide the rest of your adult life… Have you ever thought how ridiculous that sounds?
I was one of the lucky ones. I was 12 when I decided that I was going to be an aerospace engineer. With my deep passion for space travel and spaceship design, it seemed like the job was practically created for me. Every academic decision I made was for that purpose and culminated in an aerospace engineering degree. Growing up, it would’ve been impossible for you to convince me that I would become anything else. Well here I am, almost 26, a programmer, and I can’t put into words how miserable I would be as an aerospace engineer.
In my senior year of undergrad, I realized that aerospace was way too theoretical for my liking and wasn’t really the career for me. I felt totally lost, and I thought I was the only one. I had spent so long studying aerospace engineering that doing anything else just seemed impossible. It wasn’t until I started speaking to some of my mentors — senior people who have been in the business world for decades — that I realized they were just like me. They were richer and more successful, but just as lost.
The truth is the majority of us will never know what we truly want to do. Even though there will be times when you feel extremely trapped in your decision, know that for the most part it is all about your mindset. You may be a software engineer today, but there is little stopping you from being a carpenter down the road. Who knows, you may already have the experience you need, you just don’t realize it.
So what do you do when you feel trapped? How do you get out? You rebrand!
In 2012, people saw me as an aerospace engineer, and I was turned down on positions outside of this field. It didn’t matter that I was a super hard worker and a quick learner — all they saw was an aerospace engineer.
To rebrand, I went back to school. I was extremely fortunate to get into the Master of Engineering program at UC Berkeley. When I graduated I was not just an aerospace engineer, but also a mechanical engineer with a focus in product design. The leadership, business, and technical skills that I learned in the M.Eng. Program made my resume stand-out, and I was hired as a Product Manager at a startup.
When the startup life lost its charm, I started looking again. I set my sights on rebranding into the “sexiest job of the 21st century”: a data scientist. With no formal programming background, however, I didn’t consider myself a top contender. Instead of heading back to school, I reflected on my past jobs and academics for relevant experience. To my surprise, I was a pretty legitimate candidate having programmed at a number of my previous jobs. I was self-taught but always delivered. I even dragged that long lost aerospace engineering degree back to showcase my analytic proficiency.
Rebranding my skills and experience helped me to morph from an aerospace engineer to a mechanical engineer to a product manager and finally into a data scientist, but I doubt that’s where I’ll stop. Someone once told me that you take jobs to find out what you don’t want to do in life, and that is definitely true for me.
So what’s next? I’ve set my sights on rebranding into a billionaire — but that story is for a different article.
Maybe you’ll read this and think I’m just a serial career hopper, or maybe you’ll be able to relate. Whether you realize your career just isn’t for you, you feel underutilized, or you just get bored, there will be a point when you feel lost or trapped. The key is to remember that you can change it — all you need is some rebranding. Take a course, network and look for past relevant experience to rebrand yourself. No one is saying it is going to be easy, but it is possible!
So what do I want to be when I grow up? I’ll probably never know for sure. They say, it is the journey not the destination that matters, so don’t forget to enjoy it.
What I Want to Be When I Grow Up… was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.