NOTE TO THE UNPREPARED: This post will initially seem like it has nothing to do with aerospace.
It does. Stick with it.
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Who are you?
Why do you get up in the morning, and go to this place but not that place?
What makes you tick? What scratches your itch?
What makes for a great aerospace career?
What makes for a great career in any field of endeavour, for that matter?
Does what I do make any positive difference to anyone else?
You need to ask yourself these questions.
Knowing yourself is hard work, but it’s essential
Answering these questions is the hardest kind of work there is. However, if you ever want to be able to look back on your life with satisfaction . . . . . you need to answer them now. In detail.
You already have an abstract picture of your ambition in your head. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Sit down, and sketch that out on paper.
(For inspiration, I highly recommend watching or listening to Alan Watts’ discourse What Do I Desire – . Just google “What Do I Desire”. There are dozens of copies of it on YouTube and elsewhere.)
The answers don’t usually come quickly.
What’s worse, the answers aren’t singular or static. You’ve got several ambitions, not just one. And they change with time.
People grow. People change. Priorities change. Circumstances change.
What interests you now won’t interest you in 10 years. What interests you in 10 years won’t interest you in 20.
It is tempting to think:
Well, if my ambition is going to change so much, why should I bother to define it?
Because if you don’t, you will just drift along with the current. (As I did, for the first 8 years of my career. BIG MISTAKE.) You will have no ready reference for deciding which opportunities to take, and which to turn down. You will be the re-actor, not the actor.
When I started working at Airbus in 1998, my definition of success was getting experience in aeroelasticity and flight control logic, and getting the position of chief engineer on a major new aircraft project by the time I was in my fifties.
Oh, and I wanted to avoid landing gear and fatigue/damage tolerance. Those were the boring bits of an aircraft. (So thought I, at the time.)
Inspired by the Avro Arrow
I had this image in my head, inspired by my father’s stories, and film footage I’d seen of the Avro Arrow interceptor project. The chief engineer was king of the hill! He controlled and decided every major design detail of the aircraft. There was only one chief engineer in the company, and he ranked only slightly below company CEO, while commanding way more respect. What better job could there be?
I now suspect it wasn’t quite like that at Avro Canada in the 1950’s. And I learned very quickly that it definitely wasn’t like that at Airbus in 1998. Chief engineers were everywhere. If ever it had been the most authoritative and respected position in the company, that authority and respect had been very deliberately diluted.
It was an eye-opening letdown.
I also discovered that while I was interested in aeroelasticity and flight control logic, my department managers had, um, somewhat different plans for me. (More on that in a future post.)
Your ambitions change with time
It’s fair to say, though, that while some of my ambitions then were thwarted, I now look back and don’t feel too much disappointment.
I’m still fascinated by aeroelasticity and flight controls. But I’ve learned something in the interim: Had I realized those urges, my career would have dead-ended very quickly. (For reasons I’ll divulge in another, future post.)
Suffice to say: Take the time, and do the hard mental labour now of defining your ambition(s). Clearly, concisely, and specifically. Record them on paper (or hard drive), and review them periodically.
Do it no matter if you’re still in university, just started in your first engineering job, or well seasoned.
And then I suggest reviewing your ambitions no less frequently than once per quarter.
I’m a heavy Evernote user. I have one Evernote file that documents my ambitions, and the specific goals I’m taking to realize it. I try to look at it at least once a week, just to remind myself of what I need to be about.
And then: Don’t be surprised to find that your ambitions change. You are dynamic and changing, just as your circumstances are.
It will be a useful process of self-discovery.