What does it mean to make your own path in life?
I used to ask myself this question a lot. There are so many people on earth—even just in America, 20.2 million students will attend universities this year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It is incredible that so many people can achieve a higher education; however, it does make one feel like a small fish in a very expansive sea. With so many other people pursuing higher degrees, how can I carve out a path that is truly my own?
I witnessed the answer to this at the SWE national conference in Tennessee. I became a part of an entire convention center full of motivated women with unique aspirations. Even though we were all women in engineering and most of us had similar skills in math and science, I was exposed to so much diversity of thought. We could all see the world’s problems, and we each wanted to help tackle them in our own particular way.
When I was at a panel about women having a global career, I discovered how professional women are taking what they learn on international engineering trips and applying them back home. They used good team work skills from Spain and relationship-building between corporate partners from Japan; they were open to better ways to solve problems.
During a session for LGBTQ inclusion, I discovered different ways to be a voice for colleagues and help them raise their own, to be an ally.
The most exciting discussion session for me was about women in sustainability. There were five different women who each were discovering their own way to help overcome environmental issues. One woman was part of the Clinton Foundation’s initiative to bring solar power to island states. Another was the founder for Woman in Wind Energy. Yet another was a graduate from MIT who worked with a solar installation company. Others graduated from the Naval Academy and decided to go after careers in renewable energy services. All of these women started somewhere different and, through their technical careers, decided their mission was to give back to the earth. They each had their own way of solving what they thought were the most pertinent environmental problems.
What one of the panelist said really impacted me. She said how each of us may believe we have to solve all of the world’s problems, but if you think of the world as a human body, you can remember that there are countless cells working toward the body’s health. Not one cell contributes wholly. Each cell works beside the other. I felt like that was very true for this situation because all of these women came from different backgrounds and were working on their own tasks in order to better the world, and I know that there are countless others tackling separate environmental issues and other problems such as poverty, education, and social justice. We will all find a way to contribute to the earth by being part of the world and working through it to carve our own diverse path.