Recently I have had some interesting discussions with Mrs. SSC, friends, and even people around the office. I asked them a fairly straightforward question, “If you could go back to your high school self and let them know where you are today, how would they respond to the news? Would they be surprised in a good or bad way, or nod knowingly and say, “Yep, that’s pretty much what I expected to happen?” Would your highschool self even think that you might have not tried hard enough and just settled for the easy route?” The answers have been pretty varied.
Mrs. SSC is of the opinion that her high school self wouldn’t be too surprised about her situation and would fit into the “yep, that’s about what I expected would happen” category. Meaning that she was pretty driven during high school and college and that drive to excel is what got her to where she is today. She might be more surprised at leaving a megacorp oil and gas job for teaching, but not once she explained to her younger self that at some point in life, happiness trumps making more money. Overall, the trajectory of her life seems to follow the path she set it on at a young age. Mine however, couldn’t be more different.
If I was able to tell my high school self where I was right now at 40, with family, education, career, and what shape our finances are in, first I don’t think he’d believe me. After I convinced him that this is legit and we really did “make it”, he’d be ecstatic. High school me would jump up, give me a big hug, a high five and hop around screaming, “F*** yeah, we did it! We DID it!” Quite honestly, even now I have to take a moment to reflect on where I’ve come from and really appreciate being in the spot I am today. I know that if I had been able to write a successful life story for myself back when I was in high school, I would have set the bar so low that I wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near where I am today. I would have settled for a way less comfortable and successful lifestyle in SO many ways.
What Sparked this Look Back?
I recently caught up with my high school guidance counselor and we had an interesting conversation. She asked, “What are you doing for a career?” I told her the abridged version of my career story and how I ended up in oil and gas. She asked, “Oh, did you know about that career when you went to study in college?” I replied, “Nope, not a clue. I didn’t even know a geologist was a job you could have and make a decent living at until after I was in college.” True statement by the way. She was shocked by that and asked what made me go into this field and I explained that I just stumbled across it. However, I find it fascinating and like the challenges and critical thinking that it makes me do every day.
Why Go To College?
Except for getting told by my parents that, “you’re going to college”, I didn’t have any reason to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, except knowing that if I got a job making $80k or more a year, I’d be set. I wanted to become an insurance adjuster because I’d worked with my Granddad helping him out so much doing that and I liked the schedule. You would be in the office some, out in the field some, meeting and talking to people, helping people out with their claims; yes, it was a naïve view of that lifestyle but one that I could see myself doing. Plus, he made close to 6 figures a year, so that would be great. When I told him about that, he kind of recoiled and grilled me about the “why” and then after listening and giving it consideration, he said, “Well, that’s great. As soon as you get your degree, I can help you find a job.” Now, technically, you don’t need a college degree to become an insurance adjuster, but Granddad didn’t want me to not go to college.
Then I told him about the other job that I was interested in, being an over the road long haul truck driver. I think he literally rolled his eyes at that one. He then went on to explain that, no I really didn’t want that job because it’s a hard job and can come with a lot of profession related health issues. Really, how is sitting in a truck driving 10-14 hrs a day not healthy? I was back to square one without knowing what I wanted to do or how to get there, so of course, off to college I went.
I did just enough to get into the local university and squandered my first couple of years there. I didn’t squander them as much as I took a lot of interesting soft courses and I avoided any science and math classes. I stayed undeclared for 2.5 years and racked up the credits somwhow avoiding school loans that first 2.5 years.
I eventually realized I was wasting time there and went in search of myself to figure out why I should be in college, what I would do there, and if not college, what else could I do without a degree. I chose the Appalachian Trail as a good venue to figure all of this out. It got me away from the drama that was home, it let me “just be” and have space to think about all these things. After 2.5 months of hiking I covered ~1700 miles and made it from Maine to the NC/TN border.
More importantly I figured out what I wanted to do and decided it was time to get back in school. Years later, I finally graduated college with almost 220 credit hours, about 100 more than a typical degree requires.
I worked as a geotechnical engineer for about 6 years before going back to grad school for a Masters in geology. In grad school I was introduced to the petroleum geology side of the industry and loved it. An internship led to a full time job and I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now and still love it.
This leads me back to my take on being so surprised I am where I am today. High school me, would have no clue that I could achieve so much, go so far in life, and be as successful with family, career, and finances as I am. A lot of that is due to great support from Mrs. SSC but I played a role in that as well. I didn’t settle for the lifestyle in which I was raised and I wanted more. I wasn’t sure how exactly to achieve that, but I knew I wanted more. I never stopped just because something was hard and that kept leading me to better opportunities. I’m grateful that I took advantage of the opportunities I had, and the opportunities I made, to end up where I am today.
What about you? Have you ever thought about how your high school self would respond to finding out how your life has gone so far? Would they be as excited and shocked as mine would be? Let me know, because I’d love to hear about it!