Thursday, June 29, 2017

Think Write Thursday | Career Plans.

high school graduation - June 1979
Today's Think Write Thursday topic is to write about what you wanted to be when you grew up. How does it compare to what  find yourself doing?

This is a story I've never told here. I'm not sure my kids even know the whole thing! So I'm taking a break from the Mystery Shawl ... and writing a lot more than I usually do!

Growing up, I don't remember ever wanting to be anything other than a Chemical Engineer and a Rambling Wreck ... just like my father. We visited Georgia Tech the summer of 1977 and I was settled; it was the only school I applied to and I was accepted. Classes began in September 1979 and I loved everything about the school (not only because I met Marc before classes even started - he was a year ahead of me). I did well in my classes and had fun! I found Tech challenging, but I also found myself - for the first time in my life - surrounded by others who enjoyed working hard.

My father worked for Texaco his entire career; most of that time was spent in refineries (when he retired, he was managing a refinery in Kansas). In the fall of my sophomore year, I interviewed for a co-op job with Chevron (and remember getting teased about that from home) and spent my winter quarter working in their Richmond, California refinery.

I was a Craft Helper, which meant I rotated through various crafts - machine shop, pipe fitting, maintenance. I wore coveralls, work boots and a hard hat. I spent days chipping black yuck out of a bubble tower. I was 2,500 miles away from everything I loved. I hated it.

and organic chemistry. That was the first (and only?) class I ever dropped.

I changed my plans! Leaving Tech was not an option and I still wanted to graduate in four years. I was probably the first Applied Mathematics graduate with nearly all her technical electives filled with Chemical Engineering classes. I loved my math classes, especially statistics. I also enjoyed teaching; I graded for a professor my junior year and taught freshman calculus recitations my senior year.

I had only vague plans about what I might do with my degree. Marc and I got engaged the December before I graduated and he planned to return to Connecticut to an architecture firm he'd interned for the summer before. I thought I could get a job with an insurance company in Hartford, or maybe teach.

Marc ended up getting a job in Atlanta ... and so did I. A small actuarial consulting firm called Hazlehurst & Associates asked me to interview; I got the job and started in June 1983 (a week after I graduated). I really had no idea what actuaries did, but I knew it involved studying and tests (I was good at that), paid well and I would never have to wear coveralls to work. Turned out it wasn't as much about math as I thought and the studying was on my own time (but required). But there was new legislation taking effect that created 401(k) plans. Hazlehurst had a few clients that were interested in starting plans and they needed help administering them. The timing was great for me - I read a COBOL programming manual on the bus - and joined the new team. It was a great fit ... finally!

Hazlehurst was acquired by Northern Trust in the early 1990's and then sold to Hewitt Associates in 2003 ... I was there for all of that. My career included programming (I also taught myself two more languages to "keep up"), administering and consulting about benefits ... and ultimately managing folks (here in the US and in India) who did those things.

The Hewitt transition was difficult - too much work, too few people, not enough money ... and unhappy clients. I missed out on much of Katie's high school and college and was determined to do things differently with Sara. In September 2009, I announced my retirement and left - on the best of terms - in early 2010.

I did see Sara play tennis ... and move into her own apartment ... in Wisconsin! and I did get to teach knitting ... and work in my LYS. (truly every knitter's dream, right?!)

Then two months ago I retired. for real. (in other words I am no longer getting paid. for anything!)

I'm still adjusting to days on my calendar with no commitments and a much smaller to-do list. I love the flexibility, but I do find myself craving structure. TBD how this whole thing works out.

and whew. long post. but I'm glad I got it all down. and if you read this far, wow! (and thank you!) did anything surprise you?

Of course I'm linking up with Kat and Carole today!

9 comments:

  1. This is fascinating! I really applaud you for realizing that chemical engineering wasn't for you and then figuring out how to reroute your path successfully. I knew you know math, but didn't know the specifics, and I knew you had retired from Hewitt, but didn't know how you had ended up there. I think the biggest surprises are picturing you in coveralls and a hard hat chipping black gunk and that you were an actuary. (Ryan thought about it for ~5 min. in college but said the tests were crazy hard and grad. school was easier.) So thank you for taking the time to tell us your whole story; I enjoyed it and feel like I know you better!

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  2. I am in awe! I have 2 cousins who are (were, one is no longer with us) Chemical Engineers - that is tough brain work! And, bravo to you for a plug for continued learning!! But, YIKES - you are a math genius... me? Oy, I am practically a math illiterate. It was the subject I struggled with consistently (and still do)! I am even more humbled by your amazing gift of friendship and I love this glimpse into what made you who you are today! XO

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  3. Oh, Mary! Our stories are similar once again (although not the chemical engineering part). I've never blogged about my long-and-winding career path, but maybe someday I'll share the tale. In the meantime, just know that I'm out here in "early retirement" seeking some sort of structure and not getting paid . . . right along with you! XO

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  4. this was such interesting reading Mary! I come from a family of scientists -- chemistry and physics. I've always enjoyed math and science but wanted to be an elementary teacher. That lasted about 3 semesters...then I started student teaching and HATED it!! So I switched majors as well. The only degree I could graduate with in my original 4 years (and I absolutely didn't want to stay any longer) was Religion and the Social Sciences. Lots of religion classes and psych and sociology. All interesting, but not related to what I do day-to-day. It is interesting where our lives take us. Thanks for sharing your tale!

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  5. Fascinating...never woulda thought...can just see you in your CE gear. Glad you found your niche and that we were able to "retire" at the same time...guess it was in the stars that we were to have "met" about that time. I know exactly how you feel with the lack of imposed structure...but who needs it?! Carry on and do continue to enjoy!
    Cheers~

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  6. Such a great story, Mary! I was most surprised to read about your time as a Craft Helper - very interesting! I seem to remember some programming and computer languages in my ancient history somewhere - never my favorite things. : ) And I'm with you on structure. I don't seem to do very well without at least a little in my life. Thanks for sharing your story!

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  7. Thank you for sharing your path of how you got to the place you are now. I enjoyed learning more and knowing you a little better. My job entails filling and filing form for company 401(k) plans. Feels like a connection, of sorts. I will soon be joining you in the "non-paid" department. I can't wait to be happy, free and "poor"! xox

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  8. I did not know you were a math whiz! That craft helper gig must have been so interesting. My s-I-l was an actuary and sounds like a similar career path. She's still changing it at 57! I'm counting down...2.5 years left and Doug and I will retire together. America...here we come! :-)

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  9. I can imagine the work at the refinery was pretty grubby. I never had any career goals, college was not an option after high school, but I'm glad I went back for the experience. I can't believe I've been at the same job for 12 years [next month]. The longest ever! A fun post for sure.

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Thanks for the feedback!