It's so hard to pin down the direction of your life at 17 or 18...

It’s a difficult time for 17 and 18 year olds as they finish their Leaving Cert and decide on future careers, writes EIMEAR HUTCHINSON, who reflects on her own choices
It's so hard to pin down the direction of your life at 17 or 18...

Serious concentrated young woman in glasses sitting on floor in living room and using laptop while checking bills at home iStock 1142632684 iStock-1142632684 / CAO 2020 student application

THE Leaving Cert is almost done and I keep seeing adverts about there still being time to change your mind on your CAO, which goes to show there may be a glitch in the algorithm because I have no idea why they targeted an old one like me.

It did, however, get me thinking about my career journey to date and all the twists and turns it took since I filled out my CAO.

Ironically, I also got a Facebook reminder the other day that it was ten years since I graduated from my Doctorate in Engineering with my small baby in my arms. I often joke that the only lasting thing that came from that venture was my husband.

All jokes aside, a good education is extremely valuable, regardless of where you end up, but are the decisions we make as 18-year-olds as permanent as they feel like at the time?

In the lead up to my CAO application form, I didn’t have to give it much thought. I knew from about fifth class the direction I wanted to go in life – something to do with building or construction. I always loved drawing houses and floor plans, I loved making things and helping my dad out with jobs around the house.

I did visit numerous colleges in the lead up to my Leaving Cert, toying with the idea of either Engineering or Architecture. Between a good chat with an Engineering lecturer in Sligo IT and a visit to the School of Architecture in UCD, I knew in my gut Civil Engineering was the one for me.

I spent four extremely happy years in Galway studying Civil Engineering – we had a class of about 120 but it felt small. I adored the variety of subjects, the challenge, the practical element to the course, the lecturers, and my classmates. 

I spent every summer working in an engineering firm, I never did any J1 or travelling, which in hindsight I probably do regret a little. We graduated in 2007 and had our pick of jobs from any number of companies that came recruiting us during our final year.

I stayed in Galway, a combination of a love of the city and a boy from the city kept me there, and I started working at a Consultant Engineering firm in the area that I had started to lean towards from early in the course – water and wastewater treatment. However, it turned out that in 2007 we were on the cusp of an economic downturn, new building started to dry up and by the end of summer, I was admittedly bored and frustrated.

Being a thoroughly impulsive person, I decided to jump ship and sought comfort in the cramped old prefabs of the post graduate Civil Engineering department. It worked out nicely because by December of that same year, most people who had started at the same time as me had lost their jobs. Most of my class ended up emigrating to Australia to ride out the years.

The first half of my PhD was based in Galway and the second half in Teagasc Moorepark just outside Fermoy, and a stone’s throw from where I currently live. To cut a long story short, I shared an office with five other lads who were also studying, one of whom eventually became my husband.

I worked in the area of water technologies for about a year after my PhD, then went back to Teagasc and worked on several sustainability projects over a number of years.

During that time we had two babies, and when my contract finished with Teagasc, I was in no rush to look for another job. 

I loved my job there, but I will never forget the feeling of driving out of there for the last time before becoming a stay at home mother, that specific feeling will stay with me forever.

And here I am, five and a half years later, as happy as I have ever been and already feeling like I have lived two different lives. The work I do now couldn’t be further from what I studied, but I am sure that the skillset I earned during college stood to me. Sometimes it’s not about the subject matter, it is about the process of learning. I feel it gave me the confidence to believe in my own skills so that, even when I moved completely outside the area of engineering, I had the confidence to turn my real passion for creativity into work.

It is so hard to pin down the direction of your life at 17 or 18 years of age, and I think we are lucky to live in a world that is more receptive to all our different talents.

I am an example of someone who was academic, but my true passion lay in creativity and I found my way back to eventually.

Whatever route you take, enjoy the journey, it will have ups and downs and lots of twists.

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