I Know What I Want to Be When I Grow up

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It all started when I was a child, as most peoples’ stories do.

In the Beginning (or Close Enough)

At 5, I wanted to be a Pastor. By the time I turned 8, that dream was long gone, but it took me years to admit it out loud.

I was going to be a writer until photography caught my eye.

What about farming? That could be fun.

Science had so many facets that it had to be the answer.

I was all over the place. And that was okay because I was a kid.

Fast Forward a Decade

I was in college, majoring in psychology with the intent of going to med school.

Med school still sounded right, but psych just wasn’t for me. I loved the courses, but I was never going to be happy in the field. Queue the switch to a business degree.

Accounting had potential, as did marketing. But a business degree just didn’t keep me hooked for long. I took the marketing angle and pivoted slightly into advertising.

I didn’t even get to my first advertising course before I decided that the sciences were probably a better option given my interest in medicine. My major evolved again, this time into biology.

Biology was great except for all that pesky memorization. But so many of my classmates were pre-med which made me feel like I had woken up in a vat at the center of a massive cloning facility.

I took general chemistry a semester later than I should have. I’d been putting it off because it scared me. Turns out I loved it much more than my former love, biology. So like an alkali metal that had just met a halogen, I was ready for a change and things were starting to look more positive.

I stayed certain that chemistry was the right option until junior year when started taking upper-level physics courses.

My restlessness was back, but it was too late to change.

Instead, I ended up just getting a physics minor alongside my chemistry degree.

Now on to Grad School

In graduate school, I managed to squeeze more physics into my life by going into physical chemistry, a subfield that, not surprisingly is heavy on both chemistry and physics.

More specifically though, I was in computational physical chemistry, which meant that I needed to be able to code. I had done some coding back in high school, and I took a single course in C in undergrad, but I was not a coder by any stretch of the imagination.

I didn’t just pick up coding in grad school. My statistics knowledge was also enhanced significantly over those years. And more importantly, I picked up a love for data. My graduate studies were quickly pushing me to my next pursuit: data science.

Entering the Job Market

I was a young self-proclaimed data scientist with no experience, a degree that few would recognize as being pertinent, and no real connections to call on.

I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just sent out 200+ resumes for data science positions all across America and Europe.

I interviewed for about a dozen positions, leaving me with roughly 6 offers to choose from. None of them were in fields that I cared strongly about. They ranged from banking to defense to consulting. I went with adtech.

I ruled out one company for what I considered an insultingly low offer. I wasn’t looking to be rich, but I felt that it was a signal of how much they valued me. Another company I ruled out for being in a small Michigan town. I was ready for the big city life.

The final and most important deciding factor was the team I’d be working with. I knew that I was a newbie. I needed good mentors. I was also going to a new city where I knew nobody, so I needed to build a support network. The company I found had both.

My manager was a man who I will always respect, both personally and professionally. The team included people that, to this day, I still consider some of my best friends. It was a great place for me to hone my craft.

Smaller Is Better

Corporate life, as it turns out, was not for me. Neither was waiting several years for a management position. After 2 years, I left for a job at a hospitality startup. I was still a data scientist, but here I was largely flying solo.

My manager came from a revenue management background. I learned much from him about that area and about working at a startup, but I was the most experienced data scientist at the company.

They needed someone with experience in data engineering, data modeling, and data architecture, so I got a few more hats. They needed microservices, so I added that hat as well. These were all things that I was familiar with, but I was far from an expert in any of them.

It was trial by a thousand fires. I loved it.

Well, I loved that part of it. The company had a serious culture issue. At first, it was a toxic simmer, but it quickly boiled over. Several of us tried to change it, but our efforts didn’t work. By the time any progress had been made, we’d already started to lose good people.

I skipped a step earlier. I didn’t initially intend to leave corporate life for that particular startup. I actually intended to leave to create a startup, 6C Solutions, with one of my former co-workers, but a non-solicitation clause in our contract prevented that. A year had passed, and that contract was now expired.

I could feel my forward momentum stagnating at my current company. With the door now re-opened, I became a co-founder of 6C Solutions.

I’ve got a whole other article in the works about that, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that it was a tremendous learning experience, but my new startup eventually failed.

Are We There Yet? We’ve Been in This Story Forever

Don’t worry, we’re getting there.

This pretty much brings us to today. What am I doing? I do contract work, I write, and I learn. But that’s not what you were asking.

What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a data scientist. I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to be a writer.

I want to be done with the world where I feel trapped in a specific role. I want to never again feel like momentum is forcing me toward a destination I don’t want to visit.

I want to be me, and I don’t want to be ashamed of that.

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Have you ever seen the movie Anger Management? There’s this scene where Adam Sandler’s character, Dave Buznik, is in a group therapy session led by Jack Nicholson’s character, Dr. Buddy Rydell.

Dr. Buddy Rydell: So, Dave. Tell us about yourself. Who are you?

Dave Buznik: Well, I’m an executive assistant for a major pet products company.

Dr. Buddy Rydell: [interrupts him] Dave, I don’t want you to tell us what you do. I want you to tell us who you are.

I chuckled when I first saw that scene, but it has stuck with me. For a while, I thought that defining yourself by your career is fine. After all, that’s what you do for nearly half of your waking life.

But isn’t that thinking backward?

I would rather define my career by who I am.

This would never work in the traditional corporate world. You have a trajectory. You follow it and you get promoted. You veer, and you fall behind.

But it does work in the world of startups and entrepreneurship. I’m not locked in. The smaller the company, the less a title matters. Sure, I was a data scientist at that hospitality startup, but I wore product and engineering hats as often as I wore a data scientist hat.

At 6C Solutions, as one of only two full-time team members, it was even better. I was a marketer, a systems architect, a content writer, a data scientist, a full-stack programmer, a project manager, a product manager, and so much more.

Of course, you are still limited by what needs to be done, but I’m okay with that. I can understand the existence of needs. I can respect it.

I can work 80+ hours a week on a problem that doesn’t even interest me. And that’s okay because it’s part of a grander design that I’m helping to put into motion.

So what have I decided to be when I grow up? I’ve decided to be the owner of my future. I’ve decided to pave my own path. I’ve decided to be me.

What I can’t do is be a cog in a machine anymore. I can’t limit myself to data science because that’s my title.

Yesterday, I dug through marketing materials for a restaurant app.

Today, I decided to write a brief version of my life story. A glimpse into who I am and how I got to be that person.

Tomorrow? Who knows. All I know is that I’ll be excited to wake up and find out.

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