Dear Lucy (aged 20),
I know when you went to university to study engineering, you had naively assumed that you would become proficient in workshop skills. Don’t worry. Manufacturing and making runs deep through you – you will find a way to make the ‘great-egg-race’-type fun and flippant contraptions you dream of. Having fun is not necessarily unprofessional. Being sarcastic is.
You have an insatiable appetite for learning – don’t worry that you don’t appear to focus on any one subject indefinitely. And ignore those who tell you that you have ‘had enough education now’. You are different from many others – don’t hide it – celebrate it. The courses you go on and the things you learn may not have an immediate benefit, but you have the ability to tie the threads together – so nothing is wasted. You have tenacity, adaptability, and resilience. These work in your favour. But learn how to fail safely.
Just because you are good at passing exams, does not mean that you shouldn’t work with your hands – no matter what your elders say. This does not have to be restricted to DIY – but that’s a great start and the skills you learn doing that – and the woodwork skills that Dad taught you aged eight – stay with you for life.
Communication skills are very important. Those technical reports that you write will not be read – you need to be able to explain it to non-technical people. Storytelling is not just for children. Humans understand technology a lot better if shown how it relates to them. Related: Don’t drink fizzy pop before a presentation.
In the future, it will be simpler to find a community of people who enjoy making all sorts of things. It won’t just be the woodturning club, full of retired men, or the Women’s Institute. However, don’t ignore either of these. It is possible to combine your practical skills with your academic skills – but you will have to make your own opportunities. Sadly, the world is a lot more sexist than you currently realise. Try to find coping mechanisms for this. Related: You do not have to work for people who do not respect you. You do not owe them your loyalty.
You never find time. You have to MAKE time.
Even if you use your skills, they don’t improve unless you consciously try to improve them. Making for fun is not a waste of time.
Be nice. You may be requesting help from people you meet now in 20 years’ time. Education is not everything, but it does provide a passport, a short cut of having to ‘prove’ yourself.
Private life: that’s a whole separate letter!
Keep doing what you do. You rock! Love Lucy (from 2020).