Writing a Different Story

Written by Dr. Andrea Godfrey Flynn

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a civil engineer like my father and grandfather.  As a kid, anytime someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was easy: an engineer.  In high school, I did very well in my math and science classes, which gave me confidence that a career in engineering was the right path for me.

I started to feel doubts about engineering being the right career choice for me in my very first semester of college.  I failed the first mid-term in my calculus class.  I had never received an F on a test or assignment before.  That would not be the last F I received during my time in college.  In fact, I struggled in most of my math classes.  Nevertheless, I persevered through the classes because I still believed I was destined to become an engineer.

The doubts about engineering being my destiny only became stronger, however, after I graduated and started working.  After graduation, I returned to my hometown to work for the engineering firm that my grandfather had started and my father now ran.  I was very proud to follow in their footsteps.  However, as time went on, I disliked the actual work I was doing more and more.  After a few years of working in my family’s company, my father started to discuss plans for me to start taking a bigger role in running the company.  This made me extremely anxious.  How could I take over the company my family had successfully grown for 40 years if I didn’t personally feel any passion for the work the company did?

To try and figure things out, I decided I needed some distance from the situation – geographically and emotionally.  I decided to go back to school to do my MBA and moved to Boston to work on my degree.  I hoped that one of two things would happen: either the time away would help me uncover a passion for managing my family’s business so I could confidently return and begin taking over the firm from my father, or I would have some kind of epiphany and discover something new that I was truly passionate about.

During my MBA I had a chance to do a marketing internship for a clothing company.  I absolutely loved it.  I loved how marketing blended both creative and analytical skills.  I loved how marketers work to understand why consumers do the things they do. I loved it so much that I knew that I had to make a big change.   

The hardest conversation I have ever had was telling my father that I didn’t want to return to his company and that I wanted to pursue a career in marketing instead.  In between sobs, I managed to get the words out to let him know that I had discovered something new that I was truly excited about.  Thankfully, he was unconditionally supportive of my decision. 

I’m now a marketing professor and I get to share my passion for marketing with students every day.  I also love talking with my dad about the research projects I’m working on.  I know it broke his heart to not be able to pass the reigns of the company to me and I will probably always feel a little guilt about that.  But I also know that he ultimately just wants me to be happy and that he is very proud of the new path I decided to follow.

Following these twists in my career path helped me in many ways.  It helped me be more accepting that we can’t predict how our whole life will unfold.  (As a natural “planner,” this isn’t always easy for me).  It also made me feel more courageous about handling change and making decisions about what’s best for me, even if they aren’t the decisions that others might choose for me.  I wouldn’t change any of the decisions I made along the way.  Every step in the path only helped me become clearer about which turn to take next.

Dr. Andrea Godfrey Flynn is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of San Diego.  She is interested in the relationships between customers and firms and how the marketing activities that companies engage in either strengthen or strain those relationships.  She loves sharing her research in her classes at USD with the hopes of inspiring future marketers to ask and investigate interesting questions. Connect with her on LinkedIn.