Philosopher and Industrial Engineer, Hows that work and why?
Industrial Engineering was a way to make a living, Philosophy was a way to make a meaningful life. I never imagined how over simplified that would be and how those educations would fold meaningfully into a more enlightened experience of life.
Most people have no idea what Industrial Engineering is, let alone all of the misunderstandings of Philosophy. So for starters:
"Industrial and systems engineering is concerned with the design, improvement and installation of integrated systems of people, materials, information, equipment and energy. It draws upon specialized knowledge and skill in the mathematical, physical, and social sciences together with the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design, to specify, predict, and evaluate the results to be obtained from such systems." - Defined by Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers.
I chose Industrial Engineering, as I mentioned in the Spotlight post, because it fit into a wide array of options for my future. It can be applied anywhere in a variety of ways. Fundamentally, it fit into my personal philosophy to better the world, make more efficient use of our finite resources, but accomplish this while creating abundance for the greatest number of people.
When people hear "Philosophy" they could conjure up a thought of an old bearded man, perhaps from Greece and accompany that with thoughts of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, among many possible others. As I continuously understand more, this image, while popular, could not be farther from a holistic picture of what the pursuits of Philosophy represent. Fundamentally, Philosophy is about the pursuit and study of knowledge, reality, and existence. It can also be thought of as a way of life. There are a plethora of elements to the bigger picture of philosophy: metaphysics and ontology, ethics and morality, epistemology, existentialism, and aesthetics, among many others. Put another way philosophy at its base is the study of reality independent of humans experience of it while also the study of reality as we relate and belong to it.
Philosophy, for me, was a way to get at the more fundamental nature of reality, the "why?" that so many seek. What I found was not so much THE answer to that, but training and education in ways to approach that question and many others in a systematic, rigorous, and meaningful way. I grew up with religion and theology playing little roll in my life. I had plenty of exposure to various forms of Christianity over the years but nothing thorough nor deep. I'd grown up in my family with inquiry and pursuing deeper understanding as a fundamental part of what it means to live and enjoy life. My parents never balked at my questioning things about the world and always fed it with what knowledge they had or with means to answer those questions, like many lengthy trips to the local library (these were mostly in the VERY early days of the internet, so it wasn't the endless pool of knowledge it is today!), or just having conversations with me trying to come to some sort of conclusion through logic and discourse (without any prior knowledge). These seeds are what grew into the love and pursuit of philosophy in my later years.
Getting both degrees was not all theoretical and abstract, there were a few practical reasons as well. For starters, I had graduated high-school with my Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts from South Puget Sound Community College (basically to complete high school requirements) by pursuing the Running Start Program here in Washington State. Leaving high school with that degree, at the time, allowed me instant entrance into any state run public 4 year university and I chose the University of Washington. I'd always enjoyed learning and challenging new fields of study so I went into college knowing I wanted to get into Engineering of some kind. I had a few years of engineering pre-requisites ahead of me, so plenty of time to explore the various disciplines. I had a ton of liberal arts credits that wouldn't really contribute to what I needed for engineering, so I thought about it and consulted my parents and philosophy sounded like a good choice for adding another degree (it would only amount to 1 more year of school so 5 in total). I had taken an introductory philosophy course in community college and thoroughly enjoyed it but wanted a whole lot more. Philosophy as a 2nd degree made perfect sense from that perspective.
I wanted to pursue philosophy not only from a"use my credits wisely" standpoint but also it would become a critical need for me as my father's neurodegenerative disease progressed further and further during my college years. He was diagnosed when I was in high school but I didn't have the wherewithal to truly grasp the gravity of the disease and its eventual impact on my family. Philosophy opened my doors of inquiry, self-reflection, and personal exploration I hadn't had to this depth yet in my life. This training and exploration of philosophy turned out to be THE essential experience of my life to help me get through these traumatic times and be there for my family as well. From the ethical obligation to be of the utmost service to my father (while also accomplishing his wishes for completing my college education) but also learnings from the Stoic's on how to experience your emotions and suffering but not hold onto them. The Stoic's proved to be invaluable in getting through many very difficult times when I essentially operated as a nurse for my father when I would come home many a weekend and take him out of his nursing home and bring him home to our house in the country farmland of Lacey. His disease didn't take a break during those times and having an education in a few of the schools of philosophy helped me stay level headed and present for my father, mother, and myself but also to post-process my emotions and experiences as best I could.
The coupling of Industrial Engineering and Philosophy would eventually prove invaluable also from a career standpoint. My wide breadth of knowledge in general but also a firm understanding of the human element, rigorous inquiry, and value systems would bring me success and enjoyment that I hadn’t ever dreamed of. I used to say IE got me in the door but Philosophy got me paid. That's mostly true but is so multi-layered only a philosopher engineer would say something so nearly meaningless! Basically, I had more breadth and depth than most other IE's in my company but also through my general demeanor and style coupled with that educational background, I could work collaboratively, richly, and with a diverse group of people that may not come as easily to those without this background. IE's may be able to do all the engineering design, measurement, analysis, improvement, etc. they want to a system but the Human Element remains and also will be the most varied, rich, creative, and fluid in any business system in which they're involved. If you can't relate to a wide and diverse group of people to design and implement solutions no amount of math and science will help get there. I think in our times today, many are trying to remove that human element from our systems of production but to their long term demise, in my opinion, but I'll leave that for another post perhaps!
Now this brings us to the recent past for myself and my family. As mentioned in my Spotlight post, my mother passed away tragically in March 2013 and my wife's mother passing away two years later in 2015. No amount of words would do justice to this experience, the trauma it caused, and its impact on our future. What I can say with confidence is that my life experiences to that point, including the experience of my father's and death in 2009 as well as my educational background, prepared me in the best possible ways to weather these storms and be the father and husband I needed to be for my family. I intend on sharing more deeply the thinking and experiences I went through that were the greatest benefit to us so I won't get to that here. Just know that it can be the strangest feeling when it seems as though your life's trajectory continuously prepares you for the next major stages, whether you attempt at a life by design and live that or life throws epic storms in front of you…A life of intention seems to continuously unfold in front of you and it's up to you to really make it meaningful and keep pressing on and up.