Our Story—Caleb Tromsness

I had a job as a mail clerk. This job was all mine until I wanted to retire. Regular hours, good pay for low skill, vacation time, benefits and a lifetime pension. This job provided stability for the family as my girls grew up. Even though these were all good things to have, I didn’t find the job to be satisfying. I was to discover that this job also brought out the worst in people.

Things started out well enough; it was an excellent career choice at the time. My schedule allowed me to work evenings as a waiter, so we were able to get ahead in a middle-class sort of way. Security and the capacity to pay bills found me doing the same routine for more than 10 years. But something began to gnaw at me. I was not content and I knew I was supposed to be doing something different.

I wasn’t one of those kids who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. Even though I went through four years of college I still hadn’t figured it out. I went to Banff for a summer job and then ended up staying for what I thought would only be a year, then return to school. A year passed by in the blink of an eye and I still had no clue what I wanted to do. In due time I met Christine and within five years we were married and had three children. Okay, now what?

That’s when the opportunity to work for the postal service came around. This is it, I thought, I’m set. While at Canada Post, I got transferred around southern Alberta for a while until our family wound up back in Banff at the local post office there. Many thought I was crazy to stay in Banff. People asked why we would want to live in such an expensive place? Look around, I’d say. Why wouldn’t you want to live here? It costs an arm and a leg to raise a family anywhere, we may as well live near a ski hill.

Though I lived in the most beautiful place on earth, my time in the mailroom began to feel like I was just serving time.  It was also an encumbrance for making any noteworthy career changes. The longer I stayed, the more my desire to leave grew, and I still didn’t know what I was going to do.

For two and a half years I tried to make a go of it. I acquired three financial licenses, but discovered that I couldn’t support a family on commissions only. I even worked at the Banff Springs Hotel for a year, but waiting on tables is a young person’s occupation. I had run out of options. The pressure to change had caught up with my desire.

I realized that if I did not want to be a grumpy ol’ grocery stocker I had no choice but to go back to school. Even though I had done as well as I could with my former work, moving forward I had no marketable skills at my disposal to bring about the kind of change I knew I needed. I was very proud of my daughters and fortunately they knew what they wanted and went off to nursing school. But secretly I was a little jealous. What must it be like to know? I decided to spend some time soul searching. After two weeks, I finally narrowed down some career options for further investigation.

As it happens, SAIT was holding an open house. I didn’t want to be a chef or a plumber, which was all I knew about SAIT. Nevertheless, the few questions I had about some of their programs were answered after a quick trip to campus. Little did I know my life was about to change.

While I was at the open house I had an hour to kill between presentations. Alan Jack, the Academic Chair for SAIT’s Petroleum Engineering program was hosting an information session so I thought I’d stop in and check it out. It was interesting and informative but I didn’t give it serious thought.

As the day progressed I began to dwell on it more and more. The next semester was just around the corner but there were limited offerings for January. I had already determined that I needed to take a serious course of study and complete it in the shortest possible time, so Petroleum Engineering was looking to be a pretty good option.

SAIT was offering free registration that day and after pacing the hallway for a while, I decided to enroll. A light bulb moment occurred when I realized I had taken every high school pre-requisite course nearly 30 years ago. I was stunned. This had to be it!

When I told Christine, she was more stunned than I was. “Look,” she said, “if you take this program you better do this petroleum thingy until you retire. I’m tired of all this change and uncertainty—just pick something and stick to it!” I was in full agreement, I was already convinced and I managed to convince her, too. For the first time I would be attending school knowing what I wanted to do!

Fast forward sixteen months. Yes, it was extremely challenging to have four students in our family, but it has also been rewarding. I haven’t doubted my decision for a moment. This is an amazing industry, I learned so much and I can easily start work in any sector of the Patch. The variety of jobs available is incredible.

Many people still think I’m crazy, though. “What are you doing,” they ask. “There are no jobs. Oil is running out; climate change; yada, yada, yada.”

As a football fan I look at this transition as halftime, a time for making adjustments and come out swinging in the second half. This is why I have redefined crazy: Champions Rarely Attain Zero Yards.

There will indeed be challenges; it’s no easy task for a new graduate to find work. But I have faith. Run the next play.

Caleb can be reached at [email protected]