I have mentally been an architect my entire life. When I tell people who I knew I wanted to be an architect by the time I was 5 years old, they think how lucky that must have been! How great it must be to have a singular drive and focus towards a career! Admittedly, I have spent time thinking about how people can go to college and not know what they want to do with themselves – it’s something that I never had to deal with …
but am I really so lucky?
This is one in a series of posts I am writing about the process of becoming an architect. I receive so many emails from people who seem rudderless that I thought I would address the majority of questions and comments in these posts. Today I am going to focus on the architecture school experience. – which was both great and not so great. I’m not going to focus on the particulars of being in studio – I already did that when I wrote Design Studio: The Top 10 Things You Should Know.
I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture – a program that is consistently in the top 10, even the top 5, of all architecture programs in the country – it is very competitive and extremely rare to get accepted. Despite the difficulty most go through in their efforts to get accepted, I didn’t even apply anywhere else when it was time to send out my college application. It might sound cocky but it’s really an indication of how ignorant I can be at times – I didn’t even know that it was hard to get accepted.
When the day came and I showed up at college, I was surrounded by a bunch of hard-working, type A personalities. After a very short while, my pattern of “working the system” wasn’t working for me and I had a horrible go at things. I looked around at what I was doing compared to everyone else and I was terrible …. talk about an identity crisis. Can you imagine always knowing what you were supposed to do but then learning that you couldn’t actually do it?
Early on in my first studio class, we had a drawing assignment. Once everyone had turned in their work, I found my drawing (along with 3 or 4 others) pinned up on the wall. The professor wanted to talk about how terrible these particular drawings were and how disappointed he was in the effort shown. Things were not going well for me and starting off my grades were not very good. One of my sisters pulled me aside and told me that if I didn’t get my act together, my mom and dad were going to pull me out of school. So here I was, enrolled in architecture school, always wanted to be an architect ….. and I was failing miserably. What was I going to do now? What happens now?
I started freaking out … which turned out to be just what I needed.
I still wanted to be an architect, but there was no way I was going to terrible at it – I couldn’t accept that. Time to reevaluate my priorities. I had nothing left to consider except to change how I went about doing things and get serious –
- Drop out of jazz band. Check
- No more parties. Check
- Stop going out with my friends. Check
- No more going out on dates. Check
- Spend ALL my time up at the studio. Check
Guess what happened? I stopped being terrible. I found myself in a group of what I considered to be the best designers of my peers. I stopped paying attention to what other people were doing and only worried about what I was doing. The fear of losing something that was this important to me was a remarkable motivator and once I channeled my inner fear of failing, I never had any more issues in school. A by-product of my new-found focus was that I uncorked some competitive side in me that I never knew existed. Once I let that particular genie out of the bottle, along with it came the constant fear of failure, everything changed. Most people call it performance anxiety – competitive nature vs. fear of failure, the whip and the carrot, the good and the bad, yin and yang … call it what you will – all of the effort and hard work I put in was a result of not wanting to fail.
Nothing worthwhile comes easy does it?
“We stopped asking because you never come …”
I enjoyed all of my studio classes and I don’t remember being bitter about how often or how long I was up there. I had two distinct groups of friends and they rarely crossed over with one another. There were my architecture school friends, the closest of which I still have some communication with (even though none of us live even remotely close to the other) and then there were my high school friends … these were the ones that I spent whatever free time I had – doing the things that college age kids do. I recently shared a conversation I had with one of these high school friends because they stopped calling me to go do stuff. His response was:
“We stopped asking because you never come – you always tell us that you have to go to studio or something and we know that if you can do something, you’ll let us know and then we’ll tell you what we’re doing.“
Hearing that was a bit sobering but at least I understood him. I was willing to forgo that aspect of my social life in order to stay in architecture school. That’s not to say I enjoyed college any less than my heavy partying business major friends – it was just different. It turned out to be the right decision for me in the end but it wasn’t ever easy – but then nothing worthwhile ever is.
If being an architect – or anything for that matter – is important to you, just be prepared to put in the work. It’s pretty simple.
Best of luck,