Two simple sentences could be used to respond to about 1/3rd of all the emails I receive:
“If studying to become an architect is making you miserable, don’t be one.”
“If being an architect is making you miserable, don’t be one.”
Those are two sentences that I rarely write – although I probably should use them more often. I don’t because those two sentences seem mean-spirited considering the sort of question that was probably asked that could elicit such a response.
I have been traveling for the last week and while I stayed on top of all my work emails, I tried to ignore all the “life of an architect” emails. A very large percentage of them come from people who are despondent and miserable about their current state where they:
a) want to be an architect but aren’t,
b) are currently studying to be an architect and are struggling, or
c) they are an architect and don’t like it and think they’re simply doing something wrong.
That’s where the two sentences above should come into play. I know that letting go of a dream is hard – and most of these people have always dreamt of being an architect – but here’s what I have to say to those people. Do something that makes you happy. If your current path is making you miserable, change paths.
I know I am oversimplifying what is always a complicated mix of aspirations, goals, dreams and expectations but there are times when the simple thing – while hard – is the right thing.
So many of the architects I know define themselves by being an architect (and have for years) that the very idea of doing something else brings about a different form of misery. I wrote the following passage in January 2011, in a post titled ‘Do You Want to be an Architect?: The College Years‘:
When the day came and I showed up at college, I was surrounded by a bunch of hard-working, type A personalities. 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 and then learning that you couldn’t actually do it?
Turns out a lot of you can imagine knowing what you were supposed to do and have since learned that you couldn’t do it – and I think that’s okay. These days when people write me for advice, I tell them to do what will make them happy, or at least, happier. When I was younger, happiness didn’t figure into the equation, it was all about keeping your eye on the prize. I’ve worked too long and too hard to give it up … and the misery goes on for years.
These emails impact me in a profound manner – partly because I can sympathize, and partly because I haven’t been able to come up with an answer that I can tell these people to make them feel better. If you have been in a position where you were unhappy with the path you pursued, I would really like you to share it with others in the comment section below. If it’s words of encouragement, if it’s an alternate path that satisfied your creative passions, or even if it’s a tale of a hard decision, please share it with others.