There are two important pieces of information that are floating around my head that are seemingly at odds with one another:
“Sooner or later, you will need to eat your vegetables”
“Eat your dessert first”
The first was a sentence told to me as I was giving notice to the principle of the firm where I was working at the time. I got along quite well in this firm, had a terrific relationship with senior management, and they were happy to have me working in the office. When I told them I was leaving, they weren’t mad but they weren’t happy either. I explained that I was bored and I needed to find other challenges. What I was told in response has stuck with me ever since and has proved to be a pivotal piece of advice throughout my career. I was told that the prevailing opinion around the office was that when I was interested in the task at hand, everybody wanted me on their team … but when I wasn’t interested in the task at hand, I didn’t bring much value to the process.
Nobody likes hearing something like that … I know I didn’t because it wasn’t how I saw myself. This sentence was followed by “Sooner or later, you will need to eat your vegetables.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the message – I needed to change how I went about my business and bring the same level of dedication and focus to all the tasks I am assigned. It’s easy to dedicate yourself to the fun stuff but part of where your character is defined is how you deal with the stuff you don’t want to do. If people can tell the difference, it’s a problem – for you AND for them.
As the father of an almost 10-year-old child – my only child – there are parenting skills that I am discovering almost daily. I know that most children would much rather eat sugary stuff, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets … but as grown-ups, we know that this is not the sort of food that we want our children to be eating.
Your body is a temple …
You are what you eat …
Years ago, when trying to teach myself how to get my own daughter to see the value in eating healthy foods, I read an article on the eating habits of healthy people. To summarize, the article mentioned that using desserts or sugary stuff as an incentive to get our children to eat their vegetables is a very bad thing to do. It teaches children that desserts are a reward and that healthy food is something to push through and eat just so you can get to the good stuff. The article went on to say that people who tended to eat the food they liked first generally had more balanced diets and as a result, were less likely to overeat or develop eating disorders down the road.
So which is it? Eat your vegetables or your dessert first?
These analogies can be easily applied to all sorts of life experiences and in my case, I think they are very well suited to the practice of architecture – they’ve both played a substantial role in my own personal development. There’s the things you have to do (vegetables) and then there’s the things you want to do (dessert). For me, the vegetables were the technical aspects of the practice; the project management, client development, building envelop detailing, etc. These aren’t generally considered fun to the architectural graduate right out of school (or even 4 years out of school for that matter). We all want to eat the “dessert” – nothing but design all the time. Let the boring non-creative people deal with the practical aspects of the business, they aren’t creative and we all have a role to play here …
Right? Uhm … no.
Something interesting has happened as I developed my skill set and actually learned more about being an architect and the practice of architecture. I no longer see design as the best part of being an architect, just one aspect of what I do. The distinction between the vegetables and the dessert has all but disappeared for me and I now realize that you can’t be that good of a designer if you don’t know how to build it, and you’ll never get the chance to build it if you don’t run the office in a manner that works on developing clients and maintains, educates, and motivates their staff.
There is no difference between dessert or the vegetables and the sooner you realize it – regardless of what you do for a living – the better off you’ll be.