Where will I be in 20 Years?

August 16, 2011 — 27 Comments

Where will I be in twenty years … what will my life look like? Have you ever asked yourself this question? Since I don’t know where I want to be, I don’t know how to answer.  Every now and then – as I attempt to write this out – I need to distract myself so I don’t make my head explode or crawl under my bed and tuck into a fetal position.


Old Man, big beard, heavy glasses - in other words me in 20 years


I am remarkably immature and hilarious – yet delightfully knowledgeable – for a 43 year old architect. These traits have served me well in the past because I lack substantial body strength and if you are going to be a know-it-all, you’d better have a good sense of humor about it. I have chosen to believe that working with me is so much fun (while delivering a top-notch product) that I have escaped the swirly twirly stink-hole of death (AKA the last 3 years) relatively unscathed.  I don’t need to tell most of you that the economy has re-purposed umpteen thousands of architects into the role of meeter/greeter or coffee barista over the last few years. The idea that I am one (more) crazy House & Senate vote away from losing my job because nobody has any money to spend on luxury items (like hiring me) has kept me awake at night.

How will I provide for my family? Can I continue to make my mortgage payments? Jokes don’t pay the bills … unless you are really funny (which I am not) and can sell them to other people. (sigh) Carrot Top already has the bad jokes/ stupid look angle covered and working together with the stage name “Carrot Top and Whitey” just doesn’t sound right.

One thought that passed through my head was if I do get laid off,  I would hang my shingle out and make a go at this myself. For most architects, this thought rattles around the noggin a lot. If you don’t like the piece of the pie you get where you work, (or there is no pie) go out on your own and make your own pie. Most of my friends are reaching that stage in their lives where they could benefit from someone with my talents,  I suppose if push came to shove, this would have to be something I’d consider.

In twenty years, what will the field of architecture look like and will that be something that I want to be a part of? The fun bits of my job are getting smaller and smaller every day and I have to look for new items of interests, some way to stay engaged. This post is getting depressing but I suppose that is something that all architects are having to deal with. I can tell people my houses appreciate more than builder homes, I can point out that a large percentage of my architectural fee is normally recovered during the cost of construction by identifying issues before they’re built rather than solving the problem by pulling out the checkbook. How do I make the next 20 years better for me? I don’t have a clue … I can’t easily make people believe in doing something that they aren’t already inclined to believe.

What that means, to anyone who has stuck with me this far, is that I need to make the next twenty years about the journey and not the destination. I need to be a better father and husband. I need to wrestle with my daughter more often … I need to wrestle with my wife more often. I need to laugh a little harder, judge a little easier, drink by myself a little less and drink with friends a little more (not counting the 8 glasses of water a day since we’ll all be eating our food in capsule form).

In twenty years I’ll be 63 years old and just hitting my stride. I hope that things have gone well for me and my family, hopefully my daughter still loves me like she does right now, hopefully my wife still remembers why she married me, hopefully in twenty years…


.. I’ll still be hopeful.


photos are from icultist’s photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license)



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  • Peter

    Well Bob, I cannot tell you where you will be in 20 years.
    But if the Life of an Architect follows common patterns I can tell you how it
    feels at the midway.

    I am 52 and it feels exactly as in the beginning. There is
    still a lot of struggle left. There is still so much to learn. And there is
    still a lot to be experienced. The Life of an Architect seem to be non linear
    but cyclical. Here is an example:

    When I left Bulgaria I was 39. The Big History had swept
    away the efforts of two generations before me – my father’s and my grandpa’s. My
    country was in ruin. The company I was building for eight years was in ruin
    too. There was little chance to have a Life of an Architect for the next 20
    years there, and I left in search of a hope.

    I landed in Houston. With me I had a suitcase, my knowledge and
    experience, a dream to have a Life of an Architect, and a hope. But the first think
    I learned was that I cannot call myself an architect. This came as a big shock.
    Back in the old continent it is extremely difficult to get admitted to study
    architecture. Architecture is considered a highly prestigious profession, not merely
    a service. There is a fierce competition for admission in the University. You need to compete with other candidates in
    tree exams in artistic hand drawing, one in math and one general exam. The studies
    in the university are though. But once you graduate you call yourself an
    architect and have a right to practice.

    In Texas they told me: We are going to accept your masters six years
    at the university as equivalent out four year college. You may need to take some
    additional classes in English composition and some other things. In addition you
    need to follow three years IDP program. After you accomplish the IDP we are
    going to let you take the tests – 36.5 hours exam time. If you are alive after passing
    the tests we are going to call you an architect again. I did not have 3 years
    to wait. California was the only state
    which would allow me to take the licensing exams right away. As a trade of,
    there was one additional oral exam. In search of a Live of an Architect I
    packed, and drove from Houston to San Francisco – 42 hours ride – stopping only
    for gas

    Fast forward several years …

    The last four years are a close reminder of what happened back
    in Europe. It was everywhere: Stop, Stop,
    Stop – big projects…small projects…all projects, all companies. After the last project is submitted, the company
    runs out of work and closes doors, you go to the next company only to discover
    that the same happens again…and again.

    I found out that I am at the point where you started. The cycle was complete. The
    world is round after all. Hope and desperation change positions. Enjoy the ride
    on the Merry Go Round: architect of multi-million dollar projects, job captain,
    drafter, contractor carpenter…Is this a Life of an Architect?

    At midway it feels like this: A point zero is a good point
    to start. You cannot fill a cup if it is already full. What do we do? Well, we stick to the original idea that
    brought us here in the first pace, which was to dare to combine architecture
    with hope. And we are going to hope to go through the next 20 year cycle of
    Life of an Architect.

  • Ljohn

    I read your blog almost every morning as I start my day working as an Intern Architect at a small firm.  I enjoy your thoughtfulness and candor about the field of architecture, and you have inspired me, and I am sure many others, to strive on in the face of these tough economic times.  

    Sir, I thank you

  • jewels918

    I am 21 about to turn 22 on Sunday, and I ask myself this question almost everyday. where is my life going? Where and who will I be when I am 40?

    P.S. Loved the article very entertaining 🙂

  • Stephen Lin

    Whatever health the economy may be in 20 years, at least you’re doing what you love. That’s more than I can say for myself and most of my colleagues. We’re all just sitting in cubicles chasing money, placating clients (and their auditors), and staring at spreadsheets.

    Take comfort in that you’re actually doing something tangible. You’re literally adding to the land! I just look at pictures of buildings in a wistful way. Hold fast and true!

    • Luck is generally what you make – or at least how you choose to perceive things. Finding a way to be happy with any situation is the root to real happiness. I’m not there but knowing the difference does seem to help on some days

  • architectrunnerguy

    It’s funny how a bad economy can turn everything upside down. Back in ’81 when interest rates where 16% and thus zero building, after not being able to find work I went out and foolishly set up my own shop.

    We had no work but we finally landed an office building. Since we had a one room shop with conference table and drafting tables together, for the next six months, when we had a client meeting, we took out the office building drawings and taped them “on the boards” so it looked like we’re working on something. Well, in 1999 when I sold my half to my partner we had 16 employees including 6 architects. Wouldn’t have happened at all if not for a bad economy.


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  • DanBoghean

    I’m not sure if this is very encouraging for me, to be honest, haha. I’m an architecture student getting ready to go into my third year and lately I haven’t been very encouraged with the outlook for architecture as I graduate. Perhaps, like it was already mentioned, I need to remember that you don’t necessarily have to go into architecture, but the fact remains that I’m a bit scared of what’s going to happen.

    • shtrum

      Hope my earlier reply didn’t depress you, DB.  On the contrary, it was meant to highlight how many unexplored opportunities there are for architects in non-architectural fields.  Unfortunately, there often seems to be a strict ‘studio’ view of the profession.  Which discourages people from expanding and experimenting in areas they might have considered before. 

      My own 20-years of experience includes several firms, 4+ years as a design director at a non-profit in urban renewal, and working in a state weatherization program for low-income clients (current).  If i were king of the world (yeesh, that’s a scary thought), i’d make every student take 2 years off and do something else.  Learn a trade, work at a non-profit, join the Peace Corps, do a Rose Fellowship, start a business, whatever.  Architects are trained to be creative, organized, detail-oriented and big thinkers.  Those are qualities can be applied anywhere . . . and are needed everywhere.

      BTW:  i hired and directed several arch students who ran their own projects at the non-profit i was at.  One of them is now one of the bloggers listed in the ‘blog off’ above (shout out to Eric).

      • DanBoghean

        On the contrary, your reply was rather encouraging. One of the aspects I like about architecture is the amount of diversification involved. Like you said, you don’t necessarily have to be an architect when you graduate. I’ve had that discussion with my professors a few times and it is a good thing! 

        I’ve always been interested in branching out when I’m out in the “real world” in areas such as non-profit or something different. But as of yet, I’m not sure what all that entails, to be honest. But I”m going to approach it with an open mind and see where it takes me!

        Thanks for the wonderful reply, btw.

    • Dan,

      I wouldn’t get to discouraged – you are a ways off from being put in a position to deal with the ramifications of your decision. I tell people all the time – not every architect out there has had a hard time these last few years. They were a little nerve-wracking but given the state of the economy, that wasn’t anything reserved to the architectural professions. Lot’s of people have struggled.

      If you love what you do, you’ll probably be far better off than just all right – but you won’t know until you try.


      • DanBoghean

        Haha, that’s a little better 🙂 

        Honestly though, I finished an internship this summer, and after that experience I knew that I wanted to be an architect. I sorta waivered during Studio, but once I actually got my hands dirty a bit, I knew that this is what I wanted to do! So I really do enjoy it, and I hope that carries me through the hard and easy times.

  • shtrum

    Remember a professor who once mentioned how architecture students in Europe often branched off into other fields: furniture design, graphics, industrial design, etc..  Mostly because the population could only absorb so many people wearing round glasses and bowties.  But the plus side was a holistic integration that produced stronger practitioners in all fields.

    Unfortunately, this country doesn’t seem to embrace the same concept.  Students starting in architecture almost always end in it.  And the results are layoffs for roughly a quarter of all architects.  Point being, maybe this narrow slice of the profession needs to widen.  Other design fields, planning, construction, government work, non-profits, education, etc., are all fields that could use more architectural backgrounds.  The profession needs to get away from this concept that architects have to be architects.  It’s a shame it takes a recession to point this out. 

    • interesting topic you present on architectural diversification – in and of itself probably worth it’s own discussion.


  • The thought of reinventing yourself is a bit scary, but sometimes you pretty much come to that.  I know that’s what Paul Anater did, and quite frankly he’s an inspiration to me and a lot of other bloggers he’s come across.  But at least in your case you do have a skill you can put to use, which is always nice.  At age 43 I wasn’t sitting all that pretty.  But I was married to a wonderful woman, and at age 66 I still am.  And still happy, so I can’t kick!

    • Joseph, 

      I still remember your story about the relationship between you and your wife, how it has been such a strong and important constant in your life. At 66, you are in the position to look back at where I currently sit looking forward and know what really matters.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.

  • after 20 years, hope for a result … after growing a focus in life

  • I loved the freedom that came with self employment. Too much else about it got painful during the last year or so.

    Thanks for sharing your soul with us today.

    • Thanks James,

      The idea of freedom is always the best part yeah? Sadly, it all the other bits that makes the freedom possible.

  • Great post Bob, it’s all about getting there. Where ever “there” is.

    • Thanks Paul – I suppose it takes some being on the journey a while before you are able to figure out that it’s always been about the journey.

  • Shed Dweller

    Where will you be in 20 years? If you work for yourself you can control it! That in and of itself is a very scary thought for most Architects but I’ve learned more about myself and the business of Architecture in my 6 years as a solo practitioner than my 15 years working for firms. Is it easy – HELL NO! is is satisfying – YES!

    If the thought is in your head do it before you get too comfortable and while you’re still young, you won’t regret it!

    • Am I still young enough at 43? The thought of going out on my own is terrifying – but not because of finding work or the long hours…

      Who would I talk to ???

  • Ed

    At the age of 48 I was forced to start my own firm last year.  It’s a one man show at the moment and I struggle to find enough work to support my family each month.  I stumbled across you blog while browsing the web for ideas on marketing.  I must say that I enjoy reading your blogs because you are honest about the profession and don’t appear to take yourself or the profession over-the-top serious the way a lot of Starchitects do.  Reading your comments grounds me on what’s important each day. 

    • Thanks Ed – it’s comments like yours that keep me writing and posting here. I can’t convey how nice your comment was for me to read.

      I really hope that you enjoy success and happiness in your own ventures.


  • It looks like you are very busy wrestling with your daughter, your wife and your conscience. If architecture exists (and where would buildings go anyway), you’ll have a job because you are so personable and smart. That’s a great combo. Besides, I am planning to come live with your family when I retire, so you obviously need to make enough money to get the heck out of Texas!

    • Ha – finding the balance between working to live and living while working is on the minds of all architects these days but thanks for the vote of confidence! Would Kymberly be coming as well because my wife’s mother has already called the bottom bunk…