There are a handful of moments in a person’s professional life that really matter, and sometimes we don’t recognize how important those moments are until several years later. I know that I have a specific few that I frequently think back on and recognize them for what they really are … Welcome to episode 74 “Architectural Memories That Matter”
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Sooner or Later, You Need to Eat Your Vegetables jump to 3:10
With all good lessons, there is a bit of pain that accompanies the eventual benefit. While this was not the first bit of professional advice I learned, it was one of the most important.
The first was a sentence told to me as I was giving notice to the principal 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.”
As it pertains to this story, the vegetables are a metaphor for anything that I didn’t want to do, and in this early stage of my career, that was anything that did not have a design focus to it. Eventually, I internalized this bit of information into a change in my professional behavior. I didn’t want the people I worked with to believe that I brought a different level of energy and dedication to my work based on my interest level.
If you would like to read the original full story, you can find it here: Vegetables or Dessert?
This story was originally shared on May 15th, 2014
How You Treat Others jump to 11:20
This memory is from when I was fairly fresh out of school and had been working for maybe two years at my office. I had casually set up a site meeting with the job site superintendent to look at some issues. I told him I would be by after another meeting sometime between 10:00 and 10:30 am. Well, when I showed up at around 10:15 there was a whole slew of people waiting for me and one of them happened to be the owner of the construction company. He was an older man and decided it was very important to rip me a new one about ten seconds after I walked on site. I was berated for almost ten full minutes about being late, keeping people waiting, and all sorts of things related to my lack of “respect”. At the time, being a fresh young professional, I just sat there and took the abuse. After that meeting though, I realized I never wanted to be that type of person. This was for several reasons. One, I no longer respected that person due to their behavior. Two, I was no longer inclined to “help” them out in any way in the future. Three, I was no longer going to be friendly on this job to the construction team. Lastly, I did not think that was how a professional should act. So it just set an example for me of what NOT to do or how NOT to behave. That has stuck with me some 20 years later. I also learned to double-check and verify all my meetings, but that was not the main lesson here. I set it as a casual stop by, not a meeting. But they, quite obviously upon my arrival, thought it was something quite different.
Your Behavior Matters jump to 16:48
The lesson in this story was not anything that had to do with how I behaved or went about performing the architectural duties expected of me … this was just a bad experience based on one very large mistake by a contractor who and underbid a publicly bid project. In short, they didn’t realize that there were actually two buildings as part of this bid (how that happens is a story for a different day) but as soon as they realized their mistake, all their time and attention was spent trying to recoup the $400,000 they were short on as of day one. From the contractor, there was a lot of name-calling, talk of destroying my career, constant turnover in project managers and site superintendents … it was incredibly stressful. To add to the misery, I had nothing to do with the design or documentation of the building – I was a brand new employee and was given the task of handling the construction administration for this project, which was my first time ever in this capacity not to mention that it was also the first commercial project I had ever worked on.
Did I say it was stressful?
This is a really great story and I learned probably the most important lesson I have ever learned – isn’t it ironic that the more something goes wrong, the more you benefit from an experience and learning perspective? The number of lessons I learned about how you engage with others, the importance of collaboration, how NOT to write an email … the list goes on and on.
Document Everything jump to 26:00
The firm I worked for early in my career was very easygoing and what I would now call lax when it came to the documentation of projects. So I learned in that environment. Within a year of purchasing the firm, I was brought into a personal injury lawsuit. It was file 2 days before the two-year statute of limitations ran out. So that should tell you something. A high school student had fallen through a window two years prior and injured their arm. When it happened, I was not contacted by the school, made aware of the incident in any way. Then two years later, I get the papers. I was not the architect of record on this project, but I had inherited the liability with my purchase. So there was not much in the way of documentation or other such necessities for a court case. And through the process of this suit, I learned all of the issues and items that would have been invaluable in my defense. While the case settled for a very small amount, less than my deductible, I now understood the process of liability better and realized the need for proper documentation. After that, I set myself to work and created all kinds of file standards, template documents, and began to take notes like a machine.
Perception is Reality jump to 32:23
This is actually a pretty short story in its entirety but the ramifications were profound and I probably think about this exchange with my employer at the time a few times a year. This story has even entered my own “learn from my mistakes” repertoire of narratives I share with others within my office.
I have a very casual way of speaking with people, and for the most part, this isn’t an issue. It certainly helps me now that I am a lot older and have a position in the office that might help inform people that I might not just be some guy in the next cubicle (although, I might be just some guy in the next cubicle). I was right out of school and due to the type of work and the small size of the firm (two people) I found myself speaking and presenting to clients by myself at a very young age.
My boss called me into the conference room one day and told me that one of our biggest clients no longer wanted to work with me because I made him feel stupid. Certainly, that was not my intention because I liked this guy … we were buddies, just having a good time – whatever. He felt that I was talking down to him and that I did not give him the recognition that his position (as the client) should have required. I didn’t realize that I was behaving in this way and as a result, it has forever changed the way that I communicate. While I am still pretty casual in my conversational manner – I spend more than a fair share of effort to communicate in a way that is more inclusive of the opinions and values of other people. I know that it is something that I struggle with and I probably will for my entire life – however – in this case, just being made aware of this sort of behavior was incredibly valuable to me.
You can read the original article here: Perception vs. Reality
This story was originally shared on March 31st, 2011
Make the Time jump to 41:00
The last one on my list of memories really is about a year of my life. So it’s not a specific event, but a series of events that made an impact on me. During a twelve-month period, I ended up traveling to Chicago three separate times for various reasons related to my professional service activities. While these were mostly considered “working” trips, I did make plenty of time for relaxation and fun. It was during this time of multiple trips that I realized that I needed to make time for myself away from the office. Up to that point in my career as a business owner, I had not taken much time away from work because I was honestly too afraid. There are so many responsibilities when you own the firm and it seemed to consistently weigh on me heavily. So by being away so often during that time and noticing that the firm did not burn down or fall apart in my absence I realized I should take the time to rejuvenate myself. At the time, this was a very big deal for my professional life. Up to that point, I was not one for taking “vacations” but I discovered that the time away was completely necessary. And now to this day, for this reason, Chicago holds a special place in my heart.
Would you rather? jump to 47:35
I typically know what question we will be discussing before I unveil it to Andrew – which makes sense because it allows me to process my answer a bit more thoroughly and since I generally play the role of “Moderator” – but that didn’t happen in today’s episode. I had forgotten to put on in the notes and as a result, we had to make this one up on the fly.
Would you rather be able to teleport anywhere or be able to read the minds of other people?
I believed going into this question that I knew the correct answer but as we discussed the pro’s and con’s I flipped my answer. Now that it’s been two weeks since we originally answered the question, I’m still feeling pretty good about my answer. I definitely think this is the sort of question that you could use to learn something about someone else based on their answer.
Ep 074: Architectural Memories that Matter
As you can see we have learned most of these lessons through memorable, yet difficult, or even unpleasant events. So while these are architectural memories that matter, they seemed to be the negative memories that impacted us the most. So maybe we took the hit for you all a few times here so that in your career you will not have to endure a few of these miserable occurrences to learn a lesson in professional practice. Maybe we need to do another episode where we talk about some fun or good memories that relate to architecture. But it is often the worst and the best of times that imbed themselves in our psyche. Rest assured, we do have some good memories also.
Life of an Architect would like to thank our media partners Building Design and Construction for their gracious and ongoing support of this podcast. This is the 3rd year of our partnership and we are grateful for the guidance and insight they share with us that helps direct the show.