Astronaut, Fireman, Ballerina, Pilot, Builder, Dump Truck driver – these are all things that children consider as a profession, even before they know the word “profession”. For a lot of architects – but not all – they decide they want to be an architect pretty early in their childhood development. How does that work out, what does it look like, and does it change as you move through the process? Andrew and I are going to make it personal today … Welcome to EP 142: When I Grow Up.
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Andrew Hawkins and I are are kicking of the 7th season of the Life of an Architect podcast. I have to tell you that when I realized that this morning as I was putting together the notes for today’s show, it punched me in the face. When I think of the website – in sort of an abstract way – and how I started it back in January of 2010, it that the blog site existed FOREVER and then just recently I started the podcast. The reality is that I went 8 years of just blog site and now we are starting the 7th year of the podcast. It isn’t the new kid on the block anymore.
How did it Start? jump to 3:51
For me (Bob) – This basically begins with the moment when you figure out that you wanted to be an architect. For me, I was 5-years old and it was due to a gift I received from my father. I have told this story many times before but I am going to tell it again because people keep asking me this question and I can’t really blame them for not searching through the millions and millions of articles I have written. I knew I was going to be an architect when I was 5 years old – before I even knew that architects existed or that this was really a job people could perform. My Dad bought me a drafting board, a T-square, and a few orange triangles, and gave it to me for Christmas in 1973. I don’t know what characteristics I demonstrated that led him to this particular gift, I don’t think he knows either. Once I opened my gift, I didn’t know its purpose. I distinctly remember holding the wood drafting board … it was so smooth and beautiful. No knots, it wasn’t warped – it was perfectly clean and uniform. I told my Dad – announced really – that I was going to take this beautiful piece of wood, cut it up and make a boat with it.
I didn’t actually make that boat, but I don’t remember ever using that equipment to draft anything either. I will admit that it did plant a seed and the idea formed in my head that I was going to be an architect. The entire, fully articulated story can be found here (Why I am an Architect and not an Astronaut). At the risk of being self-congratulatory, if you haven’t read the post on why I am not an astronaut, you should.
For Andrew – he feel into the stereotypical trappings of playing with Legos and Lincoln Logs, but had no thoughts of becoming and architect until he was in college. Through High School, the plan was to design airplanes and he was accepted into college to thinking he as going to pursue a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Things took a turn once he took an architectural history class in college that was transformational to him and he decided to change his major to architecture. Even though he had a lot of the same initial experiences as a child that it seems that all architects talk about, he didn’t make the decision until much later in his personal development.
Time in College jump to 13:25
This also did not go as I expected. I can’t even say “planned” because I didn’t actually know what I was getting myself into. For some people, maybe a lot of people, I lost my mind when I tasted a bit of non-parental freedom when I got to college. Up until this moment, school had not really been particularly difficult and I had never needed to push myself beyond what came naturally and still do “okay”. Now I find myself surround by some of the most gifted and talented students on campus and my lack of focus, dedication, and overall immaturity exposed me and as a result, I did not do particularly well in school, at least not in the beginning. I ended up having an existential crisis of sorts, which is not surprising when you realize that you might be bad at the only thing you thought you were DESTINED to become. I don’t think it does your confidence any good to feel like a failure at something you haven’t even started at yet.
I have come to accept this moment and experience as an extremely positive thing. I leaned into the idea that my Dad installed in me that you go to college to learn how to learn. I also had to go through a maturation process – I needed to learn how to make the right decisions, not just acting on the newly discovered parental freedom you now have. So what happens now? Changed my work ethics, stopped having quite as much fun, things turned around and, in my opinion, things started to fall into place. This was an important process that I went through and I do not look back on this time as a negative.
For Andrew, he was initially following the path of an art major and felt like he was going through the process without much difficulties. When he made the decision to switch over to architecture school, he was two to three years more mature than the freshman architecture students he was in class with. He felt that these few extras provided him with the opportunity to have fun in the beginning but also figure some things out right around the time he transferred into the architecture program. The maturation process he went through closely aligned with the same time frame that I went through.
A big part of our discussion centered around the idea that we both through we had things figured out only to realize that we didn’t … but that was okay and it could be argued that these additional steps we had to go with contributed to the end product in an extremely positive way – even though they didn’t feel all that positive at the time.
First Job jump to 36:00
When you get that first job, how does that go and what does it look like? Depending on the economic climate, sometimes you take the job that you can get, regardless of what you think you want – which is what happened with me. When I graduated I went to a very small firm (there were two of us) and I got the opportunity to do everything. It was trial by fire all the time but I gained a lot of experience with doing things that I had never studied while I was in school. We all know that some architecture programs focus on teaching their students how to think critically and others focus on prepping their students to contribute in a meaningful way upon graduation.
There comes a moment in all architecture students when they get their first job and they don’t really have any idea of what they want to do, or even what they are good at doing? The vast majority of people I came up with were under the belief that there were going to be a designer upon graduation. Most of the time they aren’t even aware that there are a lot of other pathways available to them, paths that allow them to develop into project architects, project managers, technical specialists, specification writer, and on and on. As a result, there is another moment of feeling rudderless as you evolve into the next iteration of what you thought you were supposed to become.
Is I have matured, I have moved through the slip stream of my career only occasionally avoiding the rocks and obstacles that were presented. There were times when this seemed painful and provided for a lot of anxiety, but I feel comfortable saying that most of the time things either worked out for the best, or confirmed some course of action that I needed to take.
Are You Finished? jump to 45:06
There is an evolution to every person’s career that to my knowledge, is different than how EVERYONE imagines it going when they were in school. It wasn’t until I spent time in a large firm that I realized there are people that know they don’t want to be a designer while they are still in school.
When I was 50 years old, I made a significant change to the trajectory of my career – something that up until just a few months before I would not have believed possible. Other than one year back in the 90’s, I have worked in small firms (15 or less people). As I took on more responsibility where running or managing a firm is concerned, I realized that I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about how things should be done. It took a random conversation with one of my friends where I currently work where I asked the question “Do I have a skillset that translates to a large firm?” Fast forward just a few months and I took the job I have now and it has been interesting and engaging in ways that I didn’t see coming.
For Andrew, this pivot from what was expected (or planned) into a change later on in his career was when he moved from owning and operating his own firm to becoming a full time college professor. Few people can anticipate the sorts of changes that take place, but it seems to happen more often than not.
Hypothetical jump to 52:10
Felt like we needed to kick things off in the new year with a hypothetical question. I will confess that I almost always prefer to discuss a hypothetical question over any of the alternatives – the trick is not talking about them for 30 minutes!
You are given the choice of starting each week off with a new talent or ability, but at the end of each week it goes away and you have to choose something new – or – you get to choose one talent or ability and you get to keep it for the rest of your life. The only rules are that you can’t repeat your new skill within a one year period, and you can’t financially benefit from this skill or ability. What is your decision and if you choose the permanent skill/talent, what would it be?
This was a good question and not surprisingly Andrew and I came to different conclusions on which way to answer this question. The length of time definitely contributed to how Andrew answered this question, and you have to take the financial gain out of consideration because this becomes to easy too answer if you can turn your new ability into your profession.
Episode 142: When I Grow Up
You are going to have things that take place that divert you from your expected path – I can promise you that it will happen. Do you have the adaptability to recognize opportunities when they present themselves and not shy away from them simply because they don’t fit the idea of the path you anticipated. It’s a natural evolution to move into new roles and responsibilities that break the idea you have for yourself when you decided to chart your future. It’s not wrong that things change and answering the question “When I grow up …” is a fake question because you never stop growing up.
Cheers, and Happy 2024!
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