Reflections of my Duplexity

The Story of Dual-Masters

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    Caffeine, Stress, Studio, and a Compass for the "True North"

    By sdonnelly
    Feb 15, '18 1:06 AM EST

    Throughout the duplexity of my dual master journey, there comes a time in every semester where I question everything. I believe it is something that every designer goes through, contemplating their point along the path of their education and life.

    Of late I think to myself if the work I am doing is really productive or helping me achieve my goals, are the professors the right fit or should some even  be teaching that course, will I be able to find an internship for the summer, have I been prepared enough for the real world, and are my degree(s) worth the intense emotional, mental, and physical stresses. The life of a graduate student has so far been detrimental to my physical health (like weight and sleep) and emotional/mental health (questioning my value, periods of silence and the need to escape for brief periods, and inner sense of happiness). Since starting my dual-degree I have been asking these questions more while I continuing to take on more classes, credit hours, and requirements to meet my degree's needs. 

    My inner reflection of the semester began e last week when I went to my favorite coffee shop three times in a day for these big-gulp sized cold brews. These things are monstrous and delicious, something along the lines of 36oz per cup. The third time I came to the shop, my barista looked at me and said "Shane, how are you not shaking! I'm surprised you aren't twitching like that character from South Park." It was striking to hear this near stranger, abet one I see frequently for my caffeine needs, genuinely read the exhaustion and stress on my face. I assure her I am fine and leave, back to my third straight day of studio grind and the third coffee to keep my engines running. 

    While working I continued to think about what my barista had said, thinking in the back of my head "is this worth it". It is extremely difficult to juggle the 18 credits and 5 classes. Each is as demanding as the other. While I am thoroughly enjoying each course and the professors who teach them, I cannot help but feel as though I will end up sacrificing one course, letting it slide in order to focus more time and energy into the ones that directly engage my interests and desires of my master degrees. I feel ashamed that I should have to begin slacking in one class to succeed in another, the whole system feeling as though it is rigged to fail. 

    It is in these moment that I have to stop and think introspectively, taking some time to reflect on my emotions and where I am along my path. I took a great course last semester called Spirit Space with James Chaffers (an excellent professor). The course challenged those in it to think about why we would choose such a difficult and often unrewarding major. We read about the different paths, ideologies, thinkers, and opinions of architects and those outside the field. What we concluded was that our lives, whether it be in design or elsewhere, need to be guided by what is called our "personal compass". Wherever our compasses northern arrow points, its "true north", is where we should follow. The reason why is our "true north" points us towards what makes us happy. Otherwise, everything else that we do in our lives that does not bring us closer to our "true north" is wasteful and unnecessary. If we spend time focusing on the unnecessary or little things in life, We can never achieve our "true north" aka happiness. 

    Calling upon what I learned in Spirit Space was able to realign my compass, helping me to evaluate what in my semester is guiding my compass arrow and bringing me closer to my happiness. I realized that I need to give my most time to studio, theory, and fieldwork class as the topics discussed and explored in those courses have enriched my work the greatest, becoming my most influential of the semester. I see these courses feeding into each other, and the professor behind them providing me with the most valuable shreds of knowledge which I can bring forward into my education and future career. While I do value the other two courses of my semester, I realize they are not the most ground breaking for my own path, and though I will not stop putting my time and effort into them, I know they do not need as much attention as the other three because they have given little shove towards my compasses true North.

    While I am sure I will question myself again in the future, it is comforting to know I have a system to help guide and evaluate the usefulness of what I am learning, giving me a way to calm my life and give it a sense of purpose. The question of "what if" are heavy to carry, adding unneeded emotional, mental, and physical stress to an already volatile and high strung environment, and it is a relief to have been in a course taught by a professor who understands the value of happiness and knows that not everything we have to take necessarily is what we need to bring forward with us along our personal journeys.

    Thank you for letting me vent!


    • No Comments

    • Hey buddy, hope you doing fine now.

      While i completely understand your emotion and your state of mind, let me say that its no different for us working in the profession. I, after my bachelors consciously took a decision to slog for a few years in the profession and understand how it works, and its been 3.5 years now, and i am at the same juncture " contemplating their point along the path of their education and life."

      Our lives as architects and designers is a one which takes a toll on us in all aspects of our well being and i would say if we first dont take care of ourselves, how are we going to impact other lives first is - no matter what take GOOD care of yourselves. i learnt it the hard way ( that story is for some other time). 

      Secondly, one rule i learnt from a very dear colleague of mine...NO WHAT IF'S IN actually works..the moment your mind wanders on what if...STOP. DISTRACT.

      There's very little time in life to waste our energies in what if's..i wasted so much of it and it gave me nothing but a headache, psychotic sickness and dissatisfaction. 

      Look, from where i come from, people burn their asses to come to school's like the one's you are studying in, do all sorts of uncomfortable shit just to experience that life...So whenever you feel this pinch in life again, just remember..there are 1000's of people wanting to be in shoes of your life,...the point is are you living it to your worth...?

      Cheers man, and all the best !


      May 24, 18 3:19 am  · 
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About this Blog

The reflections, recollections, and insights from the viewpoint of a dual-masters student here at the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture. My three year journey to obtain a Masters of Architecture and a Master of Urban Design has brought me, and will continue to take me, through some of the most incredible, toughest, happiest, and satisfying moments and experiences of my life. Please join me through the wanderlust that is my design and academic expedition.

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