The first five-ish years


After dealing with a lot of shit in my first 2.5 years in this business, every week still feels like a rollercoaster ride. One day, the future seems limitless and opportunity knocks; the next, I'm feeling insecure and wondering what the hell I'm doing, spending hours and days poring over window schedules and shop drawings and wondering when I'll finally become comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.

In this moment of wine-assisted self-reflection, I'm looking to you, my fellow archinectors, for your stories of good, bad, and ugly during your first ~5 years.  I'm aware that architecture is a marathon, not a sprint - all the same, I'm sure I'm not the only one who could use a little perspective from time to time.  It's been a rough week.

Take care.

Nov 20, 13 10:17 pm
Non Sequitur

rough week? We've just had to write-off hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of crucial telecom infrastructure in one project because someone forgot that rain and ice during construction can be a problem if your sensitive bits are exposed.

I think you are spot-on with the need to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. I try to embrace these emotional fluctuations instead of wishing them away. My very first feeling of comfortable came when my student debt interest came down from 20 to 7%. Another was the first time a contractor onsite commented on a design I made and detailed and although he claimed it was difficult as hell (it was), he was glad he did it as we expected instead of bastardizing our ideas for the sake of ease of construction.

Nov 21, 13 8:33 am

The day I realized that nobody is looking out for my personal interests but me is the day my entire career changed. I stopped apologizing for who I was and what my goals were. 

Nov 21, 13 9:28 am

Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results... that is what I came to realize.

I'm not waiting for the next economic downturn to 'curb' me again, one was enough for me to get the point.

How's the stock market doing today?

Nov 21, 13 12:39 pm

lets see - I am at my 58th month of experience since I graduated in 6/2007 - The recession was a real barrel of laughs, destroyed my finances and nearly my career - but through forcing the issue, I am still in architecture. The lesson is that we must always be prepared like a good Marine - be able to gut it out and do what it takes no matter what. too many people I know ended up as KIA from the recession - they are doing other things besides architecture.

Nov 21, 13 1:41 pm

Thanks all for sharing. My own feelings of discomfort have come after being booted around over the last year+, dealing with tyrannical and clueless (previous) employers. It's hard to get situated enough to hit your stride when you've had the rug pulled out from under you a couple of times already - for no fault of your own, with zero warning. Fortunately I feel very supported by my current bosses.

The reason I'm thinking about the first 5 years is that it would seem to me that one's first half-decade would tend to mold one's career trajectory. Like first impressions, what happens during the formative years isn't likely to be easily undone.  Finding my place (moving up?) within the hierarchy of a corporate structure is fundamentally odd to me, and is creating new pressures that I'd not anticipated. 

Nov 21, 13 5:24 pm
It gets better after 5 years but will always be a roller coaster. Sit down, fasten seatbelt, scream sometimes and enjoy the ride.
Nov 21, 13 8:44 pm

I love SneakyPete's comment. Thumbs up.

I started to feel more comfortable with the profession after realizing that a mistake might not be the end or the world, and that what you do after the mistake says more about you as a professional than anything else.

Mistakes happen. A great boss of mine once told me that if a drawing set is the result of 100,000 individual decisions (for the sake of argument) and you get 99% of these right, you still made 1000 mistakes. I'm sure this is some old saying, but when I heard it for the first time it made me feel much better.

Nov 22, 13 9:03 am
Non Sequitur

There is only one way to ride a roller-coaster and that is in the front row. Any other seat is just a waste of time.

Nov 22, 13 9:15 am

As long as we're making metaphors, I'd rather own the amusement park.

Nov 22, 13 9:20 am

i'd rather let non sequitur ride the rollercoaster, and let miles deal with the ownership, while i grab a 6 pack and go fishing.  not sure how that actually fits into the analogy, but i bet it's pretty deep if you think about it.

Nov 22, 13 9:29 am
Non Sequitur

depends what beer is in that 6-pack.

Nov 22, 13 9:41 am

By owning the amusement park I get to jet around the world to the very best fishing spots: Phuket, the Marquesas Keys, Cape Town, Cabo San Lucas and so on,  while drinking nothing but Space Barley.

Nov 22, 13 9:48 am

i was thinking fresh water fly fishing.  i hear mongolia, argentina, new zeland, and alaska are good destinations.  maybe i could be your guide since you own an amusement park?

you know, trout like cold water, which is uncomfortable.  maybe you could bring along a stream heater so it isn't so bad?

Nov 22, 13 10:23 am

Lee Robert that is an interesting way to think about the 100,000 decision analogy. I have always used that analogy related to tradespeople: if I had to make 100,000 decisions on this house project, the electrician only has to be responsible for about 15 of them, so if s/he fucks up I am justified in getting a bit miffed about it (not that I ever get miffed at them first, because I respect tradespeople and their knowledge, but when they accuse me of making mistakes first then my defenses will spring up).

bowling ball, I have been in this profession for 26 years and every day is *still* as likely to be euphorically satisfying as it is to be flee-to-the-sweet-embrace-of-bourbon frustrating. It's never boring, at least!  But the first few years out of school are specifically challenging.  It's likely the first time in your life you not only aren't on a student schedule but also start to realistically ask "Is this it? Is what I see in my immediate future the same as it's going to be for the rest of my life?!".  Combine that with awful bosses, a low wage, and a profession that feels like being a kicked puppy and it combines into a terrifying ball of doubt.

Hang in there. Architecture is a long, long profession with plenty of time to make mistakes, learn from them, and change course.  I've done two major career shifts within the profession in the last ten years and feel like I have at least one more in me, possibly two.  It really can all be new and fun again.

If you're not registered, go for it.  It feels like reaching the top of the mountain.

Nov 22, 13 11:19 am

Oh, here's an amusing first-five-years story.  My first architecture job was in a firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.  The boss/firm owner's secretary was married to his (the boss') coke dealer. One day the boss was on a job site but had left his sweet 240Z behind so the secretary could drive it to her house to pick up the boss' weekly order. Being an enthusiastic partaker of her husband's product, the secretary managed to drive the car over the parking space block and get hung up.  I spent about an hour in the parking lot trying to calm her down enough to get back in the car and drive on over it.  Then I got yelled at later that afternoon for not having all my work done. Fun times!

Nov 22, 13 11:28 am

Non Sequitur  (History|Contact)

depends what beer is in that 6-pack.


Lagunitas - Lil Sumpin or Brown Shugga

Nov 22, 13 1:22 pm

Donna thanks for the fun story and bit of perspective - exactly what I'm looking for. The things you point out - the schedule, the "is this all there is?," the notion that every mistake will be my last - yep, that's exactly how I'm feeling these days. Or at least some days. Others are great, like I said. 

I'm about halfway to being registered, and yeah, it's going to feel great when that finally happens. Architecture is so... bureaucratic (sp?) compared to my past lives, where I achieved an extremely high level of accomplishment and fame relative to those industries, and all within a few short years. As I was reminded when talking with my boss over beers at lunch*, architects don't typically hit their stride until their mid-50's or even later.

*And yeah, I have no right to complain :p

Nov 22, 13 4:16 pm

The question is not whether or not you make mistakes - we all do - but rather what you do about it afterward.

Nov 22, 13 4:38 pm

Agreed, Miles.  i'd like to think I always present a professional, if slightly introverted, face to clients, contractors, fellow employees, etc. Whether they return the favour is another matter :p. 

Nov 22, 13 7:02 pm

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