During your career, you will make many mistakes. In fact, failure is a big part of personal growth.
Despite my belief in embracing failure, there are certain low points in my career that I wish I could erase. I am going to share one of those low points to help you avoid a similar blunder.
This story occurred in the spring of 2009. To put things in perspective: I had been with LS3P for only 1 year. This was during the great recession. As discussed in the previous chapter, LS3P was feeling the pain just like the entire architecture industry.
My studio leader, Rich had called our group together for a monthly meeting. There were about 10 of us at that meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss current projects, upcoming deadlines, billings, etc. Rich handed out a list of all of our active projects. The list was in spreadsheet format with team members assigned to each project. Column 1 was a list of about 12 projects, column 2 listed the project manager assigned to the project, column 3 listed the project architect and column 4 listed the interns.
I scrolled through the list looking for ‘SR,’ and noticed my initials assigned to a project called ‘Bojangles.’ For those not familiar, Bojangles is a fast food restaurant in the South known for it’s chicken and biscuits. They have a menu similar to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“You gotta be shitting me!” I was thinking.
“Bojangles! Really! BojanglesA fast food restaurant! Really? A year ago I was working on a 5 star hotel in Egypt…now a Bojangles!!”
Those were the thoughts going through my head.
I should have just bit my tongue and kept those thoughts in my head. But I didn’t.
“Bojangles? Are we really doing a Bojangles? Is there someone else who can work on this? I’m not working on that,” I said.
With those four sentences I managed to insult the client, our firm, my colleagues and represented myself as big asshole. I was being a whiny little baby. I was moping.
I felt that working on fast food architecture was lowbrow. “I am way too talented to be working on a Bojangles,” I thought.
Looking back on this time, I am very disappointed in my reaction. I am disappointed in my mindset.
I was being a self-entitled punk.
Everyone will encounter similar situations at some point in their career. Not every project will be a dream job. In fact, a majority of the projects will fall in the category of the mundane.
And occasionally you will get a project that is a real dud.
A good architect will look at each project as an opportunity. That even includes the duds.
When I reflect on this story I realize that I made a poor choice and that there were 4 key mistakes I made:
1. I said no.
I am all for voicing opinions and professionally challenging your peers, but there has to be a chain of command. If one of your superiors asks you to do something: say yes. Of course, this "say yes mantra" only applies to ethical work related activities.
What if you are already immersed in a task?
In that situation you should say, “I would be happy to help, but I am currently working on this project for Alex. When do you need this task done? I will talk to Alex about how we might be able to work it in.”
It is very common for people to get attached to their little pet projects, so much so that they lose sight of the fact that they work for the firm, not the project. One failed project or even a missed deadline can have rippling effects on an architecture firm.
Be Loose. Juggle. Say Yes.
2. I didn't want to eat my vegetables.
This phrase came from Bob Borson of the Life of an Architect blog. Thanks Bob!
At the beginning of your career, you will occasionally have to do the shit work. Because if you won’t do it, then who will?
Luckily, I was not reprimanded for my juvenile outburst but I should have. By not eating my vegetables, I was not being a team player.
Eat your vegetables and the meat will come. And then the dessert!
3. I missed the opportunity.
Every project is chock full of new opportunities.
Learning Opportunities - You will always learn something on one project that can be transferred and evolved to the next one.
Design Opportunities – Every project is deserving of design excellence especially common buildings.
Client Opportunities – Every project has the potential to build a relationship with a client and grow into future work.
There are hundreds of Bojangles restaurants in the U.S. and millions of people go to these restaurants. What if I would have stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park? I could have become the go to guy for a very robust client and had the opportunity to make a positive impact on millions of people.
I would love to design a Bojangles now. What a bonehead I was!
Embrace each opportunity.
4. I wasn’t grateful.
This is the part of the story that troubles me the most. I wasn’t grateful for the opportunities that I had.
Remember that this was during the recession. Many people in architecture were out of work. One small project came across my desk that didn’t ‘meet my approval’ and I whined about it.
I was lucky to have a job.
Next time a job lands on your table that you are not thrilled about remember just how lucky you are. Think about the potential impacts your pencil will have on peoples' lives. Think about the responsibility and the opportunity.
Architect is an awesome job. Every day I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.
Don’t Be Like Me
Looking back at this story, I realize that I was very immature. This was during a period where I was dealing with some serious growing pains. All interns will go through these growing pains, which I call the ‘Newbie Angst.’
Have you made any similar mistakes? I would love to hear your story.