Note from the Author: Help me help other architects! This blog is an excerpt from the first draft of my book: Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect. You can help by leaving a critique in the comment section below. And if you are just starting I suggest you check out the table of contents for an easy road map. Thx you rock! -Steve
“Waiting for perfection is never as smart as making progress.” – Seth Godin
My first title for this book: The Book of Steve's Struggles
My initial process for brainstorming the contents of this book was to think about all of the things that I have struggled with in my career. From that list, I boiled it down to the skills that have had the biggest positive impact. Each chapter of this book highlights an invaluable skill that I have failed at and many that I still struggle with today. Despite my struggles, I always work to improve and get better.
It is the failures or our lives that propel us forward. For that reason we must embrace failure rather than run away with it. Here are three embarrassing stories to prove it:
Struggles with Networking
People who know me now would never believe that I was a shy kid. Like super shy! The earliest example of this was my very first McDonald’s birthday party. McDonald’s birthday parties use to be a thing by the way! I must have been five or six. My mom dropped me off at the party and as she was pulling out of the McDonald’s driveway, she abruptly stopped. She stopped because she could see her son glued against the plate glass window. I was mortified that my mom was leaving me and I wanted to make sure she saw the look of horror on my face.
Fortunately my puppy dog in the window trick worked. My mom parked the car and came back in to hang with her son so that he could enjoy the party. Moms are the best!
Being with groups of people, some of which I did not know, frightened me. Eventually I would relax and have a great time at the birthday party. However, even to this day I still get similar anxiety when I approach a social function. This is the case whether it is a group of strangers or a group of folks I know. I think, “What will happen if I don’t know anybody?” “What will happen if I can’t think of anything to say?” Or the worst: “What if there is a moment when I am standing alone and nobody is talking to me?” Can you imagine?
Well, those things do happen some time. And it is never as bad as I imagined. Although that anxiety never went away, I just know that it is normal. It is the feeling I get. And it will pass. I don’t run from it, I embrace it.
Struggles with Public Speaking
I remember the first time I gave a presentation in Architecture School. I had two hand drawn diagrams on white trace paper pinned up on the wall. I was presenting in front of my studio critic and a dozen classmates. Not exactly a TED Talk, but it was big for me at the time.
During my presentation, you could hear this annoying tapping noise. That noise was the sound of my pencil tapping on the wall. I used my pencil to point to the drawings and because my hand was shaking, it was tapping the wall. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
I have always had a shaky hand and it gets extra shaky when I am nervous. I thought that I could disguise my shaky hand by using a pencil to point, but that plan backfired. From that experience, I now know to keep my pointer a few inches from the actual drawing.
This was an embarrassing beginning to my life of presenting architecture, however I did not give up. I did not stop presenting and speaking in front of others. I did not stop using a pointer. I certainly didn’t stop getting nervous. I just know that I need to keep my pointer a couple inches away from the drawing. I evolved. I used this little failure to tweak my presentation technique.
Struggles with Delegating
Delegating is a huge challenge for me. Some days I struggle to let go because I am a bit of a perfectionist. I want things done my way and I do not always trust that my team members will get it right. This is not good for anybody. It doesn’t help other grow and it limits my abilities.
Sometimes perfection has nothing to do with it. I feel uncomfortable bothering others with my work. Just the other day I was working on a series of hand drawn renderings. I was at my drafting table for 3 hours pumping out drawings. When I was finished, I had five drawings that needed to be scanned and formatted.
As I was about to walk up to the 3rd floor to use the large format scanner I paused and thought, “maybe I should delegate this scanning task to one of our interns/aspiring architects.” Then I thought, “I don’t want to interrupt someone who may be engrossed in another task and I don’t want to be that guy that pushes off menial tasks on others. Plus, it wouldn’t take me very long.” So I did the scanning myself. It took me 20 minutes.
In hindsight, this was insignificant however, it highlights my struggle to delegate. Although it was only 20 minutes, there were certainly plenty of people who could have handled the task. This would have allowed me to focus on other high priority items and would have save money since my billable rate is much higher than an intern’s rate.
We often undervalue our own time. If I were to gain just 20 additional minutes every workday that would add up to two full workweeks by the end of the year! 83 hours to be exact. (250 working days * 20 minutes = 5,000 minutes) When I ran this little calculation I just about fell out of my chair. I need to improve my delegating.