This Is Your Career on Cracks April 25, 2015Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Those were the first words I ever heard as a college student
Admitted to the school of architecture
Attending orientation with my parents
A senior administrator got up in front and said to a roomful of 200 freshmen future architects and their parents
A questionable student retention tactic – even then
Had it been a Simpsons episode you would have heard the rear door slam
But as the Simpsons wouldn’t be invented for another 10 years, nobody moved
Next the administrator said the 9 most important words I ever heard
Only 3 of you will ever design a building
This was before everybody gets a trophy
Apparently, back then only 3 of us would get trophies
The remainder would go on to toil away in management
When the administrator said: Only 3 of you will ever design a building
My first thought was: I wonder who the other two are?
It wasn’t: I wonder if I should double major and get an MBA?
I wanted to design buildings, and while I also wanted a job after graduation
No one will let you design buildings with an MBA.
It’s not as if for me designing buildings was a forgone conclusion
I grew up in a split-level house in the suburbs
We didn’t come from either money or good taste
And we clearly didn’t know any architects
In your career you will spend 5 years sitting at a desk & 2 years sitting in meetings.
No one ever goes into architecture because they want to sit in meetings
Yet apparently this is what all but 3 of us were signing up for
What all but three students would get to do with their lives
Every student in that room must have wondered who the other two are?
And yet, we didn’t all go on to design buildings
Some became technical architects, some became managers
The ones with MBAs – became our clients
And about half went on to other fields
I chose the design of buildings over meetings
And spent 30+ years – a career – doing what I love
And in all that time I never had a bad day.
While I never became Frank Lloyd Wright, I became something even more important for me to become: myself
And I got to do this because at every career crossroad
I did this because a life NOT designing buildings – not acting on our world, not making a positive contribution, not adding value – was for me unimaginable
But as importantly, a life NOT designing buildings was somebody else’s life
And as long as I remembered this – and acted on it – everything would work out
And it did, both creatively and financially. And it can for you as well.
One of the three who designs buildings
One of the three who creates an innovation
One of the three who experience meaning & purpose in their work
One of the three who makes a difference
One of the three who helps transform the world
But there comes a time in every career, for some sooner, some later
When we no longer see ourselves as one of the three.
Why is that? Why do we give up on our promises and dreams?
There are times when we choose money over our dreams
Other times when we’ll be frustrated or bored with what we do.
And be dissatisfied with our job.
Our dreams change, or we forget our dreams.
We give up on our dreams. But, as often, our dreams give up on us.
During an internship I designed my first building – before I graduated college
And very quickly realized I had achieved my dream of being one of the three.
Michelangelo said: The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.
They’re too easily achieved
They’re not enough to sustain a life-long career
So what does it take to sustain a long, fulfilling career?
Upon graduation, I decided to find out and treat my career as an experiment
In this experiment I would do two things:
- Always have two careers
- And I would change one of them every 7 years.
- Always have a minor to go along with your major
- And change your minor every 7 years.
It turns out that to sustain a long, fulfilling career
You need to have a bunch of short, fulfilling careers.
Think of each as a 7-Year Career
Most careers look like this.
We all know people like this.
Following the formula: Work. Repeat. Retire.
If careers were meals, most people’s career looks like this:
all meat, no potatoes
I wanted a well-balanced career
To major in salmon with a minor in broccoli.
If it works for nutrition, why not for our careers?
I didn’t want sequential careers, one after the other
While I haven’t written a play in over 20 years, a day doesn’t go by when I haven’t used something I learned while being a playwright.
You can think of your 7 year careers like microbrews
Only with your life’s work, not beer
The key thing is to stick with it for 7 years
No dabbling, with one thing one day, and another the next
- It guarantees that you are always learning and growing
- It acts as a relief valve for the pressures and sometimes disappointments of your main job, and
- It can positively impact your main job, and vice versa
For example, in my own career, when I wasn’t able to design buildings – due to the economy, or a fickle client – it didn’t bother me because I was writing plays on the side. One creative outlet relieved the other, until building design picked up again.
and your side job like a second puzzle.
Each made up of your skills, talents, interests and passions
You would think having two jobs would just add two lines on your resume.
Or mean that you are working twice as much. It doesn’t.
What happens between your two careers is closer to alchemy
By doing so, you are in essence creating a better version of your former self.
And when you do this every 7 years, you’re assuring that you are growing and transforming throughout your career.
Besides the 7 days of creation
We regenerate our skin every 7 days
Our body’s cells renew every 7 years
We’re essentially a new person every 7 years
Allowing land to lie fallow every 7th year
returns moisture and nutrients to the soil, restoring productivity.
As a professor, it takes 7 years to achieve tenure
7 years to earn a sabbatical
There’s the 7th inning stretch and the 7-year itch
But there’s a more compelling reason you change your career every 7 years
People have a hard time thinking more than 7 years into the future.
The career timeline is an experiment I do with my students
With birth at one end and the proverbial milk truck on the other
I ask my students to place their career goals along this timeline:
- Graduation; Employment; Taking exams and licensure;
- Falling in love; Getting married; Finding a home;
- Starting a family; Starting a firm; Winning recognition
Here’s what I discovered: They inevitably placed all of them in the first 7 years
Who can really say what will happen beyond the 7-year time horizon?
No one knows what will happen in even a decade ahead
The future is fuzzy
Creating a career is like writing a novel
E.L. Doctorow said that Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Careers are long – it makes sense to break them into chunks
To break them into chunks, it helps to think of your career in terms of successive sigmoid curves
We start by learning something new, then get gradually better at it
Then we become something of an expert
There comes a time when we peak – and our output becomes less and less effective
And we’re looking for something else to keep us – and our interest – active
You cannot earn a high income just by showing up on time and doing an average job. So you must constantly improve.
The goal should be to jump off onto something new, starting the whole process over
And your expiration date arrives
The problem with successive sigmoid curves is knowing when the inflection point (crossroads) occurs: You can’t
No one knows when that pesky inflection point occurs
A lot of times you don’t know until after you look back in retrospect and say
I should have gotten off (the second red x) and it is just too late
I decided to jump off and onto a new interest every 7 years.
As an architect, I like to think of a career path like a concrete sidewalk
In 20 years I made this walk 6000 times
Those keeping score with fitbits that’s 60 million steps
Sidewalks aren’t made in one long ribbon
Why should our careers be?
Now lets look a little more closely at our career path
We build sidewalks over all sorts of things: roots, utilities.
Metaphorically what are the roots underneath your career?
Ever-shifting technological trends
An unpredictable economy
We’re building the foundations of our careers over roots!
All concrete cracks
We confront microscopic cracks everyday
Like a concrete sidewalk, our careers need to accommodate these cracks
Otherwise they’ll take over
Cracks will sometimes appear in your careers due to
- Your interests waning
- You get burned out doing one thing
- Your salary prices you out of a position
- Emerging talent steals your place
When cracks do occur in our careers we can try to hide or mask them
And sometimes there are just too many to try and hide them.
This is what your career looks like when you don’t control the inevitable cracks
This is your career on cracks!
- We aren’t happy in our career
- We can’t be ourselves
- We can’t speak our mind
- We are playing by someone else’s set of rules
- We’re biting our tongues
- We’re swallowing our pride
Constantly addressing these forces drain our psychic energy and take its toll
We do this in architecture by creating control joints.
By creating a break, we induce a crack
The crack goes where we want it to go, not randomly where it can catch us by surprise
You can saw cut a seam in your career path
Think of it as creating a career control joint
You can relieve these tensions by creating a career control joint every 7 years
Before I leave, let me leave you with this.
If you are working toward one career, start planning for your next
Either once your current one has played out or to run along side it
Careers are long. To assure that yours remains that way, do these 2 things:
- Always have two careers, and
- Change one of them every 7 years.
You change your side career every 7 years
- to avoid an existential crisis midway through your career
- to keep from becoming complacent and bored
- to keep from falling behind and becoming obsolete
- to keep from falling into the trap of living someone else’s idea of who you are
You can look at having two careers two ways:
As an unfortunate economic and social reality, or you can view it as an opportunity to expand meaning, purpose and possibility in your life.
By changing your career every 7 years you are in essence, with each iteration, creating a better version of your former self.
And in that way you assure that you are always evolving and improving
Always doing what you love
While you may never became Frank Lloyd Wright, you’ll became something even more important for you to become: YOU!
Author’s Note: This is a transcript of my TEDx talk delivered on 041915. Due to technical difficulties, nearly half of the slides were projected blank (white on white); and since the speaker’s clicker didn’t advance the slides, but instead the stage monitor, the advancement of slides were not in sync with the oral presentation according to those present. Thus the representation of the content here. Hope you enjoyed it!