Gray Hair

I remember one of the first times I represented our firm at a job-site meeting.  I was a fresh, 24 year-old intern sent into the lion’s den.  It was a contentious project which is possibly why I was sent along to take the whipping position.  During the course of the discussion the topic turned to a certain set of details within the plan set.  Long story short, I was explaining to the Forman for the framing crews that we understood the detail was slightly modified from what he was used to seeing, but that the concept and result were much the same.  Halfway through my explanation he interrupted me and asked how old I was.  When I told him my age he responded with “I have @#$%# socks older than you!” and stormed out of the trailer.  Eventually he received the framing information through the superintendant.

I share this story as an illustration of a mindset, one that too much of our industry seems to be stuck in.  One of “I’ve been doing it this way for decades, and I’m too old, or stubborn, to change now”.  The Forman in my story had been building that detail forever, and was not going to take any direction from some young punk like me.  Before I go on, let me say that I have nothing but the utmost respect for people like him, with years of practical experience and expertise.  But there is certainly something to be said for being open to new ideas, having an enthusiasm for progress, and an ability to grow and evolve.

I’m not talking about change for the sake of change, but change born from new technologies, new collaborative expressions, new ways of looking at our world.  We stand on the shoulders of giants and have a responsibility to forward our industry accordingly.  This outlook isn’t exclusive to youth either, at least not in terms of age.  It is in the individuals who have an excitement for beginning new adventures, new challenges, whether they have been around for decades or less time than some people’s undergarments.  They’re the ones who show up first and stay last.

As young architects, we are often confronted by certain levels of doubt about our abilities.  To some extent this doubt is justified.  We haven’t had the years of experience that teach daily lessons on what needs to be done when, and where this thing goes, or what in the world that little pipe sticking out of the ground is and what it is attached to.  This puts the onus on us to better ourselves, and fast.  We have to capitalize on our inherent ability to grow and evolve.  We have to research more than the established architect and engage the process from new perspectives.  And we have to do all this while understanding the standards of our industry and respecting the great history of our profession.

Through these efforts we can one day hope to become the next generation of experts.  But like my brother-in-law likes to remind me: “it never hurts to bring a little gray hair to the table”.

4 thoughts on “Gray Hair

  1. Good post, Meg! I think we’ve all had one of those “older socks” conversations at some point. The biggest obstacle to learning, in my opinion, is pride. The challenge for us older practitioners is to temper our considerable real world experience with humility and the willingness to listen to new ideas. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    David G.

  2. You’re welcome David. Yes Adam brings up some good points. There’s a lot of pride that comes from well fought accomplishments. The challenge then is finding balance between humility and giving credit where it’s due, even if that’s to yourself.

    • I think David hit the nail on the head when he identifies pride as the main obstacle to learning…not pride in terms of ‘feeling proud’ of what you’ve accomplished, but pride that says ‘I know more than you, even though I haven’t heard you yet’. IMO communication is key to learning, listening is 75% of communication, and a humble mind seems to hear more!

  3. Pingback: Le Se Le Bon Ton Roulette | AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog

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