I’ll probably never be finished.

For most things in life, the end of something is rather clear. You’re finished with the marathon when you have crossed the finish line, and you are finished emptying the dishwasher when there isn’t anything else left in it to take out. Life, for that matter, has a rather definitive end. Feats of creativity, however, are not usually so cut and dried. I have drawings from grad school that I STILL think need additional work, and my diploma has long since been in hand. A model may function for its intended purpose when it resembles the proposed form, but how far do you take the exercise? Do you add color, material, light and shadow, entourage…?

Over a year ago, my team and I reached the substantial completion milestone on a project that had been over 4 years in the making. Through the usual warranty period, construction details were tweaked, drawings were updated and more than occasional visits to the project for one reason or another kept it at the forefront of my mind. Currently, we are under construction on an addition to this facility. (We were actually designing the expansion before the original facility was even occupied.) Perhaps this is a special case, but I find myself surprised at how often I call on my limited previous experience to offer a solution to the current problem. Admittedly, the projects are very similar and what was applicable for Phase I should almost certainly be applicable for Phase II. Professionally, I expect that I will continue to grow in my knowledge and experience, but I am surprised by the level to which I evaluate current situations based on past experiences.

For me, this is entirely different than my educational experience. While I certainly retained all of my grade school mathematical training that allowed me to calculate beam deflections in structures, I rarely remembered what the specifics of the original lesson where. Professionally, when investigating a solution to a current problem, I find myself remembering details far beyond what the ultimate effective solution was. I paint a mental picture of where I was sitting or standing, who was there working through the issue with me, weather and environmental influences that may have been part of the scene; the list is endless.

Finishing the actual event of the marathon is one thing, but I am learning that taking that experience and all of the associated training and paying it forward to the next athletic endeavor can be more rewarding as the race itself. Admittedly, this is probably a naive thought, but I had expected some sort of finality when the Phase I drawings were packed up for offsite storage. I may be at a disadvantage in that my current project literally touches my previous project, but it is striking to me how much the previous work influences the current. It feels like I never really “finished” the last project.

Depth of skill and breadth of understanding are everything in (not only) this field. As young professionals, we must continue to seek out new experiences and gain new knowledge, allowing the possibility of influence in our current work. I am learning that the realities of previous professional practice, while invaluable, need to be tempered with a healthy interest is all that is new and personally fascinating. Building on the previous training miles will only make you faster in the next race.

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