Brutal Optimism

It has been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.  I say (and so does Rob Dyrdek of DC Shoes) “make your own luck”.  What are you waiting for?  Our industry is going through some tough times to say the least, but it’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last.  It is our ability as emerging designers to change, progress, and adapt that will move us forward as a profession and as individuals.  A recent article came out saying that our industry unemployment rate is something like 20%.  That may have caused a lot of people to re-evaluate their decisions to pursue architecture.  While this is not a great statistic, the brutal optimist in me says this also means there is an 80% employment rate.  What does that mean?  It means there is work out there, but you might have to work harder than before to get it.  You might need more training.  You probably need a new resume and portfolio.  You might have to move for a job.  If you’re wondering when you should do something, the answer is now, yesterday, last week.  You are behind the curve.  This is not the end of the world (remember, that will be in December, thanks to an ancient civilization and a horrible movie with John Cusack), but it only gets worse if you don’t take action.  You can, in fact, make your own luck.  There are only two ways that things can be; the way we perceive them to be, and they way they actually are.  The sooner we can bring those closer together, the sooner we will be able to take charge of the profession and move it forward.

A lot of students ask when they should get started with career building.  The answer is you already have.  Pursuing a graduate degree in architecture means at some point, you made a decision to become an Architect, or at least to work in the design field.  Start now.  Turn off Grey’s Anatomy.  Turn off Facebook (at least for a little while).  Hide the Xbox controller.  Go one whole day without checking your email.  Dedicate an entire Saturday to being an advocate for your own professional development.  People have a knack for making time for the things that are important to them.  FINISH your portfolio, or at least this version of it.  Get LEED accredited.  Get CSI accredited.  Take the ARE’s.  Build the alphabet soup after your name (yes, it can get ridiculous, but those credentials do mean something).  Join (and participate in) AIA or AIAS.  What are you waiting for?  Bjarke Ingells or Zaha Hadid aren’t going to call you out of the blue and offer you a job.  If that’s what you want, you have to go get it.  Be aggressive in your pursuit, because if you aren’t, someone else is going to be and they will get it.  I know this sounds a little “drill sergeant, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, life is tough” sort of rant, but shouldn’t it?  Leadership is a prerequisite of our profession.  If you want to be an Architect, you need to make the decision to be a leader.  If not, you will end up working for someone who makes the decisions for you.

At a recent lecture, the question was asked by a senior principal “what can we do to engage young emerging professionals, and what do we tell them to do while the profession rebounds?”  The answer was “tell them to be patient and wait”.  Are you kidding me???   We are not going to wait for the people who screwed up the profession to figure out how to fix it.  We are the emerging professionals, the future of architecture.  We are the next generation, and we’re here and we’re hungry!  Do you have to aggressively manage your IDP hours?  Of course you do.  Take your career by the “you know what’s” and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

Preparation comes from education, credentials, self-study, experience, etc.  Opportunity comes from networking, networking, and more networking.  It’s easy to design a stellar portfolio sitting on your couch, by yourself, in a bubble.  It’s not the whole equation however.  Opportunity comes when you add the human factor.  Principals and those that hire are more likely to remember the person they met on a committee, at an awards gala (like YAAG for example), a conference, or a Habitat build more than they will remember the five minutes they looked at your “mind blowing” project from Studio 4, composed with the perfect graphics and just the right font.  That is important, but it isn’t enough.  Being involved in the profession through volunteering and participating will be rewarding and enriching, not only for yourself, but for those you interact with.  Those are the moments that foster opportunity, and the experience you gain will better prepare you.  The secret is you must combine preparation with opportunity, and then (and only then) you truly will “make your own luck”.

-Stephen Cole, AIAS UC-Denver Chapter President

2 thoughts on “Brutal Optimism

  1. The outlook for emerging architecture professionals is indeed grim and reading that the unemployment rate for architects is at 20% while the national rate is 8.3% is tremendously discouraging. Pointing out the obvious mathematical calculation that 80% of architects are employed does nothing to change that. Those people are not going anywhere; no one is leaving a job now. It’s not as if they’re at a restaurant and when they’re done with their meals they get up from the table to make room for those of us who are waiting. Many of us are aggressively doing all we can and are still un-/under-employed. It’s takes a lot of expensive years of education, and a long, expensive process to build that alphabet soup after our names, only to find that on our own, we’re expected to keep up with the newest versions of all the specific software we need to remain employable for all the jobs that just aren’t out there. I can’t think of another profession where this is the case.

  2. Loved the article. An excellent study of the glass half full. 14 years ago, when we were experiencing another challenging period in the history of the profession, a young, recent graduate approached our firm for a position, when there was no position to be had. Through her persistence, keeping in touch and dogged determination, we hired her first, when the economy and our prospects improved. (I should add that she was also engaged in the professional community, as is the writer above.) A year ago, she became a partner in our firm – the next generation of determined optimists.

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