Fear holding you hostage?

My husband lost his job as an intern last year and, and as part of a huge layoff at a large firm, I lost my job mid-project as an intern in January.  An emotional wreck and unsure what to do, I swallowed my pride and went to go see a career counselor; a bit of a stretch for me.  I’ve known I wanted to be an architect since I was in 10th grade.  I finished school in the top 3% of my class and I landed a job right out of school that included traveling and construction administration — I thought I was living the dream! This was just a little setback right? Wrong. After months of fearing being laid off, and watching friends struggle to find work after being laid off, I was burned out.  I began to question whether or not I wanted to be an architect if this lifestyle (no pay raise for 4 years while health insurance costs tripled, working extra hours to pick up for friends who were laid off…) was what the “real world” was. Going to see the counselor was the best thing I could have done. After hours of aptitude tests, values tests, and talking about my life plans, we boiled it down to two things I want to share.

1) Don’t stick to “THE PLAN” for your life so steadfastly that you miss….life. My counselor pointed out that I’d set this goal of being ‘a licensed architect in large firm with job that included lots of travel, and huge clients’ when I started college — I was 19 and unmarried at that time. She pointed out that it is okay for your goals, priorities, and values to change. It’s okay that I wasn’t happy in that same role as a nearly-licensed, married, 27 year old.  It’s important to set goals, but also important to re-evaluate them from time to time.  Ask yourself ‘is this particular job aligning with my values and my priorities?’ If I’d asked myself that before the ‘holy cow, I’m going to lose my job unless I just work harder and harder and harder’ phase of my career, the answer would have been ‘NO’.  Instead, the counselor and I talked about how a smaller firm, more open to family values, with smaller projects and less travel (turns out my husband missed me when I was gone!) might fit my needs better.

2) BE BOLD.  If staying in your current environment (whether a department, or a workplace entirely) isn’t aligning with your values and goals, it’s time for a change. Stand up for what’s important to you, and be willing to make changes to achieve a measure of happiness. Staying in a drafting position you are terrified of losing because it’s paying the bills may be a bad idea. As a creative soul, I firmly believe that your work needs to fulfill you and your dream needs to be bigger than your current job. What do you really want out of your career? Hospitals in Haiti? Equestrian facilities in Kentucky? A family? Bigger projects or smaller projects?  Evaluate your dreams and make your plan to get there by BEING BOLD. Yes, we have to put in our ‘hours in the trenches’, but I also believe that the universe helps those that help themselves. Be the change you want to see in your own life.  You may lose a job, but you must be driven by your dream to get back up.  Don’t let that paycheck hold your dreams hostage. If you’re unhappy with a job but still in love with architecture, it’s probably time to admit that you haven’t found your home within the industry. If you’re not inspired by where you’re at or headed next, how can you inspire clients with your work?

I can only say that after a few sessions with someone who asked me questions like ‘what do you want to get out of life?’, and ‘is your current situation getting you there?’ (and listened to my answers), it was what I needed. I am now happily employed at a small firm with more flexible hours, a family friendly environment, and smaller projects. I am getting to do front end design for the first time in my career, and it has made a huge difference in the satisfaction I feel in my career. Sure, I still do the pages of toilet details, but now I feel like it’s my choice, because it’s getting me where I want to go. I want others in my shoes to take stock of what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. I hope that these nuggets of advice change your outlook and careers as much as they’ve changed mine.


This post is written by guest writer Megan Molin.  She is the Associate Director for the AIA Colorado North chapter and lives in Fort Collins with her husband, cat, and two horses. She is an avid equestrian, home cook, writer, and photographer and works at Aller-Lingle-Massey.  Her inspiration? The Cathedral of Christ the light, by Crag Hartman, and anything by Shigeru Ban. And good toilet details.

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