I Am Not a Waitress

I have been absent.  Busy.  Eating too much pizza and not enough green vegetables.  The truth is, I’ve been feeling sapped.  The creative brain can often operate on hyper overdrive with more ideas flooding in that we can process.  We embark on myriad projects stretching ourselves in too many different directions.  My ambitious novena project has proved more difficult than I’d imagined to execute as finding then coaxing interviews out of built environment champions from all over the country has proved to be a bit like herding cats (you know who you are out there).  I’d like to also blame the flurry of events in my 3D life for why I have not blogged more in recent months (real estate crises, hectic work schedule, launching feng shui business, family matters), but this blog is about 3D life, not escaping it, so that’s not a good excuse either.  While I still feel guilty about not posting at my usual weekly pace, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes you just need...time.  We cannot flog ourselves into a creative frenzy, producing on-demand delights for the pleasure of others.  In short, I am not a waitress, and neither are you.  As creatives, we respond to, synthesize and process information to solve problems, but we will fail every time we try to follow orders.

I was recently reminded of this at a client meeting.  Because I am a healthcare architect, many of the people I work with are physicians.  Brilliant, worldly, folks who often themselves have a passion for the arts and architecture.  Certainly people who are used to speaking up and being the authority.  In this particular meeting, the person in question was sure that she had the answer, suggesting it in the meeting and even pulling me aside later to press her point.  I personally always like to think through and interpret what people have to tell me about space because I can often gain a great deal of insight on how to best solve the problem.  However, in this case, we’d already explored that path and the suggestion had more cons attached to it than pros.  I bristled inwardly at being told how to do my job.  I marveled at the audacity and confidence of this individual at the same time I wondered why as architects we so often demur.  Those that don’t are deemed “arrogant”  and “difficult”  and had better have a hell of a lot of talent on their side to make up for the fact that no one really likes them.  It led me to want to explore further the fine line between creativity and collaboration, between clarity and conformity and when it all degrades to just serving up a requested old favorite from the menu.

Let’s start with a round of intention and purpose
If you don’t know what you want, there is no way you can get it (or recognize it when you have).  While we often think that pushing ourselves to work harder is the key to success, the real key is your passion for what you do. This passion is contagious and will fuel any project and actually foster more collaboration that being a sycophant ever will.  As my yoga teacher likes to say- “if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.”  Truly words to live by, yet so many of us are caught up in life’s compulsories to the point that we forget what all those things were a prerequisite for

Next course: time and space 
While we often think that our best ideas come out of the pressure of the last minute, they are made possible by the fact that during periods of relaxation, something we negatively label as procrastination, we subconsciously form links between our problem and seemingly unrelated things out in the world.  If you can’t focus, there’s probably a reason and no amount of time at your desk will improve that.  The mind at play can recharge and see problems from new angles while the mind under pressure and a heavy workload reverts to reconstituting the last successful idea.

Send those negative thoughts back to the kitchen

The devil you know can be mighty seductive.  No matter how much we complain about all the things holding us back in life, we have a laundry list of excuses for why we can’t let them go.  These are your fears and they have no place in the successful outcome of anything.  Fear of failure prevents you from making bold moves, or causes you to sabotage the ones you do make too soon, leaving projects unfinished.  Fear of disapproval prevents you from voicing your thoughts or being an advocate for the expertise you have when you are challenged.  Fear of losing control makes us inflexible idea-hoarders, unable to collaborate.  When you play it safe, you stay stuck in a comfortable rut, all the while telling yourself you are making a wise choice (nice job, inner critic). 

Finish it off with a nice routine
When your creative process becomes automatic, you don’t question it anymore.  That makes it infinitely less likely that others will question you either.  Being creative is a constant work in progress.  You have to nurture your creativity for it to blossom.  Just like that never ending chore of cleaning the kitchen, creativity requires a daily investment of your time, and things quickly become a mess after a day or two of neglect.  Get in the habit of feeding your soul by making rest, exercise, and a ritual of creative tasks a non-negotiable part of your day.

Being an architect is nothing like waiting tables. We are in the business of providing our clients with something they don’t have today, of working with them to shepherd a vision into a built reality.  To do that, we are going to have to expand beyond literally writing down a list of criteria to satisfy. Our purpose in the design process is to work with our project team and clients toward defining the right problem and developing an innovative way to solve it, not delivering the daily special.