You Can’t Get What You Don’t Know You Want

The art of being fully present is perhaps the hardest to master for architects, who are always referencing the past and planning the future (usually under some level of duress).  We get so caught up in achievement that we lose sight of why we’re paddling so hard toward that waterfall.  There are danger signs and people shouting to get our attention, and we don’t even notice them because we are so hell-bent on accomplishing- what?  As you ponder this and take a deep breath, consider this quote from legendary conductor Ben Zander on what it takes to deliver a transformational performance, "This is the moment- this is the most important moment right now.  Which is: we are about contribution.  That's what our job is.  It's not about impressing people.  It's not about getting the next job.  It's about contributing something."

When you get right down to it, that is the essence of who we are as architects.  It’s the essence of who all people are and we function in our highest and best states when our work has meaning and makes a positive difference in the world.  Cool-eh?  Easy, not so much.  That’s because to be fully present requires trusting that the outcome will be OK even if we don’t worry about it.  To be fully present means that you have clarity about yourself and your purpose in the world and everything you do is about realizing that purpose.  It’s kind of like applying the principles of Lean design to your life.  If you never pause to plan, to ask yourself what you really want, your life’s purpose will get lost.  Here’s how to set the right goals for yourself so you can get on with living your truth:

Restore balance
If you’re experiencing dissatisfaction in your career, but can’t figure out how to jumpstart change, it’s most likely because you have lost sight of your goals, or maybe never really had any in the first place.  I’m not talking about the expectations others have for you or the things you feel you “should” be doing.  Aspirations are not true goals.  Take some time to get to know yourself better and identify what moves you as an architect:
  1. Read something inspirational about the built world each day.  You get to decide what that is, whether it’s a favorite blog (ahem), news item, or article.  The only rule is that it has to be uplifting, not anything that will upset or irritate you. Hint: It does not need to be “official architecture press.”  After a while, notice the patterns in your choices.
  2. Try to spend one hour of each day in silence, uninterrupted.  Getting off of the treadmill of what you do all day with all of its disruption and conflict allows your thoughts to settle and you to become more conscious of them.
  3. Begin each workday by sitting in stillness and set an intention for the day.  I know, I know, you’re busy, but jumping right into the fray deprives you of being able to see how the tasks before you can be used to nourish you and help you realize your goals.  Otherwise, they will create stress, which will deplete you. When you have clarity, you will express it in every action you take, which will reinforce and feed your creative identity.
Start asking
It’s hard to ask. It feels funny.  You could get turned down.  But I think the hardest part about asking is that you would have to know what you want or need and be able to clearly express that need.  We’d much rather stew about what we don’t have than figure out how to get it.  Most of us live in a haze of half-realized thoughts and our brain ping-pongs through them as we form judgments and assumptions about life.  We don’t even clearly realize our intentions much less put them out there. Do you expect others to know you well enough to just lay opportunities at your feet?  Worse, do you expect some fairy-godmother type mentor to tell you what you should do at every turn?  That passivity will at best get you what others feel is convenient for you to have, according to their purposes.  There’s a difference between saying “I want to be recognized, be a partner, win awards, get published,” and “I want to design spaces that make people better.”  One way will actually get you there.

Focus on who you are and what you bring, living in the moment taking time to know yourself and your identity as an architect and you really will change the world.