Superheroes of the Built World

Last week, I took trapeze lessons.  A group of co-workers have taken on a challenge to do extreme sports activities over the course of the year and sent an email inviting others to join.  I could not hit reply fast enough- what an adventure!  When I got up on that platform, my inner daredevil took over and it was beyond thrilling.  I only regret that I do not have the body of an acrobat, and thus could not do things like a catch and release (but I tried, I tried).  After I develop more core strength, I will go back again in the hopes of successfully completing this stunt.  My four year old self is begging for the opportunity. You see, this was a childhood fantasy come true; I loved going to the circus and, next to the clowns, the acrobats were my favorite. I wanted to be one when I grew up, causing my mother some bit of consternation. While I did pursue gymnastics lessons though high school, I never competed and by the time I was eight or so, I had abandoned my dream career in the circus for being an astrophysicist, then a teacher, then an artist, only finding my way to architecture late in high school. My time on the trapeze got me thinking about what our childhood fantasy careers are really trying to tell us about who we are.

One thing they don’t tell us is to play it safe

Children crave the action oriented, things that serve an obvious purpose with a touch of adventure thrown in. They don’t dream of hours spent in mind-numbing meetings, being heckled by a bullying boss or playing office politics.  They don’t fantasize about the drudgery of overtime because of over-promised deadlines.  They most certainly do not aspire to being awarded some silly title that will pigeon-hole them into a constrained set of roles.  In fact, if you were to present any of these dismal (but all too real) scenarios to a child, they would respond by proposing some bold brash action to put the perpetrator of such misery in his or her place.

This visceral response, commonly echoed in comics, and even some movies, allows the hero to stand up for him or herself, indulging in the supreme satisfaction of defeating evil, telling off an annoying person, double crossing a backstabber  or ceremoniously walking away from oppressive expectations like a toxic job or relationship.  Many times this is coupled with  a physical act- literally vanquishing life’s villain.  We can’t legally do many of these things in real life, so we bury our frustrations and resign ourselves to our fate.  Kapow!  That’s the sound of me smacking you upside the head (virtually of course).  When you feel the urge to be resigned is when you should resign - literally - from whatever is oppressing your ability to be great.  Reconnect with your childhood self and your innermost passions- in other words, look beyond the ordinary career path.

What would Wonder Woman do?
As a child, you truly believed you could change the world.  What you may not realize is that you still can.  You don’t have to accept less than your expectations.  In career paths laden with compromise and nuance, our purpose gets lost.  This is a creativity buzzkill to say the least.  Choose to embark on a more adventurous route:
Lead a double life
No, you don’t need to have a secret identity (unless you want to), but you do need to have more than one dimension.  You can deal with the sometimes mundane aspects involved in being Diana Prince when you know that as Wonder Woman, you are saving the world.  Many times when I talk to someone who is frustrated in their career, they usually work at their job and that’s about it.  They have become flattened, so the consequences of the day to day effort involved in a project or interpersonal business relationships become all consuming.  If you have lost perspective in this way, you need to look for opportunities to live your passion outside of your job.  Volunteer in the community, apply to be a member of a board or commission- do something else that matters to you to expand your network.  It might seem counter-intuitive, but when you expose yourself to fun and inspiring activities (like trapezing), you actually become better at solving workplace problems and making career choices.
Be a hero
You are an architect, so why isn’t your city better?  People on the street may not cry out for help like they do in comic books, but it’s not very heroic of you to keep ignoring obvious need.  Heroes don’t let a purse snatcher get away because they’d rather wait for their archenemy to launch some diabolical plot.  They help wherever they are needed.  So should you. Take initiative and work to make a change. 
Confront your nemesis
What’s holding you back?  What are you too afraid to even attempt?  If you take the time to really think about it, these root fears of inadequacy or failure are the excuse you use not to pursue things that really matter  to you.  They make you risk adverse and keep you stuck in that rut you always complain about being stuck in.  Challenge yourself and remember, those elaborate plots to eliminate the hero were always foiled in the end (mostly because they were way too elaborate).  Your nemesis is really just you over-thinking everything.

Over the next few weeks, I am launching my second Patron Saint of Architecture novena (click on the tab at the top of the page to read last year's Breaking Points and Turning Points novena).  Change the World (an experiment), will profile cities as seen through the lens of the real-life superheroes who weren’t afraid to step outside their comfort zone and champion a cause in the built environment.  What they did made a difference, and you will get to hear their stories so that you, too can be inspired to use your powers as an architect for the greater good.   Before you shut down this idea by automatically thinking that you can’t possibly pull off a stunt like this, I want to share the most profound thing I discovered at my trapeze lesson: falling is truly no big deal.  It’s how you get down when you are done with your act.