#ArchiTalks / My Architecture of Change: Hitting Pause to Redesign My Life
This post is part of the ArchiTalks monthly blog series, hosted by Architect Bob Borson. This month’s topic is: “Architecture of Change.” At the bottom of this post, you’ll find links to some of the other ArchiTalk Bloggers. Make sure you visit them.
While my ArchiTalks friends will most likely write this month about how Architecture as a profession will change over the next several years, or how we’ll change the profession ourselves through our work and service, I’m interested in something a little different - personal change.
Namely, my own.
A recent development in my life has woken me up to the fact that I need to re-evaluate where I am and take some time to get back to something I’ve lost - myself.
That probably doesn’t make much sense on its own, so let me break it down.
In the Beginning
I’ve been on a very specific path for quite some time now.
It was October 2015 when I started Evolving Architect, almost 18 months to the day that I sit down to write this. I had just completed the final exam for my architect license and was absolutely over the moon. I didn’t stop to think much at all. I turned that momentum into something else and started a blog.
While I had been planning on starting a blog while I was taking the exams, I never stopped to take a break for myself.
Granted, at that time, there were far less moving pieces to the website. It was a home page, an about page, and a single post that, looking back, is something that I keep on the blog as a reminder of how far I’ve actually come.
I’ve gone on to create regular blog posts, ebooks, webinars, and even courses in that time. I’ve met hundreds of great people, fostered new friendships, and established Evolving Architect as a sort of ‘brand.’
An April Crisis
I can’t and won’t go into the specific details here of what happened to me recently, but know that I had a very serious ‘wake-up call.’ It was alarming and it was profound. (To ease your mind, I’m not dying. It’s not that kind of news.)
A day or so later, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I had run myself ragged. In part, this was my overwhelming drive to not only maintain what I had been working on, but continue to fit in additional types of ideas wherever I could.
That drive was no longer productive, it was destructive to my life.
It’s not just a localized form of burnout. It’s the kind that has been brewing for even longer than that, slowly reaching a boil while I ignore the fact that I control the heat that fuels it.
Or another way to see it is when you watch those amazing talent shows on TV. Professional acrobats amaze the audience by spinning plates on large dowels. They keep adding more and more plates, each following the rotational pattern of the last.
My life didn’t look like that.
Instead, picture that same acrobat spinning plates of food, that are on fire, while they ride a bicycle under water and whistle, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” That’s a bit closer to what it felt like. A wrong move in any one activity and everything would come crashing down in some kind of spectacular chaos.
To make matters worse, if I removed one of the dangers, I’d instinctively just add in two more.
I knew that this was time for change.
No more tricks.
Drive versus Obsession
This all brings me to a very important distinction that I should make here and now.
There are two types of motivation. One is drive. The other is obsession.
As you may care to wager, one of the two is healthy in moderation and one of them is almost never healthy under any circumstances.
Near the end of Middle School, I had a moment when I realized that I should join a sport for High School. I was always the nerdy kid who got straight A’s but didn’t really fit into any specific sport. I looked at myself in the mirror one day and knew without saying anything that I needed to get in shape.
I needed to find a sport.
In truth, I had actually played Soccer when I was very young, probably 7 or 8. It was a great memory I carried with me from my childhood.
I thought to myself, “Hey, I could do this again in High School!”
When you start playing a sport from basically nothing (I wasn’t exactly in shape or good physical health), you don’t realize what it will actually take to ‘make it.’
Even so, I knew that I wanted to play soccer because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
Fast forward four years later, at the team’s senior dinner in my last season as a 'Purple Bulldog' (yes, of course that's a real thing), my coach made his annual speech. He rattled off numbers here and there, each number representing not a literal player’s jersey, but a number that he used to tell a story about each of the seniors.
After all the other players had been called he said, “Zero. Zero is the number of times that I thought Mike LaValley would ever wear the Varsity jersey when I first met him.”
‘Yikes,’ I thought. 'This can’t be good.'
Then he continued, “But he taught me that with hard work and determination, that anything is possible. Mike, I always will remember you as one of the highlights of my career.”
That is drive. I took hold of something positive and while maintaining my grades, friendships, and life, I transformed that part of me into something even better.
It was hard. At times, it was even excruciating. I watched as guys who had played soccer all their lives ran literal circles around me.
No joke - literal circles.
It didn’t matter to me whether we won or lost, whether I was the best player on the team. I was playing because I could feel that everything was in harmony and that the game was improving my life.
As an overeager architecture student I always equated more time to the quality of a project.
I think that's because I knew there was never really enough time to make it perfect. So as a result, I threw myself into my work to bring it as close to perfection as I could before the professor would insist I pin up at the end of each semester.
It's like I knew that this was the time in my life to experiment without limits.
I used to blame everything on ‘Thesis.’ My thesis year at Syracuse was the time in my life when I was living by myself in a studio apartment and basically just commuted to school with the focus that my project had to be the best it could be.
I lived and breathed Thesis.
I had fast food more than regular food. I watched as my sleeping habits sometimes turned into no sleep at all. I worked and worked and worked and worked. Night and day, 24/7 on Thesis.
By the end of the year, I made my final presentation to the esteemed jury and my Thesis was selected for what all the students called, “Super Jury.” It was basically a second round of critiques where guest jurors from around the country were invited to review your project as well.
I worked that much harder between the two presentations to make everything better (even though I had already run myself into the ground), to present the best version of my design - whatever that’s supposed to mean.
For years, even after my Thesis Project was over, I blamed it for all the late nights I tinkered on design competitions, community service, and the like. There was a window of time that I had a knack for filling between my 9-5 job and the time I went to bed.
I told myself just one more project and somehow everything will be great. I lost the passion for the actual process and found myself at the mercy of just doing work.
I could no longer see the forest through the trees.
I could no longer justify that the work I was doing was for anything other than the architecture.
I had placed the work in front of me.
That’s the difference between drive and obsession - letting the work run you rather than creating the work out of a larger idea.
Whether my intentions were good or bad, I've come to a sort of impasse.
I don’t know exactly how to fix the issue yet, but I have an idea.
The first thing I’m doing is hitting pause on everything that I was doing for the Evolving Architect content creation. And I mean EVERYTHING.
I had originally considered multi-tasking and managing a few things here and there while I work on the larger issues, but that quickly turned back into more issues.
No. What I really need is time to redesign my life from the ground up.
And believe me, I’m going to use the skills and drive I’ve been taking for granted and transform the imbalance into something fantastic.
Quite simply, I’m going to architect the sh!t out of it.
Thank You for Your Support
It may sound a little crazy to just step away, but that’s what we need to do from time to time. As an architect, I’ve experienced passion and determination that few others may in their entire lifetime.
Now I need to step back and harness that drive to sculpt something I seem to have neglected, everything else in my life.
I’m aware that this could appear a bit dramatic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Architecture was partly to blame for getting me into this mess, I’m going to use my skills as an architect to get myself out of it.
I’m going to architect my own change.
Thank you for everyone who has supported me.
Until next, time…
Thanks for being awesome!
Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
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