Saturday, December 28, 2013

When it's deeper than burnout

During these weeks (who am I kidding? months) I've been quiet on the interwebs, I came to realize that my apathy comingled with fury was beyond burnout. It became clear even after a long, wonderful vacation with my husband that what I've been experiencing was deeper than burnout--it was full-on, irrefutable, un-ignorable, in-your-face-like-a-can-of-mace depression. A fair amount of October and November were spent adjusting to an antidepressant and letting my coworkers know what was going on with me. Because I do in fact work with human beings, they understood and agreed to help adjust my workload and schedule accordingly.  This wasn't just "Lulu is feeling kinda burned out"; this was now a medical condition that, while it would pass eventually with medication and therapy, it also must legally be accommodated and ethically and emotionally cannot be ignored.

I also spent the fall working on some project process research for the firm for which I work, and I still had to fulfill my managerial duties of participating in staff performance reviews and some HR tasks. These chores kept me busy enough that I didn't feel totally useless and gave me a reason to come to work every day while the lack of serotonin in my brain told me that work was bullshit and life was bullshit and there's no point in anything anyway. Fortunately, I have several amazing and wonderful relatives and coworkers and friends who helped me combat these despondent voices. I cannot thank them enough.

Assembling coherent, helpful blog posts has been tough for me these past few months, and it's still a struggle. While I'm still not done wrestling with this condition, I at least have the clarity to see when my angry apathy is the depression talking versus when it's truly work that has me pissed off. (One sign that it's depression: if I say I hate my job and someone asks what I would rather do instead, and I say "Nothing. Nothing sounds good." That's the lack of serotonin talking.) Things are looking up professionally; I have some professional speaking engagements coming up in the spring, and I'll be working with some different project teams in my office to see if that helps with my mehness. I promised myself I'd try again at this blog. I hope I'm not done trying to help and mentor others wherever I can, but if I've given all I can, then I have to accept that. I've found in the last few months that I was right about some things, and I've been dead wrong about some other things. I hope to have to courage to share these things with you all in 2014.  

Til then, have a lovely holiday season, and here's to a new year.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Is there a place for the quiet leader?

Part of the discussions my firm is having about the next ten years involves leadership. Some of the conversations are basic--who's retiring, who's staying, who's advancing or should be advanced, and so on. Some of these conversations are more abstract and revolve around leadership itself. We've had previous discussions about what does it take to reach certain titles in our office, but there's still something lacking, something not quite right about those rules.

Many of our firm's, and indeed our society's, hallmarks of leadership include what might be considered extroverted behaviors and traits. Speaking up (and often), being visible, tooting your own horn, being involved in multiple visible roles, etc. are often considered what it takes to be a "leader" in our culture. But if we are to believe the research presented in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (and I do believe it myself), we need quiet, more reserved, and less "out there" leaders as much as we do the social butterfly multitaskers that we've rewarded with leadership roles and power for so long.

I'm often thought of as an extrovert, but the truth is I prefer to work alone or with only one or two more people, and I require a lot of alone time to recover from public speaking and teaching engagements. I consider myself just barely an extrovert, but I also find myself getting louder and more involved and vocal when something really matters to me. Even now while trying to slog through my burnout and get some much-needed rest, I find myself compelled to be involved in these long-range planning efforts going on in my firm right now. This is due in part to the fact that it's something I've wanted to be involved in for a long time, and it's also due to the fact that whenever something needs to be done as part of this planning, there is only a handful of people willing to do it falls into my lap or the lap of one of a few colleagues. Extroversion through coercion, so it seems.

So I do wonder: is there a place for the quiet leader, the monotasker, the thoughtful sage in lieu of the verbose savior? And can architecture make that kind of leader work both in its firms and as its face in society?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Random thoughts on architectural work

I still don't have anything lengthy and coherent to blog, but I have had some musings I thought I'd share. Our firm has been going through some major changes regarding how we manage and treat employees and how we're going to move forward for the next ten years, and the conversations that are causing and are caused by these changes have given me some random insights and/or ideas. (Or maybe they're just brain droppings.)

  • Empowerment is a two-way street. Your manager needs to allow you to take something on and run with it and do it without his/her micromanagement or constant supervision. On the other hand, you have to be willing to accept responsibility if/when there are errors and do what it takes to get that task (or part of a project) done.
  • If you can't get right what I've given you so far, chances are good that I'm not going to give you new or different stuff to do.
  • The farther you go up the ladder at an architecture firm, the less actual architecture you do every day.
  • The biggest skill that young architects and interns (as well as the rest of the world) isn't learning before they hit the work world is how to communicate clearly and civilly. Your bosses didn't learn it either, but we have to start somewhere with good communication in the workplace.
  • Good communication doesn't mean "always being nice" or never calling people on poor performance. It means that when you do call out bad performance, it's about the performance and not the person.
  • Cultural change takes time. Even when an entire organization is on board with changing the way it works, it can still take 3-5 years to see the changes and get them firmly entrenched in daily office culture. It's still worth doing; just be patient.
  • "People want change, but people don't want to be changed." --Winston Churchill
  • No matter how much you try to help make things better, there are always going to be a few people who aren't going to be happy. It's still worth making things better.
  • There are two sides to the happiness at work coin. One side is that you have to be able to do the things you enjoy doing so that you can stand coming to work every day. The other side is that you have to do the crappy stuff sometimes in order to get the job done. Not every day should be a horrible grind, but not every day can be sunshine and flowers.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Update on Lulu, the Duchess of Burnout

First off, thanks to everyone for the kind emails and comments; they're appreciated and I'm thankful that anyone is moved to comment or email at all. Many of my posts go uncommented except for the occasional Anonymous spam comment saying "i much like this and have made bookmarked it" or some other such nonsense. So, thanks again.

To address my burnout, I realized that while I do need some rest, I also do better when I have something to do. I created a project for myself that involved reviewing my office's processes for planning and staffing projects, and my two primary bosses agreed that this would be worth doing.  I'll be working only on this project until late September, at which point I'm going on a two-week trip out of the country for a nice, long vacation. When I return, my bosses and I will assess what I'll be doing next based on how much of my analysis/project I'll be able to finish by the time I leave. 

In the meantime, I've been pondering a variety of professional and personal topics, none of which I can discuss here with any coherency or brevity, but I'm working on it. I've broken a few of my own rules lately, including that I've actually told several of my colleagues and interns/architects about the nature of my burnout.  I've realized that the old "stiff upper lip" behavior in the guise of being "professional" only works to a point in the 21st-century workplace. This is just one of several big shifts I've had in my thinking lately, and it's taking some time to get used to the idea that the way I've worked, acted, and behaved in the past several years may not be serving me well anymore.

Having said all that, I should let you all know that I'm not able to redline any resumes right now. I have received a couple of questions about what to do with some ethical and professional workplace questions, which I'll get to in due time. Thanks again for hanging in there with me, and I hope to get back on track in the next few weeks.


(Note: someone asked recently about whether you can include work you've done at your present/previous firm into your own portfolio. I would advise against bringing a lot with you, but photos of the project along with a description of the project would be okay, especially if they're photos you can take yourself or get from an online source, like a web article about the project. Bring photos from your employer as a last resort.  Don't bring plans or details--if you have more than four years' experience, you're supposed to know how to detail stuff, so showing it would be redundant.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

This is burnout.

I have no advice today.

I have no wise words, no helpful hints, no simple tricks to try in a sticky situation. I'm bereft of helpfulness for anyone, including myself. I'm in a place where I've used up all my smart, all my funny, all my helpful, all my useful. I can no longer lean in, step up, take charge, be strong, and make things happen. It's because I've been leaning in for the past year at work on a big, fast, impossible project, and I'm burned out.

When I say "burned out", I don't mean that I'm tired and could use a week's vacation or maybe a couple months of normal workweeks and workloads. I mean BURNED. OUT. It's the kind of feeling where the thought of answering one question regarding that project--or any project I've been working on or helping out on--sends me into a fit of rage, tears, or sighing, followed by the words "I don't care; do what you want." I mean running to the bathroom every couple of hours so I can cry for five minutes, so I can go back to my desk and answer more questions and emails, be smart, be helpful, and be kind to my staff, who are not particularly the cause of my tears. I can't stand the thought of working on my existing project. I can't stand the thought of starting something new, with more ridiculous deadlines and panic and half-ass information from the client and lack of staff and mixed messages from my bosses and every other thing that has plagued me for the past year. I can't stand the thought of doing simple administrative tasks at the office--things that aren't project related but are appropriate for someone at my managerial level. And I can't stand the thought of being at home, where I'm not supposed to be at 2pm on a Wednesday but it's clear I'm not getting anything done at work.

I'm struck with the overwhelming feeling that I'm weak and I've failed. I can't bear the burden of running projects, can't stand the thought of sticking with the project and seeing it through to what kind of role model does that make me for the interns and young architects in my office? How can I tell my interns that they need to be diligent and follow through and think through RFIs and questions when I hate the thought of looking at those drawings so much that I've stopped wearing mascara because I just cry it off before noon? How can I reinforce professionalism to my staff when I'm constantly holding back the urge to give my bosses a five-finger death punch to the neck? How dare I admonish someone for a casual email or statement on a phone call when my two favorite words are "fuck" and "goddamn"?

And where do I get the nerve to post anything on this blog, giving advice to young professionals and telling them how they need to act and speak and write emails and arrange their resumes when I'm a dumpster fire in an Ann Taylor pantsuit?

I don't know what any of this means just yet. Readers have said nice things about this blog, so on the one hand I'd like to keep it up. But I'm utterly worn out to the point that even the most basic of tasks seems impossible. I also feel like a fraud telling people to get their shit together when I can't get my own together. It may mean that I'm posting less regularly, less forcing of the content and more posting just as something interesting comes to me. It may mean that this blog goes quiet for a while as I sort out this feeling of ants crawling just beneath my skin and the sound of blood constantly rushing in my ears.

I feel like I owe you all an explanation and perhaps even an apology for the poverty of content in recent months. My writing has been half-hearted and hollow, even platitude-filled to the point of being trite. You  all deserve good, thoughtful writing and discussions on meaningful topics, and I haven't really been providing that. You deserve better, and I ask your patience as I work towards whatever that better is.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Work-life balance: a sine curve, not a scale

I just took a week off from work. I almost made it the whole week without checking my email, but I caved on day 5 when I realized I had 200 emails in my inbox. Fortunately, a fair amount of them were things like "there are cookies in the break room" and "the copier is up/down/depressed/homocidal". I was able to handle anything that truly needed my attention easily with email, and everything else appeared to be well in hand, thanks to the great interns that work on my team.

This week off is part of my summer-of-scaling-back, which was preceded by the months of October 2012-May 2013 being fast and furious (sans Vin Diesel) with deadlines and workload. It was during that time that I remember a phenomenon that is arguably particular to architecture. It's the phenomenon of our work-life balance. The general world of white-collar work gives us this image of work-life balance as if it were scales, like the sign for the zodiac sign of Libra: always in perfect balance and harmony. We're told that every day is balance: some work, some play, some chores, some sleep.

But the truth, especially for architects, is more complex: it's more like a sine wave. There are times where the work calls for more of your effort, time, and attention. There are times where your health calls for the most attention. Sometimes it's your partner or spouse. Sometimes it's your parents. Sometimes it's your hobby or side business. Life's demands ebb and flow depending on what's going on, and the illusion that everything is always only demanding X or Y is a myth. The sine wave shows this a lot better than the scales: above the X axis is work and professional demands, below the X axis is personal demands.

After my major deadlines passed in May, I pulled my boss aside and let him know I needed some rest this summer, and he concurred and has been supporting me in that. The project and the team are in a place where I can do this, and even better, they can get rest too. (I wasn't the only one who was worn out.) So I'm planning some vacations and time off this summer with my husband to make up for answering work email on our anniversary trip in February.

Accepting the ebb and flow is a lot easier than constantly struggling to make things balance every single day, and it's a lot more realistic. Allowing yourself to deal with demands and deadlines by month Or week instead of by day takes some pressure off. But do remember: it's up to you to say when the sine wave has gone too far for too long in one direction.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The pitfalls of informality

The workplace--architectural and otherwise--has changed radically in terms of formality in the last twenty or so years. Suits and ties have given way to khakis and jeans, typed letters are being replaced by emails, and even language itself has slid into a casual territory. Colleagues call each other "Dave" and "Becky" instead of "Mr. Swenson" and "Ms. McNeal". "Sir" and "ma'am" have been replaced with "yeah", "hey man", "yo, lady", "sure thing", and "no problem". 

While there's a certain ease and indeed relief to be associated with this new informality, let us not follow that slippery slope down to an absence of respect, for our clients, our consultants, and our colleagues. A client recently emailed an intern and me for a rendering image to be included in some marketing and fundraising materials. The intern sent back the image to the client with just this in the body of the email: "Here you go." 


This is not your aunt or your friend. That's right--your client is not your friend, they're your acquaintance at best. You don't get falling-down drunk in front of them, you don't make yo-mama jokes to them, and you definitely don't dash off three words to them in an email. The intern and I discussed this, and the next email in which the client asked for something got this response from her: "Mark, attached is the file you requested. Please let us know if you need anything else. Thanks, Sandy." Much better.

The formality--even and especially from interns--reminds my intern's client that even with her young age, she went to college, is a properly-trained professional, and she respects the fact that he cuts the checks that keep our lights on and doors open. Furthermore, an email that looks like someone took the time to write actual, coherent sentences subtly tells the client that the writer also takes his/her time when working on other things, like floor plans and details, renderings, meeting notes, and so on. 

Casualness in the workplace is overall a good move. Keeping a little formality in your business writing is also a good move, and it's just good business.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thoughts on the 2013 AIA National Convention

The 2013 AIA National Convention was this past weekend in Denver, and overall, to me, it was...okay. The seminars early in the weekend, like on Thursday and on Friday morning, seemed like basic information--marketing 101, firm management 101, all style and little substance. The Friday afternoon and Saturday seminars seemed a little gutsier: a conversation (with an actual lawyer!) about the grey areas of architectural ethics, a discussion of how AIA Continuing Education is lacking in how it teaches its profession (and some of the steps it's taking to improve, as well as things we can do to make our in-house education better), and a fantastic discussion with some emerging professionals on how to really engage the future of the architectural profession.

It was that last seminar that made the weekend worthwhile. It wasn't just that four sharp young professionals stood on a stage and said "here's how to engage Millennials", it was that they had the guts to lay out the bleak economic realities of being an intern in 2013--the rising cost of education; the starting pay that doesn't match the second mortgage that is college debt; and the fact that "normal" for interns is a lot of job hopping, working in related fields, and doing contract work instead of having a nice and steady gig (like I've had for thirteen years--I know I've been fortunate and atypical). I also appreciated that the overall message was that "emerging professionals" are a) a tough bunch to pin down due to the fact that "emerging" covers a 26-year range of experience and age, and b) they're just like everyone else.  They want to learn, want to participate, and want to make a contribution to a firm and to society.  It was the perfect way to cap off what started out as a bland and uninspiring weekend of an old, white profession patting itself on the back for still being kinda-sorta-almost-relevant.

To all interns out there: it's getting better. Stay with me.  I need you to stay in this profession and make it better, kinder, more profitable, and more sustainable (both in terms of the environment and life-work balance). There aren't enough Gen Xers like me to go around to help lead firms, so you're going to have to step up and step into the roles we need you to play.  And I know you'll do so with grace and vigor, with both substance and style.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Playing well with others

I hated group work in school and in college. I hated the fact that I seemed to get grouped up with a bunch of people who were either clueless or incompetent, or worse, they outright wanted to team up with me because they figured they could coast while I busted my ass to get my/our A. Funny that I now work in a profession that is nothing but teamwork. There's a design team in my office, consisting of landscape architects, interior designers, planners, exterior designers and architects, and project managers. There's a full design team outside my office, consisting of various engineers and other consultants. There's a team of clients and users that we have to work with to get the project designed. And then there's a team of contractors and subcontractors who actually use my drawings to build the stuff the client asked for and we drew.

When teams work, it's beyond awesome; but when they don't work...oh, dear God in heaven, make the pain stop. A few things to remember when working on a design team,with other architects, designers, and engineers:
  • It's inevitable that we're going to be on teams, and we need to make the teams work as best as we can. Ignoring or just not engaging with your colleagues isn't going to make the project better, and it isn't going to make them go away. Talk design ideas, details, and plan ideas through with one another. Even if you think their ideas are crappy or not well thought out, everyone needs a chance to engage and be heard. Giving them the courtesy of listening earns you your right to be heard.
  • Err on the side of asking too many questions. You never know when something you're doing is affecting other parts of the team (especially the engineers) in a huge way. Let folks know when you're making changes or need to change or fix something.
  • Sometimes you'll be the one willing to work with others and talk things through and others will be the ones not wanting to engage. It will be incumbent upon you to make the dialogue happen. If your teammates are giving you the Heisman arm and won't meet with you, or the engineers or other consultants are being unresponsive, ask your project manager and/or other managers in the office to help you get a response or get everyone together. Explain to them the consequences of not coordinating or having the conversation you're asking for.
Teamwork isn't always a blast, but you can actually make it better by making it happen. This kind of gesture can let your managers see you as a leader and as someone who thinks ahead, which might give you more autonomy and more/cooler responsibilities in the future

Monday, June 3, 2013

And now, to purge the burnout

I must start by thanking everyone who continues to come here week after week and read whatever I've written (or in the last few weeks, not written). I truly appreciate the questions and thoughts I receive. I must confess though that in the press of the last few months, I've found myself increasingly burned out. One of my friends who went to grad school to be a therapist called my recent state "central nervous system fatigue or overload". It's a condition he sees in elite athletes and bodybuilders; the patient works out so much and doesn't allow time to recover, and consequently they exhaust easily in terms of physical and mental performance. The same can happen when you work week after week and month after month at 50 or so hours a week. I have interns in my office right now who are younger than me but experiencing this as well. 

What it takes to exhaust you is based on the individual. I can do more than some people my age (37) and less than others. I could do more when I was 30 than I can now. However, the most important two things to remember about fatigue at work are these:

  1. Know your limits and the signs of your fatigue. Don't let people put more on you than you can get done in the time allotted, especially if the piling-on is a continuous affair (I.e., it goes on for more than a month). Also, know when the workload and pressure is getting to you: do you get snippy? Have frequent nightmares or sleep poorly in general? Lose or gain a lot of weight?
  2. Tell someone that this is happening and take steps to get rest as soon as you can. Your manager can't help you unless s/he knows you're drowning in work or stress. They may be able to get you help or help you prioritize what needs to be done when so that you don't feel overwhelmed. Furthermore, give yourself the physical and mental breaks you need as soon as you can get them. I didn't follow that advice, and by the end of my deadlines, I was shouting the f-word at my boss. Not something I recommend,
I'll do my best to keep posting advice, thoughts, and questions for y'all as I'm able this summer, but I do need some rest. I don't want to just slap any old bunch of writing up here in the name of posting every week. I want to do well thought out and researched posts for y'all, and that takes energy. And I do hope all of you have some fun trips or breaks planned for the summer!

Monday, May 20, 2013

More random weblinks for the end of a busy month

As my project team and I wrap up a deadline-laden May, I'm finding it hard to focus and bring it into the home stretch. So the focus of today's random weblink post is, well, focus, along with a side order of motivation, in the creative world.

Motivating creative people--or any people for that matter--is a lot tougher than it sounds, says this coach.  I intend to read his entire series on the different types of motivation and how that works with creative work (when I finally am not working every weekend).  So far, I find myself nodding along with the idea that, while you can't really "motivate" people, you can sure as hell demotivate them.  That's good advice for me as a manager.

Depending on the task, being "unfocused" can help, such as when trying to improvise lyrics in a rap. Allowing the brain to relax can allow for even better results in creative attempts and results.

Speaking of results, we get results based on what we focus on.  This TED talk from a psychologist who works mostly with 20-somethings discusses how important it is that people make the most of their 20s--develop a life, career, interests, relationships, good habits, etc.--because it sets the stage for the rest of their lives.

And finally, a reminder from this Buddhist blogger that what we focus on and give our energy to is what we become.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Random weblinks for another busy week

In the spirit of being lazy with my blog so I can be busy as hell at work, I bring you a few more links today. This week's theme is optimism, especially as it relates to architecture.

Is it finally a good time to be an architect? Maybe, says this article.

More interns are getting licensed and employed these days, or so the figures are showing.

In other news, compliments may have a similar effect on a person as giving them cash. While on the face of it, that doesn't sounds like good news, it means that your firm can't just throw money at you and hope you'll be quiet and happy--they're actually going to have to treat you like a human being. Money in the form of raises, bonuses, and additional paid time off can bost morale, but it only goes so far. Research shows that at some point, people feel like they're being bought off, and morale dips again.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Deadline after deadline...

Please forgive the recent silence, especially because it's going to be quiet here for all of May. My project has three deadlines in the next five weeks, so I'm pretty slammed of late.  (And my staff, God bless them, have been handling the relentless deadlines pretty well, even when I haven't been terribly pleasant.)  So instead of making a real post, I'm just going to post a few interesting links now and then.

Today's theme: abandonment (since that's what I'm going to have to do to Intern 101 until my deadlines are over in June):

First, actual abandoned architectural structures that look like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Speaking of abandoned buildings, this photographer takes pictures of elegant, abandoned buildings in Europe and produces some amazing images.

Then, a British mental hospital that was closed and is being turned into apartments--talk about adaptive reuse! But is this the right reuse for this type of building, especially one with a mixed history in a community?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Of Millennials and mentorship

A recent online article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek related the differences in mentoring the Millennial generation. The article stated some familiar yawn-inducing ground (the younger generation uses multiple mentors to get ahead instead of sticking with one main person with whom to connect) and brought up some new problems for the mentor-mentee relationship (the mentee is better at certain tasks, especially those pertaining to technology, than the mentor, and all the mentor's clients want to work with the mentee instead). It was a decent article, to be fair, but like many articles about generational differences, it makes me want to barf in my recycling bin.

When I discussed mentoring interns at the 2010 and 2011 national AIA conventions, one of the primary points of my presentation is that, while generation can affect a person's behavior more than race or gender, it is one's humanity that affects one most of all. Mentors in this article who felt irritated by a mentee's behavior in a meeting or calling or texting them late at night regarding routine questions seemed to  be complaining that it was the mentee's youth that made this a problem.  I dare say the root of the problem is a basic one that plagues even my colleagues from my same generation (Gen X, to be precise): not everyone was raised at your house.  I've had interns look bored and text their friends in meetings with consultants, and I've had other interns sit in those same kinds of meetings and take notes, ask questions, and contribute ideas. These interns all had similar levels of experience--the difference was the kind of person they were and the kind of intern--and architect--they wanted to be.

To me, it makes absolute sense for an intern--and in fact anyone regardless of age--to have more than one mentor in one's career.  If an intern was thinking about changing jobs, I might not be the best person to talk to about that, since I've only worked at one firm for 13 years. However, if an intern had an ethical situation to deal with, I might be just the right person. Further, in a work world that is increasingly about who you know, then it makes sense to just know more people. Putting all your eggs in one mentorship basket is a pretty risky bet.

Overall, it sounds to me like Millennials are embracing a changing work world while older workers (including many Gen Xers) are not, and there's a little bitterness there, perhaps being taken out on the Millennials as a bit of shooting the messenger.  However, there are still "old-school" habits and practices that still work in the workplace, like not bothering your coworkers on the weekends, paying attention in meetings, dressing professionally, and listening in a conversation instead of waiting for your turn to speak.  These are things that appeal not to Boomers or Xers or Millennials, but to humans.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A note about external links from Intern 101

I recently had a request for the link to the 2011 AIA Compensation Report be reconnected/updated.  This was a link provided by a commenter, not by me, so I really can't fix it.  When readers and commenters send me external links, I check them at the time of posting to make sure they work, but I must rely on whoever posted the link to maintain it. (In the meantime, those looking for the report are probably better off looking for the 2012 version. It'll be more relevant to your present situation.)

I do appreciate outside links sent to me by readers.  When you find something funny, interesting, or helpful, I check the link out for myself before posting it (or not). Feel free to send along those items, but please note that I can't maintain links that are posted in the blog--I can only change where a piece of hyperlinked text goes.  If you find a non-functioning link on the sidebar of this blog, do let me know. (And if you have a corrected link, it's very much appreciated.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I include actual projects in my resume?

Most of the questions I get regarding resumes involves folks coming out of school or with little professional experience. However, J. asks a good question:

[I]f you have any suggestions about how to include intern-level professional work in a portfolio, I would appreciate any tips. [The work] I've done at [this] internship is portfolio-worthy but I do not yet know how to incorporate it alongside my previous academic work.

Including information about work you've done in a firm is one of the top things, if not the most important thing behind your contact info, to include on a resume. A few general tips:

  • When you add a real-life project with a firm to your portfolio, drop a school/academic project.  The more actual/built work you have on your resume and portfolio helps you make a better case for someone to hire you.  If you've been working for a couple of years and all that time was spent on the same project due to its size, you may even want to drop off two projects.
  • Include the built work on both your resume and portfolio. You can highlight one or more projects on your resume when you mention where you've been working. On the resume, provide name and location of project as well as general information (2,300-sf bank, 40-bed hospital, etc.) and then describe your role on the project team. On the portfolio, you can go into more detail about the project (2,300-sf bank in the heart of historic downtown Austin, TX with a focus on achieving LEED Platinum, etc.)
  • Be cautious of using images and pictures. Images of built and rendered projects that were created or paid for by your firm belong to your firm. Putting them on your resume can be and portfolio can be a violation of intellectual property.  If you cannot or are uncomfortable asking for permission to use these images, your safest bet is to take pictures of the building yourself or include web links to online images of the work (either on your firm's website or in an online newspaper or magazine article).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lulu's Mailbag: How to leave a job on good terms

J sends us a great question regarding leaving an intern position:

My husband is a physician finishing residency this June. He has taken a job out of state, and we will be moving. I am currently about a year and a half into an intern architect job that I found about 3 months out of grad school, and I love my job. I feel very loyal to the company, enjoy the work that I'm doing, and I am sad that I will have to leave. My husband and I weighed our options and decided that as great as my job is, his new job opportunity and the possible opportunities for our family in the new city were too good to pass up. 
The only reason I've ever had to leave a position before was to return to school. Any suggestions on the best way to part on good terms with my firm? I already feel guilty that I know that I'm leaving and that I haven't told them.  I am unsure about the timing - I don't want to leave them in a lurch on short notice, but I would like to keep working and gaining experience there as long as I can. 

First of all, J, it's great (and a relief) that you're able to leave this job under circumstances that are neither desperate nor disgruntled. You're actually in a great position to leave your firm. Your approach with your firm and your manager is straightforward and polite: 

"I wanted to let you know that my husband has accepted a position out of state. We're both really excited about this for him, but unfortunately it means I have to leave this firm. I've really enjoyed working here with such great, talented people and have learned so much. I'd like to work here as long as I can before we move in June, and I'm glad to train anyone new that you bring on board before I leave. I'd also like to make sure that I can rely on you for a good reference--if you're comfortable doing so--when I apply to other firms in our new location."

Interns and architects leave firms because of a spouse's job all the time. It's a reason to leave a firm that generally makes for no hard feelings, so I see little to no reason to worry about a graceful exit from this firm.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Family emergencies: If you have to go, go.

My husband's mother just died a few days ago, and it's been a tough few days. We'll miss a few days of work next week attending her funeral out of town, and we're not missing a moment of sleep about that. I've blogged a lot lately about needing to help your team and firm out by working extra, but the other side of that coin is know that work will always be there, and sometimes you really need to be with your family.

A new coworker of mine had a family emergency on her second day of work at my firm. She got a call from her mother that her father had been taken to the emergency room with chest pains, and she began to wonder: well crap, it's my second day of a new job and I'm about to leave all of a sudden? Well, maybe it's not that serious....  She mentioned it to her project manager, who immediately said "OMFG go to your dad right now! We'll be here when you're able to come back!" My coworker went to be by her dad's side (he ended up being fine eventually), and she returned to work the next day. 

My husband's mother called him early in the morning from the hospital to say that she didn't think she had long, and she needed him to come that very day. He bought a $500 plane ticket and flew to her side that day--the deadlines and emails and meeting notes cold wait. He spent the evening with her in the hospital, talking and eventually saying goodbye.  The next morning, she had become unresponsive, and by the end of the day she was gone.  When he returned, he said he was glad he'd left when he did: "Best $500 I've ever spent."

When real life or tragedy intervenes and things get scary or tough, it's okay to leave the office and tend to those matters.  The work will be there when you're ready and able.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Further thoughts on recent posts: getting licensed and having a life

As I head out of a big deadline into a week-long business trip, I've been mulling over comments and emails I've received regarding two recent posts. The first was the post about possibly being penalized for having a life outside of work and not always putting work first.  Comments and emails I've received seemed to push back on unreasonable bosses and firms, but they also seemed to advocate for a sensible balance of life and work.  Will a few extra hours here and there leave your children and spouse in an angst-filled place for which they'll need years of therapy in the future? Probably not.  Will missing big events (little league games, ballet recitals, birthday parties) affect them deeply and rob you of valuable time with your family?  Probably so.  Again, it's about balance.  Being able to pitch in when needed at the last minute is a sign you can be counted on, but when your job seems to be more about being a firefighter (that is, you're having to pitch in at the last minute several times a month), then it's time to draw the line.

I'd like to hear from more people about whether or not to get licensed.  So far I've heard from someone who had a decent list of reasons not to get licensed and from someone who sounds like they're really burned out from too many years and too many bad projects.  Are there any interns out there who have several years' experience but decided not to get licensed, or can share why they haven't yet gotten licensed?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lulu's question to you: Are there reasons not to get licensed?

I recently debated licensure with some of my more-seasoned colleagues, and it became (unintentionally) a heated debate.  As we were discussing interns delaying or just not getting licensed, it began to occur to me that there may be reasons not to get licensed.  So I'm asking you: is or are there any reason(s) not to pass the ARE and become a licensed architect?

While I heartily advocate licensure, I realize that it may not be the right choice for everyone.  So what would make it not a right choice for someone? Tell me via email or in the comments--I'm betting there are some interesting situations out there that my colleagues and I haven't thought about.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Will having a life hold me back?

I was talking with an intern recently who is married with two small children. She overheard her boss mention that she (the boss) might send the intern on an overnight trip to meet with some clients because another architect couldn't attend. The intern mentioned it to her husband that night, and he was uncomfortable with her being gone overnight.  For her and her spouse, family is important, and neither she nor her husband liked the idea of her being away overnight for work.  Her work schedule with her firm is oriented around her family life as it is; she works through lunch so she can leave early to pick up her kids from day care, and she rarely if ever works overtime. The intern expressed her concerns to me regarding her future career path, and even her job security: "If I make family a priority, is that going to hurt me at work?"

We can quibble the idea of a spouse quashing our ability to travel for work, but that's not the point of the question.  We all have something (or somethings) that we like outside of work. Maybe it's family, maybe it's a hobby, maybe it's a second job that allows you to flex a different kind of creativity, maybe it's volunteer work, or maybe it's a combination of these or others. Any human being cannot only work at their job/profession; it makes them incomplete as people and more prone to burnout. Yet as my colleagues and I have gone further into architecture and up the ladder at my firm, I see common threads in promotion, raises, and job description changes.  Advancement in all its many faces:
  •  ...comes to those who do the work required with exceptional quality. People can be taught how to use software or how to look up something in the 2009 IBC or where the insulation goes in a brick wall section, but people can't always be taught how to care.  Exceptional quality in your work has to do with caring, knowing why something is the way it is, or knowing all the possible exceptions or issues or concerns with a piece of code, or checking your work for thoroughness and even spelling/punctuation errors.
  • ...comes to those who take the time necessary to do that work.  Sometimes--not all the time, but sometimes--that takes more than 40 hours in a week. It doesn't necessarily go to the person who's always in the office, 50+ hours a week, but I've never seen it go to the person who's right in at 8 and right out at 5, regardless of what the project requires at that moment.
  • ...comes to those who act and speak/write with respect, clarity, professionalism, and integrity. All the good design skill or technical competency in the world cannot be overcome by someone who lays out of work when there's a deadline or writes snarky emails to design team members or ignores clients.

If you work at a firm that doesn't allow for a life outside of work, I would personally beware.  I've also said here before that there are two un-ideal situations at work: never working overtime and always working overtime. Never working overtime means I can't count on you when there's a sudden emergency or deadline, which happens on even the best-managed projects. Always working overtime means you're overwhelmed or haven't been trained properly, or you're employed at one of those workhouse-type firms. But these may come off as platitudes for the intern I described at the beginning of this post.  What are her options professionally if she's highly competent, but 40 hours a week is all she can do?

My answer is that she has plenty of options if she chooses carefully.  If she works on a lot of local projects (to which she can travel to and from in the same day), there's no reason she can't manage those projects, especially after she's licensed. If she also sticks with smaller projects and project types, there may be less of a chance of having insane deadlines and tons of work to do on them (which would require a lot of that evening and weekend work time).  But here's the other unfortunate truth: interns are the people that work nights and weekends, because they're taking direction from architects.  Getting licensed will help open the doors she needs to be able to leave at 5 because someone else is doing the drawing.  Another option that will help her advancement is being willing to work at home a bit on weeknights, maybe after the kids have gone to bed.  Having a laptop (or an iPad, as I do) allows project architects and project managers to answer questions and keep people moving without having to be in the building ten hours a day.

But there will be limitations. One of the reasons I was given a major promotion last year is that I am (and have been) willing to take on big, tough complicated projects with intense deadlines.  I'm willing and able to travel to remote areas on multiple puddle-jumper planes to meet with clients for four days at a time.  I've been willing to do what the project required, regardless of the size or scope of the project.  It's that last part that makes me more flexible and allows my firm some breathing room when doing staffing, and that flexibility make their lives easier...and I've been rewarded for that.  And while I don't have children, I do work with men and women who have children and have also been willing to travel and work long hours when it was needed, and they were promoted accordingly.  

The bottom line: choosing family unilaterally over work/career will not completely limit your professional growth, but there will be some missed opportunities.  And choosing work unilaterally over a personal life and family will make you boring, bitter, and burned out. And these truths hold regardless of your profession.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What to do when you're over your head...on a project

Another inevitable fact of being an intern is that you will end up getting in over your head on a project. Perhaps your boss likes what you do and how well you do it, so s/he gives you a bigger role with more responsibilities.  Or perhaps a small project turns out to be like an onion: it has lots more layers that you can see from the outside, and peeling those layers makes you cry.  Either way, there are few things worse than feeling overwhelmed and unable to handle a project, especially early in your career when you're still developing your skill set.  It leaves you feeling adrift and anxious, and it might even leave you thinking you're going to get fired if anyone sees this or figures it out. 

The first thing to remember when running a project as an intern is that a licensed architect must supervise your work. On a regular basis, a licensed architect needs to look at what you're doing, answer questions, provide feedback, and review most if not everything you send out of the office. That process can be in person or electronic, but it needs to happen. If someone isn't doing that, then you're going to have to manage up.  Send out the message to your office, send urgent emails, and even stand in the doorway/walkway of your manager's office/cubicle and insist that someone review what you're doing and answer questions.  If you have a few years' experience, you may think that you're answering everything just fine and doing well, but unbeknownst to you there are repercussions to what you're asking and writing in your emails and RFIs and documents. The seasoned eye of a competent licensed architect can stop the in-over-your-head phenomenon before it ever starts.

I mentioned there are few worse things that feeling over your head. One of those few worse things is having your mistakes discovered after the fact. If you're feeling like you're not able to do the right thing on a project, or you don't have the skill to respond to a project's challenges, the time to ask for help is the moment your start to feel that oh-dear-God-what-have-I-gotten-myself-into feeling. Asking for input, review, feedback, and advice is one of the primary ways that architects learn. Ask for help before it becomes a problem, and ask for help when it's a problem.  It's okay to admit ignorance within the walls of your firm. If you're unlicensed with less than, say, seven years' experience, no one is expecting you to know everything.  

Frankly, no one's ever expecting you to know everything, even after you're licensed.  Architecture is a big, wide, deep field, and you can't know it all.  I have 12.5 years' experience and manage large projects, and yet I still will ask my boss for help in writing a good email or making a judgment call on how to make a floor plan work.  My boss has almost 20 years' experience and is one of the principals of our firm, and yet he still asks me questions about the ADA and various healthcare codes and guidelines. Everyone asks for help and advice--it's just the nature of architectural practice.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What to do when you're in over your a meeting

Inevitably, one of the following situations will happen to you, and it will happen to you more than once as in intern:

  1. You're sitting in a meeting next to your manager/boss with clients, consultants, or contractors, or;
  2. You have to attend a client/contractor/consultant meeting alone in place of your manager boss
...and in either situation, the conversation and questions are over your head. You have little to no idea what everyone is talking about. VAV boxes, vent pipes, overflow drains, head-in connections, washer/decontaminators, red lines, prep line, vault, penthouse, dock leveler, blah blah blah blah. These words are so new to you that they're practically meaningless, or (just as bad) you only have a scant idea of what these words and concepts are.  You remember talking about VAV boxes in undergrad...and you think you've heard your boss talk about the vault before, maybe last week, have no clear understanding of what's going on.  And you're fearful that if you ask right now in this moment, you'll look like an idiot.

What do you do? 

Depending on the type of meeting, there's a lot you can do. The first and best option no matter what is to pay attention, take notes, and listen. Look at people when they talk, write down a note about what they say (even if you don't understand the concept, write down the words), and nod appropriately.  Early in my career, I found myself in these meetings, confused as hell and bored as anything.  To combat the urge to fall asleep (which is what I feel like doing when I'm bored and overwhelmed), I began taking almost word-for-word notes in meetings.  Fast-forward 11 or so years later, and even now my colleagues and design team members want copies of my notes, and they trust my notes more than anyone else's because I write like a court reporter. My notes have saved my firm a few times because I had every detail of a conversation written in my notes, not just the resulting decision.

If the meeting is just you (and maybe your boss) and a few consultants, you have more room to reveal some ignorance: "Okay, so your concern is VAV box locations.  Give me an example of/show me on this ceiling plan where having a VAV box located would be problematic."  This allows the other person to really be listened to, and it allows you to learn. If you are pressed to make a decision thatyou feel you don't have the knowledge or authority to make, however, don't let anyone push you into a corner.  Your best response is, "I'd like to get back to the office and check the code/walk my boss through this/see if I can make this work in the floor plan, and I'll get back with you by end of day today/noon tomorrow/next week."

Being bored or confused in a meeting feels pretty sucky and it's inevitable, but showing that you're bored, lost, or disinterested is a big mistake. Resist the urge to do any of the following:

  • Look/stare at the floor
  • Doze off
  • Constantly check your phone/text
  • Fiddle with and pay attention to something else (a string on your coat, your pen, a piece of hair)
  • Just sit there, not taking notes or acting like you're listening/paying attention
People who are involved in the project and have some stake in it are the ones that attend the meeting and pay attention, even if they don't say much. Acting disengaged in the meeting tells the other parties that you don't have any stake in the project, so you're not that inportant, and any emails or requests you send can be ignored.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Career forks in the road: get licensed now or get the M.Arch?

I recently got a question from J, who started out in one state with a 4-year pre-professional degree in architecture and then moved to another state to work due to family obligations. J is about to finish the ARE and get licensed, even without his B.Arch or M.Arch.  His questions were good ones: does getting my license this way mean I have an asterisk by my license number, and will it hurt me if I move to another state?

The short answers are no and maybe.  While some states are beginning to close the loopholes on not gaining experience through IDP/NCARB and not getting a B.Arch or M.Arch, not all have done so.  This link to NCARB's Registration Board License Requirements describes by state and jurisdiction what is required for initial license as well as reciprocity in that state.  It's a good reference for both your present situation (should I go back to grad school now or just get going with my hours and ARE?) as well as your future.  If you get licensed without the professional degree and then decide to move out of that state, you'll need to check if you can get reciprocal registration in your new state.  This might not be a big problem if you work for another firm, as they have partners/owners that stamp and sign the drawings. However, if you start your own firm and want to pursue work in a state that won't offer you reciprocity, you'll need to partner with another firm that is licensed in that state in order to do the work--and there goes a chunk of your profits.

There's no right or wrong way to go about this. It's just about knowing the benefits and costs of each method.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Career forks in the road: Should I get or finish my architecture degree?

Another question of which I've seen various forms is the "should I get my architecture degree, even though I'm almost licensed/almost 40/not sure I'll have a job/might have to move/etc.?" It's a good question, and seemingly a tough one to answer on the heels of a bad economy. A recent article on Yahoo opines that architecture isn't a good degree to have on the basis that it's hard to parlay that degree into something else if you get out of school and can't find a job. Instead, Yahoo recommends that you get a degree in business administration instead.

Well, yeah, if you want to do business.  Or if you're not really picky about whatever the hell you do after college, then sure, get a nice general business degree.  But if you want to be an architect, I'm sorry, Yahoo, but you're going to have to have a fucking architecture degree because no firm will fucking hire you without one.

Articles like the Yahoo one infuriate me.  These articles make it sound like a) today's young people are only after the almighty dollar, b) that jobs and expertise are interchangeable, and c) that no one actually has any passion or drive to do something useful and creative (see "a"). These "what should I do with my life" articles are misleading in that they don't account for someone who might heaven forbid actually know that they want to do for a living, and they want to be an architect. Furthermore, this article is written for people who, if they got into architecture, I would want them out of my profession as soon as possible, because if they're trying to just use a degree to do something like, totally epically awesome without even actually working in the field--or any field--are people who have no concept of what it takes to do something worthwhile: design and build a building, teach people, create a software program, and so forth.  Mary, Joseph, and Renzo Piano willing, those sorts of people will have been rooted out during undergrad in a flurry of tears during a brutal midterm jury.

So then what? What of the rest of you who still wonder about whether to pursue or complete a degree? At this point, it's about the research.  If you're about to be licensed without having a B. Arch or M.Arch, have you talked with NCARB about getting your NCARB record and possible reciprocity after you get licensed? If you're wondering about finishing your degree or even getting a degree in the first place, do you really really want to be an architect, or do you just feel like you have to finish what you start?  Have you met and talked to any practicing architects to see what their job is like and ask what they think the economy might do in the next year or so? Talking to people out in the profession right now will give you a good sense of where the profession is now and will be going in the short term, which might help you make the decision.

Ultimately, this is yet another question you'll have to answer for yourself: Do you want to be an architect? If the answer is no, then move along--again, no harm in admitting so and moving on.  But if the answer is yes, then do a little digging to see what you need to do to make it happen.  It's only too late if you don't start now, where you are.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Career forks in the road: When is it time to quit architecture?

I've gotten various versions of the "is it time to quit architecture" question from folks all over the country for the past couple of years. I take these questions seriously, as I realize that this question is more than skin deep.  It's a question of soul-searching, so many worries and dreams rolled into one sticky question. And I'm not sure that I overall have a good answer.

Like any good architect, my first impulse is to ask questions and troubleshoot.  Where are you now, what have you done so far, and what else are you willing to do?

Are you at least working now, even if it's not in architecture?  Good--that keeps the rent paid, or at least lets you pay your parents while you stay in your old room (and there's no shame in that). Plus, it makes you take a shower every morning, which staves off depression. Can you refinance, etc. or doing your student loans to buy you some time?  It might be worth it.

Have you talked to any firms in your area?  It doesn't have to be for a job interview, but maybe you talk with them just as a "where do you see the profession going in the next couple of years" conversation, and maybe a little "hey, what do you think of my resume and portfolio" thrown in. Find all the various architecture groups in your area and attend some functions, chat up some folks, and make some connections there as well. 

Can't get a job in architecture? There's no shame in doing Revit or CAD work for an engineering firm, nor is it a bad thing to work for an architectural product rep for a while.  At least you'll get to meet some architects (hopefully) along the way, which again will give you some contacts.

Where do you live now? The market might be really depressed there, so you may be better off moving and working elsewhere.  Where are you willing to move to?  Boston, New York, and San Francisco are nice, but there may also be jobs in Houston, Des Moines, Billings, Reno, etc. Be willing to move somewhere not on the Map of Awesomeness in order to get a good gig.

Do you have a 4-year degree and no B.Arch or M.Arch?  If you're still jobless, maybe going to grad school will give you time to weather the craptastic economy. Then when you get out, you're that much closer to being licensed.  I realize that also depends on financial aid, etc., but if you can swing it, it could be worth it.

So...what if you've done all these things and are still getting nowhere?

I don't know.  I do the best I can on this little blog to advise and inspire and cheerlead and counsel, but there's only so much I know and only so much I can do. I'll be the first to admit that I've been somewhat lucky--I got out of college during a booming economic time and have managed to stay employed for 12.5 straight years. Those of you still trying to get into (or back into) architecture have possibly done more than I would have done to stay in architecture.  So, failing any practical advice, I say this to you:

It's only time to quit architecture when you're ready to quit.  If you've been slogging along and trying to get in and not having any luck, it's okay to walk away.  This has been a brutal 3-4 years for everyone, you included, and no one can (or likely will) blame you for throwing in the towel. But I have to say that people who have been unemployed or have had to work like hell to get into this profession in this economy are good people to have in a firm, because they Give A Damn.  And I'll take one Give A Damner over three comfortable people who have settled and want to warm a chair for 8 hours a day. Give A Damners make things happen and pay attention and listen and learn because they know what it's like to not have a chance.

Only you can really answer this question.  If you quit, I understand, and the Universe/God/Allah/Flying Spaghetti Monster be with you.  You have every right.  But I hope you'll stay.