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!