Do You Love Your Architecture Job?

I am always asking my readers, email subscribers and forum strangers what would make their architecture job better. What would make them want to join a new office? What would make them want to stay in their current office? What benefits are the most important for you?

Most of the responses revolve around compensation or hours worked. However, as we will discuss, these factors play less of a role in your overall job satisfaction than you might think. 

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Just do what you love!

From a very young age we are told to find a career doing what you love. "Find a job you love and you will never work a day in you life", they say.

We hear these sayings for years and wonder, "Am I really doing what I love?" Sure you may like your job and coworkers, but are you really passionate about it? What does "passion" look and feel like?

There is also that annoying voice in the back of your head, "maybe the next job I would really love.

This is certainly a complicated issue and is unique for everyone. Despite these challenges there are armies of researchers trying to figure out what makes the happiest employees . After all, countless studies have shown that a happy workforce leads to greater quality and efficiency. These two attributes are essential for a successful architecture office.

Pay = Happiness

The most common response I get is that increasing the pay of their architecture job would result in greater happiness. Let's unpack that elephant in the room.

If I paid you more would you be happier?

In a recent New York Times article, The Incalculable Value Of Finding A Job You Love, looked at the issue of pay in detail. "Money matters, but not always in the ways you may think."

The article goes on to stress the importance of becoming an expert, a topic I previously covered in How To Earn A Six Figure Architecture Salary.

"those who become really good at what they do are capturing a much larger share of total income in almost every domain, leaving correspondingly smaller shares available for others. Moral: Become an expert at something!"

In other words: it is not as simple as greater pay equals greater happiness.

The nuances in variables such as working conditions, autonomy, employer mission and learning opportunities can have a profound impact on job satisfaction. Particularly early on in your architecture career, finding an environment that encourages learning and growth will have a much greater influence on your long term expertise and earning ability than your pay in the short term. 

Immersing Yourself

I hate to be the one to tell you that Santa doesn't exist but if you don't find your work desirable, you should find something else. 

In an interview with Norman Foster he discusses the importance of finding work that you truly desire. "When you can’t imagine doing anything else, and you would do anything to be able to do it, then you know you’ve made the right decision."

"From then on it’s a matter of completely immersing yourself in that choice: You live it every living second of your life.”

The 10,000 Hour Rule

In the book "Outliers," author Malcolm Gladwell contends that regardless of your chosen profession (basketball, music, architecture) getting 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" is essential to becoming a world class expert in your field.

Outliers: The Story of Success
By Malcolm Gladwell

When psychologists talk about deliberate practice, they mean practicing in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible. Although this theory has been challenged it still highlights the importance of being able to focus on a single subject for a prolonged period of time.

Spending thousands of hours on a subject isn't possible if you do not have a keen interest in your chosen career field.

Interestingly 10,000 hours corresponds to just over five years of full time work. I often encounter architects in this five year period questioning whether architecture is really the career for them. 

Quitting is for winners

In an interview with entrepreneur Marie Forleo, she discusses the struggles she had early in her career finding a job she could see herself doing for decades. One way she determined whether she was on the right path was to look at the senior members of the office to determine if that was the future she wanted.

By projecting herself into that future role she was able to ask the question, "is that who I want to be?" If not she would quit and look elsewhere. She was constantly testing her areas of interest until she came across a topic she could see herself doing for the long term. 

Often we are afraid of quitting because perhaps we don't want to disappoint our friends or family. Also on some level it feels like we have failed.

This couldn't be further from the truth.

Looking at the most successful people both in architecture and the business world as a whole, they never see anything as a "failure". Rather there are only two possible outcomes: you are either successful or you learn something. 

Work life balance

As author Seth Godin said, "Here is the thing about work-life balance. There is just life. Work is something we do that is part of our life but work-life balance is something I have a hard time with that concept. There is this place we go where we are not alive, then we get to be alive?"

I think we are often told that work is just something to collect a paycheck so we can enjoy our lives outside of the typical 9-5. To me this idea that those 40+ hours every week are just a write-off is ridiculous. If you find yourself celebrating Friday's and dreading Monday's it is a sign something is wrong.

If you are not learning, forming long lasting relationships, becoming a better architect, and enjoying it along the way then you may need to think about a job or career change. 

Are you a Sprinter or a Straggler?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Two-Thirds of College Grads Struggle to Launch Their Careers, the author found that, "young adults no longer have as clear or straightforward a career path as previous generations did. Many end up drifting aimlessly through their third decade of life. Twenty-somethings nowadays transition into adulthood in one of three ways: they’re either Sprinters, Wanderers, or Stragglers:"

  • Sprinters (35% of the young adults surveyed) jump right into their career after college or are on a path to a successful launch after completing additional education.
  • Wanderers (32% of the young adults surveyed) take their time—about half of their twenties—to get their start in a career.
  • Stragglers (33% of the young adults surveyed) press pause and spend most of their twenties trying to get their start.

There is a lot of pressure on young architects to get their careers underway. Often they have invested considerable sums of both time and money into getting a degree. This has led many to persue quick gains at the expense of lifelong benefits.

Debt Versus Career

The above HBR article goes on to say:

"While we expect most graduates to find their way in life after college, Sprinters make up only about one-third of today’s graduates. The biggest difference between them and the two-thirds of students who struggle to launch after college is how Sprinters navigated their undergraduate years: 80% had at least one internship, 64% were sure of their major when they began, and 43% had less than $10,000 in student loan debt."

This highlights another subject I often talk about around here: personal finance. Limiting debt of any kind may, on the surface, appear completely separate from your career choices. However the need to pay [large] bills can force you to find any job in the short term that may not be the ideal long term career choice. 

How do you find your passion?

This is perhaps the most difficult question. An article in Entrepreneur magazine looked at several "creativity exercises" to find your passion including studying people who have been successful in the area you want to pursue.

Do you want to be the next Renzo Piano? If so what did he do to get where he is today? What can you do over the next six months, year and five years to get there?

I hope this collection of inspiration has been helpful for your architecture career. Finding a job that you love isn't something that you can ever call "complete." It is a life long pursuit that should be enjoyed at every step.

As John Lennon said,  "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Make sure you are living the life you want now. 

For further reading on architecture job applications, portfolios, interviews and more see The Complete Package below: