Always have two careers


by Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP

If you expect to become the next Frank Lloyd Wright leave now!

Those were the first words I ever heard as a college student. Admitted to the school of architecture, attending orientation with my parents, a senior administrator got up in front and said to a roomful of 200 freshmen future architects and their parents:

If you expect to become the next Frank Lloyd Wright leave now!

A questionable student retention tactic – even then. Had it been a Simpsons episode you would have heard the rear door slam. But as the Simpsons wouldn’t be invented for another 10 years, nobody moved.

Next the administrator said the 9 most important words I ever heard:

Only 3 of you will ever design a building.

This was before everybody gets a trophy. Apparently, back then only 3 of us would get trophies. The remainder would go on to toil away in management.

Perhaps our prospects would have improved had we worn shoes?

When the administrator said: Only 3 of you will ever design a building, my first thought was: I wonder who the other two are? It wasn’t: I wonder if I should double major and get an MBA? I wanted to design buildings, and while I also wanted a job after graduation, no one will let you design buildings with an MBA.

It’s not as if for me designing buildings was a forgone conclusion. I grew up in a split-level house in the suburbs.

The architectural equivalent of living in a van down by the river. We didn’t come from either money or good taste, and we clearly didn’t know any architects.

In your career you will spend 5 years sitting at a desk & 2 years sitting in meetings. No one ever goes into architecture because they want to sit in meetings. Yet apparently this is what all but 3 of us were signing up for, what all but three students would get to do with their lives.

Architecture students are a confident and resilient bunch. Every student in that room must have wondered who the other two are? And yet, we didn’t all go on to design buildings. Some became technical architects, some became managers. The ones with MBAs – became our clients, and about half went on to other fields.

And so, at my first career crossroad, I chose the design of buildings  over meetings and spent 30+ years – a career – doing what I love. And in all that time I never had a bad day. While I never became Frank Lloyd Wright, I became something even more important for me to become: myself.

And I got to do this because at every career crossroad, I again and again chose the design of buildings over meetings. I did this because a life NOT designing buildings – not acting on our world, not making a positive contribution, not adding value – was for me unimaginable. But as importantly, a life NOT designing buildings was somebody else’s life. And as long as I remembered this – and acted on it – everything would work out. And it did, both creatively and financially. And it can for you as well.

You can be one of the three. One of the three who designs buildings. One of the three who creates an innovation. One of the three who experience meaning & purpose in their work. One of the three who makes a difference. One of the three who helps transform the world.

But there comes a time in every career, for some sooner, some later, when we no longer see ourselves as one of the three. Why is that? Why do we give up on our promises and dreams? There are times when we choose money over our dreams and work for a paycheck.

Other times when we’ll be frustrated or bored with what we do, and be dissatisfied with our job. Our dreams change, or we forget our dreams. We give up on our dreams. But, as often, our dreams give up on us.


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