ArchiTalks 22: Then & Now…and the middle

Annnndddd we’re back. We took a bit of a hiatus since the last post for those headed back to school. So now we’re jumping back in to cover what we thought our careers would look like when we graduated, and what we find ourselves doing now. A bit of then and now, not to be confused with one of my favorite coming-of-age movie’s Now & Then.

Note: This is the twenty-second post in a group series called #ArchiTalks in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect gives a group of us architects a theme or a set of questions and we all have to post our response… this month’s theme: “Then & Now”.

When I graduated with my Masters in Architecture from Ball State University in 2010, life looked so different. This month’s #ArchiTalks topic is supposed to focus on what you thought your career would be to what it actually is now. In the interest of providing potential advice to young aspiring architects, I do them a disservice to zoom in so closely to the specific segments of the topic, ignoring the context.

You see, I got married to a Naval Officer two weeks after I graduated. I also graduated into the heart of the recession. Those two factors drastically impacted my outlook of my career – in some ways not necessarily for the better. In some ways I was naive and embraced this future with a can-do attitude; after all, I was getting married to a man I then loved.

We’ll figure it out as we go! I’ll find a job, we’ll have a family, and I’ll be successful!

Those golden, rosey filters did not prepare me for yearly moves, deployments, and architecture firms that didn’t want to hire someone for less than a year before she moved again.

Jump to now.

Now…I own my own home and my own practice. I work as a project architect at a great company that embraces women in leadership. I volunteer and sit on boards locally and nationally. And I’m divorced. Outside of that last fact, an outsider would say my life is “all together”. I’d argue that even with that last fact, it still is because the decisions made along the way – that being one of them – brought me to where I am today.

This is where a drastic zoom does no one any good. Looking specifically from point to point in history, creating a comparison of change and progress ignores the in between. It looks over the effort, the work…the grit in the middle.

The grit in the middle is the most important part.


In the middle, I made 5 cross-country moves to 4 different states and 6 different homes. I learned how to pack…REALLY well, but I also learned how to adapt and live with less. I learned the importance of an open mind as I came into new, sometimes drastically different, communities. I learned the importance of living into my community and how to build a support network. (This looks amazingly similar to a mentorship network.)

In the middle, I held 10 jobs and I learned from each of them. As a barista/server in Maine, I learned to predict a customer’s needs as I noticed trends and remembered regulars. In a short time with Allison & John in Mississippi, I learned that sometimes small projects can pack a wallop of a punch, you just have to care. And I learned the importance of perseverance to get me there. In other jobs I learned…period. In some I mentored. In others, I learned how NOT to run a business. Each taught me something because I was willing to learn.

In the middle, I started my own business and took on the fight for making my place in the world. I learned that this is a never-ending battle, but came to the realization that I and my ideas are worth fighting for. I walked door to door in a Mississippi summer (also known as trying to walk through a hot tub) to drum up business. I took risks, and I fell sometimes, but I learned that getting back up got easier each time.

In the middle, I embraced new projects, trips, books…everything. All of the things I tried, read, and saw better definied life and what I wanted for my future. They gave me space to dream and test ideas. They shaped me and helped me grow, each in their own ways.

In the middle, I lost love and found myself. More to the point, I found I had to – and was capable of – fighting for myself…something that would carry me through every challenge since and to come.

In the middle I worked….HARD.


What the middle means to you

The middle is where the growth happens. Arguably, at any point in your life, you’re at some stage of the middle, preparing you for a future that’s yet to unfold. So what can you take from my middle learnings?

  • Don’t be too big for any job. You can learn something from every experience and you should NEVER. STOP. LEARNING.
  • Travel and learn to adapt. Book a flight but not a hotel. See where the city, town, or rural road takes you.
  • Don’t be afraid to risk failure. The growth happens there in those uncomfortable and scary spaces.
  • Learn to network and surround yourself with awesome people.
  • Make a plan.
  • Continually pause and assess. With learning comes growth and sometimes also a pivot.

As much as my “now” may seem like I have it all together, I know I’m still in the middle – and I feel it often. My career may shift; I might (hopefully) find someone worth spending my life with; we might (likely) have another recession. But the middle has prepared me for that future of unknowns, so for now I’ll just keep living and learning in the present.

Embrace the middle.


To see the take on “Then & Now” from other Architects, follow the links to the others in the #ArchiTalks group who are posting today on the theme:
Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (@bobborson) Then and Now – Architectural Design or Accounting”
Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) From Then to Now…Residential Architect”
Mark LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect) “The Biggest Surprise of My Life as an Architect”
Michele Grace Hottel – Architect (@mghottel) “Architalks 22: Then and Now”
Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley) “Reflection on My Wonderful, Unexpected Career”
Jim Mehaffey- Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey) “The Reluctant Code Guru”
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) “How did I get here?”
Kyu Young Kim – Paolo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu) “Career Path: Follow Your Heart”
Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept) “The Joys of Being an Architect”
Matthew Stanfield – Field9: architecture (@FIELD9arch) Where It All Went Right”
Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet (@Jeff_Echols) “Well, How Did I Get Here”
Brady Ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA) “Pens & Fizzy Drinks: Or How to Set Measurable Career Goals”
Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung) “10 Lessons Learned from a Young Architect”
Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect) “then and now: #architalks”
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome) “Then-Now: A Schematic Story”
Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC) “Big Ass Buildings”
Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent) “Then and Now”
Nisha Kandiah – TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC) “Then & Now : Still Chasing the Dream”
Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark) “#Architalks 22 – Then and now”
Nicholas Renard – Renard Architecture (@dig-arch) “15 Years of Architecture”
Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia) “Being the light in darkness”

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