Dear Matthew: "All I see is bad terms of employment, an uncertain workload and low pay"
BD’s agony uncle has some career advice for an architect who is fed up with the profession and wants out
Q: All my friends are architects, and they seem perfectly happy. I am absolutely fed up and I want out. It is not that I can’t do it - I have been running jobs successfully for the past six years. But when I look at the profession all I see is bad terms of employment, an uncertain workload and low pay. It feels silly to be thinking like this with all that education behind me, but I am pretty sure I want to cut my losses. What on earth could I do?
A: I don’t know if it happens to you, but I find it funny how often at parties people say, “Oh, I always wanted to be an architect”. Little do they know the realities! It is great to have conviction in life, and in your rejection you certainly sound convinced. I totally respect your diagnosis of the situation, and certainly wouldn’t want to suggest you are wrong to be “throwing away” your education. Architecture is right for some, but not for you. The key now is to focus your conviction away from a negative reaction to a positive direction.
The good news is that architects tend to be able to think laterally, giving you a world of options. You are also lucky that you have a job now, so you can devote some time to your future options.
First consider what your strengths are (for example, are you good with people or at managing multiple tasks). Then look at your interests in the widest sense and your requirements (for example, a certain salary, avoiding big teams). Then get researching.
Given how open-ended you sound, I would suggest advancing on two fronts: think about a step away from what you do now (into construction related professions, project management, property, planning, product design), as well as a sea change (retrain as a doctor, open a garden centre, run a hotel in Goa). This process should be exciting, a little intimidating and, most importantly, gained through talking to others who do what you are contemplating. It would be a pity to retrain as a school teacher only to find that you are no more fulfilled.
A friend of mine, who is one of the most intuitive designers I know, became disillusioned with architecture a few years ago. After a couple of shaky years, he is now very happy. And what does he do? He works in a swanky sofa shop. Although he never knew it before, he is a natural salesman, so being paid by commission has almost doubled his earnings. Combined with flexible hours and work he doesn’t take home, this job suits him just fine. It means he can spend much more time with his kids, and he is designing his own house. His sketchbook is full of ideas. Some would call that throwing away his education; I call it tailoring work to the life you want to lead.
Architect Matthew Turner of buildingonarchitecture.com has worked at a range of offices as well as being a client adviser, project manager and competition juror
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