No two architects

No two architects - image for article by Greg Alder

The macadamia farmer is a lawyer. The bicycle maker is a chemist. The artist is an accountant.

People used to have a single career. Often a single job. Not today.

Today we change careers. We study, we graduate, we change.

Why is this? I’ll tell you why I have changed careers.

In school, I used to draw houses and cars in my exercise books. I must have designed dozens of each during Latin or Modern History or Science classes.

No surprise that I was drawn to architecture when I graduated from school. I attended the University of New South Wales Open Day to get a feel for what life would be like on campus and especially to get a feel for studying architecture.

I was excited at the start of the first semester. Sure, a few things started to worry me. I didn’t expect to have to learn computer programming. And I found it impossible to stay awake in the Dean of the Architecture Faculty’s post-lunch slide shows on Doric and Ionian columns.

I went to work with Australia’s biggest architecture practice. I soon noticed something else that worried me. I saw architects with 15 and 20 years of experience doing the same painstaking drafting that I was doing as a novice.

The joy of design, the element that had excited me about a career in architecture, turned out to be 5%. The other 95% was hack work – detail drawings of bi-fold doors, airconditioner exhaust stacks and toilet blocks.

I came to the difficult realisation that, as much as I loved architecture, the reality of it wasn’t for me.

Now, every time I meet a brewer who’s a mechanical engineer, a coffee roaster who’s a teacher or a jazz pianist who’s a doctor, I wonder if he or she went through the same process I did.

I wonder if every lawyer now working outside of law was at one time seduced by Atticus Finch or Erin Brockovich to dream that he or she would be a star lawyer.

I wonder if they confronted the blunt reality that the majority of their peers end up working for no win, no fee compensation practices in suburban shopping centres.

And did they ask, “Is this the career for me?”

“Is this why I went to university?”

I chose a different career (marketing research). Then I chose another career (advertising copywriter). And then I chose … well, the promiscuity continues.

When I lived in Mexico at the end of last century, my passion for architecture was re-ignited. I saw the splendid, soaring, inspired works of Luis Barragán, Ricardo Legoretta and others and wanted to be an architect again. Not the architects I saw drafting in that office in North Sydney, but the architects whose buildings sing, lure and demand admiration.

I realised that no two architects are the same. No two lawyers. No two engineers.

If I couldn’t be the inspiring architect, I didn’t want to be the pedestrian one.

Now when I meet an ex-lawyer, doctor, chemist or engineer, I wonder if they had the same epiphany.

Is it a waste to choose a career, but then choose not to stick with it?

Or is everything you learn along the way valuable? Are you a better coffee roaster, macadamia farmer, brewer or bicycle maker because of something you learnt in your unrelated former career.

What have you studied in the past? Why did you change career? Has it helped you long after you left it?

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