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Advice for Recent Graduates & Young Professional Architects

Last week, Chicago-based architect John Ronan wrote a wonderful article full of advice for young designers starting their careers. Below is a “short-attention-span friendly” version that you can skim during lunch (or in the bathroom - no judgement).

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Architecture school teaches you how to be a good student, but it doesn’t teach you how to be a good architect. Your first job in architecture is critical because it shapes your understanding of the field when you are most impressionable. The habits you pick up there will serve you (or dog you) for a lifetime.

Here are suggestions to help you avoid some common missteps and hopefully make seeing your path a little easier.

Passion is overrated. 

About 90 percent of cover letters we get from entry-level job applicants include something like “I am passionate about architecture.” Frankly, I don’t care about your passions; I care about what you are good at. It’s better to say that you are passionate about a hobby, but that your talents lie in architecture.

Avoid goals.

Conventional wisdom says you need goals to be successful. But if you always strive for specific outcomes, you will live your life in partial failure every day until you reach that goal (or don’t). It is better to develop good habits that move you in a positive direction, while staying open-minded about what success might look like.

Failing is good.

Just as a good design is the result of many discarded inferior versions, your life should be a trial-and-error process. Each failure brings you closer to what you were supposed to be doing anyway. So fail early, fail often.

Be an onion.

Someone good at a variety of things is more valuable than one who is only good at one thing. Your chances of success increase with each new skill you develop (as long as those skills are complementary), so become good at other things (speaking, writing, technical knowledge) and layer your skills like an onion.

The path you travel is not an easy one, but life is less about what happens to you and more about how you respond to what happens to you; persevere. Our world is changing rapidly, and soon we will need you to lead the way. We’re counting on you.


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