Monday, July 18, 2011

Work is about more than showing up, Part 3: acting the part

Some of my architecture friends and I met for happy hour recently, sharing our triumphs and tribulations.  (Note:  I shouldn't say "architecture friends" but rather just "friends"; most of my friends are architects.  Sad, I know.)  One of my friends, an architect I've known for seven years, was fretting/complaining about an intern on her project.  "He has four or five years' worth of experience and does good work, but sometimes it seems like it's pulling teeth to get him to to anything.  He waits for me to call him or see if he needs something else to do, and he acts like he can barely tolerate what he's working on.  I mean, we're doing a bank, and I know it's not the most exciting thing to do, but can he not act like it's leaching his soul?  Am I asking too much?" usual, my answer is yes and no.

It's a lot of ask of anyone to sublimate all their emotions about everything at work and act like all is well and life is wonderful, like every project you work on is heaven and magic.  Not every project we work on is going to be what we like doing, nor is every task we do to our liking or using our strengths.  You're allowed not to be ecstatic at all hours of the workday--work should be fulfilling overall, but not 100% of the time--it just can't be.

At the same time, I think back to a reference letter written about and for me by my favorite undergrad studio professor.  A grad school that turned me down accidentally sent his letter to me, and among many nice things, he wrote: While Lulu is not the strongest designer, her energy and enthusiasm make her an integral part of any Studio.  Being 22 years old, I only focused on the "not the strongest designer" part.  Ouch times one million.  I shared the letter with my godfather, who also happened to be an interior designer.  "Lulu honey," he replied in his delightful Southern drawl, "that's a bigger compliment than you think."

"Projects in the work world go on for months or even years," he explained.  "Keeping a good attitude and enthusiasm and energy and a positive outlook can be hard on a project, and if you can do that, it makes a long project go a lot better.  And the people you work with want to work with you again, and they're more willing to go along when you need them to change lighting or move a deadline to a week earlier or whatever.  Good energy on a project touches a lot of folks."

It's that part of working on a project team, the energy part about which my godfather was speaking, that make me say to my friend: No, it's not too much to ask that someone not roll their eyes or sigh heavily or complain about the client every time you hand them some work to do or ask them to print this or research that on their behalf.  We architects and managers know that you don't always like what you're doing, and we know that doing SD renderings in SketchUp is way more fun than checking a door schedule in CDs.  But being able to greet those requests with a "sure, let me see what I can do" or a "no problem, consider it done!" makes all the difference on a long and arduous (or short, furious, and crappy) project.  And to be sure, I don't mean that you're delirious with joy to look up ADA clearances in a building's toilet rooms--that's not having a positive outlook but rather suffering from a dangerous mental condition.  Acting willing, ready, and able to take on any task or challenge, no matter how cruddy, tells your boss or project manager that you're on this team and at that firm for real.  You want to be there, and you want to be useful and productive.  If you want that, your manager can teach you Revit, CAD, building codes, whatever competencies you're missing in order to do your job better.  But if you don't want those things...good luck hanging onto your job when so many other interns--and some architects--are willing.

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