I recently finished reading the book Disrupt Yourself, by Whitney Johnson. There are many notable ideas and advice on career transition and development in there, but one quote in particular stood out to me:

“Most of us are brimming with the confidence, even competence, to change the world. It is vital that we are also equipped with the humility to understand that changing the world and keeping innovation alive require that we [first] change ourselves.”

Johnson’s point is that only by actively choosing to embrace change, to “disrupt yourself” personally and professionally, can you avoid stagnation and live a happy, productive and purposeful life.

I’ve mentioned here before that the most successful architecture and design professionals I have worked with are the ones who take the reigns of their career development in their own hands. These people actively seek out the opportunities and experiences that will take their professional and personal lives to the next level- even if those changes are not initially comfortable or easy.  

When the Enthusiasm Wanes

In these first few years after graduation, many aspiring architects and interior designers are like sponges. There is a natural drive to soak up anything and everything that they can on the job. It’s a time of exploration, experimentation, new experiences, and mobility.

Yet, I have met many candidates along the way who landed in positions early on that didn’t match their strengths and ambitions. It’s easy to be blinded by the award winning, high profile firms that are spending a lot of time and money trying to recruit high potential talent– especially when candidates are just starting out in their career.

But once they get there, these talented candidates often don’t find the career development or learning opportunities they were hoping for. Other times, there is a kind of culture shock where new candidates have a hard time with the work environment at the firm.

These situations are often downplayed because there is the perception that younger workers have more time to decide what they want to be when they “grow up” in their career. But, I have seen it turn into a career setback, cooling off their enthusiasm for further growth and development in the profession.

Then there are the talented, older candidates who come to me after they have been with the same firm for several years. They are solid performers. Yet, opportunities for promotion and professional development rarely come their way. Some of these people even tried leaving only to be given an attractive counter offer that was never fully realised. They feel like they have hit a wall in their career and are now trying to figure out how to get around it.

Embracing Learning Experiences, Not Entitlements

Going down the road of entitlements will always lead to dependence, and this dependence can absolutely crush potential, bringing a promising career to a screeching halt. We are living in a fast-paced world where change, transformation, and renewal have become the norm. If you really want to make it, then you have to have the courage to forge your own path, to embrace new experiences, perspectives, and continuing education- both on the job and off of it.

I am seeing that the most successful architecture professionals are typically the ones who took a non-traditional career path. They may have a more diverse educational background; they may have willingly transferred to different sectors, positions, and even firms that allowed them to develop a broad range of skills; or perhaps they showed interest and respect for smaller, more local architecture firms and the knowledge they have to offer.

They are in touch with their strengths, take the right risks, and know how to get the most out of a setback. They have colourful careers and are living purposeful lives, and that’s a great place to be in.