On Work:Life Balance ~ Cattywampus Is As Good As It Gets
It is impossible to achieve work/life balance in architecture unless:
a. You’re in a solid relationship or are single
b. You’re disciplined and stick to a focused, yet flexible, schedule
c. You’re not a “starchitect”
It has been my life experience that achieving work/life “balance” is unattainable. Not that I’ve tried to do so. On the contrary, I prefer to move toward opportunity (snagging that great job or client, achieving a life goal, attaining licensure or other acronyms), or I tend to gravitate toward the “pain points” (i.e. to be wherever I’m needed– whether it’s helping out a family member, solving an urgent problem in my sphere of influence, or dealing with a crisis).
So far, for me, life as an architect can best be described as feeling “cattywampus” much of the time:
in a diagonal position or arrangement
I looked it up online because I wasn’t sure anyone else used it- besides my dear, late mom (who I thought might have made it up as she had a knack for creating new words). But, it showed up in a Google search in various spellings. Basically, it means askew, crooked; I like the synonym asymmetrical (as it sounds more architectural and “balanced”).
There was no balance in architecture school. It was all about being in studio and never mind those other classes.
Then, in the real world, if you worked for a high-profile firm, I’ve heard they basically “owned you” 60 hours per week. Even in the smaller size firms where I worked, it was easy to let projects eat into dinner time and Friday afternoons, even weekends. Designing and getting stuff done simply never ends. Part of this is the manner in which architects have chosen to go about our work; but a lot of it has to do with managing the input and coordination from the client and contractor. It is simply a challenge to work within a 9am to 5pm work day. And I don’t think I need to mention how 24/7 email and smartphones have further encroached upon the lives of the AEC team (architecture engineering construction) team.
I’ve recently been reading Brene Brown’s new book “Daring Greatly” and she touches on an important point: people are not satisfied to merely live ordinary lives. We all feel that we must be “Starchitects,” so to speak. I would maintain that even if we want to, it is also impossible to live an “ordinary life” given that the traditional institutions of marriage, family, college education, and stable jobs have basically crumbled beneath us. Who can truly say they are able to live an “ordinary life” these days? Not that we’d admit it if we were.
If you came to my blog looking for examples of how to achieve “work/life” balance as an architect, I would suggest looking elsewhere– either the blog by Marc and Angel (see their Twitter account: @MarcAndAngel) or read what my fellow contemporaries have to say about it in the links below (this is a group blogging project spearheaded by Bob Borson, AIA, NCARB; and this is #Architalks12).
Oh, here’s a great quote I happened upon while researching Twitter just now that is appropriate to our topic:
If you put off your creative work until the house is clean, errands are run, and everybody you know is happy with you, you won’t do it.–Allison Vesterfelt (@allyvest on Twitter)
So, your best bet is to hire or delegate all that other stuff and focus on your creativity. That sounds pretty balanced to me in a cattywampus, asymmetrical sorta way.
Great Post! I agree with you about the Work/Life balance.
I like how you gravitate towards opportunity and towards pain points. I never thought about it that way..
I used to get so freaked out whenever there was a crisis on one of my projects and now i feel like I have lived through sooo much BS that I’m not phased by it. Infact sometimes I get freaked out when there isnt any drama.
Love that quote. Thanks for sharing!
Keep up the good work!
Thanks for reading and for the positive feedback– that always makes me feel good!
I look forward to reading your post, too, along with the others.
Have a great week!
Tara, I smiled when I read the title of your blog post.
“Cattywampus” is such a fun word and it turns out to be an apt descriptor of an architectural career.
I’d like to hear some more of your mom’s expressions.
She must be the source of your wordsmithing skills.
Keep up the good work!
It seems architects tend to be goal driven. Which would naturally tend towards this cattywampus approach to life you describe. Great observations.
Great post. Totally agree with the premise that work life balance is a constant battle and probably unattainable ultimately. I think this is true of anyone in the professional services business. I think this is, at least in part, because we have to always remain so balanced for our respective clients. I also agree with the others; cattywampus is a great word and should be used ore regularly!
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