Wednesday, January 6, 2010
WAD reader Rob (from St. Charles, MO--what up!!!) emailed me to ask about the quality of life as an architect. In his late 20s and already working no less than 50 hrs/week as a restaurant manager, but as he puts it:
I've always said I would rather put in 70 to 80 hours of my own time into a career I love than 50 to 60 hours of someone elses structured time. I've been setting myself up to step down from management so that I have more time for school. This will inevitably lead to a pay cut while I go back to school, but I'm prepared for it. I'm aware I will spend much of my early to mid 30's just getting into the field as well, but I'm all for it!! - Provided the quality of life exists anyway. Working long hours all the time is great for me provided it's balanced with being able to enjoy life and spend time with friends and family. So any insight you care to share would be much appreciated! We all have our own perspective of what a quality of life balance is. What is that for you and your husband and do you feel it is met with your career?
While I reckon every profession has issues of finding a work/life balance, Rob's question is still a good one with regards to Da Biz. Architecture is a profession that easily swallows its followers whole, as if the difficulties of flashing details and punchlists as well as the finer points of using classical proportions in modern building types sucks architects with the gravitational pull of a collapsed star. It's easy for architects to spend lots of time day after day and night after night and weekend after weekend; there's always so much to do on a project, and sometimes you're the only person willing or available to do the work. And there's something about architecture that is all-encompassing: even when we're not at work, architects do nothing but talk about about architecture to their friends, who are all architects as well. When we go on vacations, we take 947 pictures of buildings and construction details and no people. All the magazines we get are about design and architecture. All the books we read on our shelves are about architecture and famous architects. It makes us boring, boring people, as this writer described. But the sadder version of this story are those who don't. do. anything. When all a person does is go to work for just the 40 hours a week (and by God no more than that), and then they go home and do nothing--no hobbies, no interests, no interesting experiences--then that's just as sad to see. No, you're not working 100 hours a week, but you're not exactly doing anything quality-ish with your time. And laundry doesn't count as a hobby.
What I've noticed is that architecture work tends to ebb and flow. You'll be crazy busy for one or several weeks, then you'll be barely busy for one to several weeks, and then the cycle recommences. As you get better at your job, you'll need less time to do certain tasks, which will allow you to both do more in the same amount of time and go home at a decent hour. Sometimes you'll do the former, but sometimes you really need to do the latter. As I've said here many times before, when I worked on the Wheatlands Hospital project, I worked 56-60 hrs/week (at least 7 8-hour days a week) for eight months straight while studying for, taking, and passing all nine sections of the ARE. I was in a position where there was way too much to do and not enough people in the office available to do it. So I did it. But having done it, I will never do it again. There was (and generally is) always something else to be done, but if I follow that logic to its conclusion, then I'd never leave the office doing that "something else." My husband Guy has worked his ass off before as well, and while he's worked a fair amount of weekends lately, he knows when to say when. Guy and I decided after my experience on Wheatlands that we were going to be more conscious of our work time and not let the office be our default position for more than a month at a time.
The point I'm trying to make here is that as an architect, you have to make the conscious decision to turn off the computer, leave the office, and go do other things. While there are times that you'll have to work longer days and on weekends, you don't have to that week in and week out. The good news is that the latest generation of interns entering our workforce are insisting on work/life balance and will more fiercely defend it than my Generation X brethren, so I think it's going to be easier to insist on 55 hour weeks being the exception and not the rule. However, once you've walked out the door for the day/weekend, you still need to make an effort to have a life. Get a hobby or two, and meet some people. It's a very insular profession, so you'll need to make an effort to make non-architect friends (who will vastly enrich your life). Guy plays in a pool (billiards) league twice a week, so he has a group of friends that includes appliance repairmen, accountants, videographers, and parole officers. I teach communication classes several times a year, write, and do yoga. In short, in order to have a good quality of life, Guy and I have to have a good quantity of life--not just time outside of work but also a body of things to do during that time that isn't work-related.
How about you, WAD readers? How do you ensure your quality of life in terms of work/life balance?