Getting to my Crossroads, and Past (Part 1)

How I reached a personal /professional crossroads, found my calling, and designed and built a sustainable, inspirational, collaborative workspace doing work I am extremely proud of…
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Getting to my Crossroads, and Past

How I reached a personal /professional crossroads, found my calling, and designed and built a sustainable, inspirational, collaborative workspace doing work of which I am extremely proud.

My Story

Looking back, my journey to becoming the industry-leading architect and business owner that I am today has not been a straight line. It’s been a series of positive, forward-propelling influences with occasional negative, discouraging setbacks. The overcoming of these setbacks has allowed for reflection and solidified my resolve to persevere, revise, and continue to act.

One step back, two steps forward. Life is a Cha-Cha!

Dance through the crossroads!

Everyone knows that change is hard, in life and in business. But as my personal journey showed, when life throws you curves, it’s better to confront change, and take the unfamiliar road, than to stay the course and hope the world stands still.

In the beginning of 1995, I was unemployed. A friend of mine was starting an interior design firm with a friend of hers. They had two rush jobs, and they needed help. Needless to say, I was ‘available’. When working at each other’s dining room tables became untenable, we rented space at the offices of an established architect.

I spent a few months helping my friends with their interior-design jobs, while watching others doing architecture all around me. One day, the principal of the architecture firm came and asked me if I’d be available to work for them. After accepting this offer, I quickly moved from the newest hire to second-in-command. I later became a partner, and stayed for 14 years. Most of the time, with my penchant for residential retrofits and practicing sustainability “under the radar,” , it felt like I was running a firm within a firm. My partner dismissed the idea of ‘sustainability’ as a ‘job killer’, so I didn’t talk about it. I just did it.

For me, it was very important to simultaneously keep those 3P’s of sustainability (People, Planet, Profits) in balance. In my time with this firm, I had noticed that, initially, clients wanted projects delivered on time and on budget. A little later, they asked for projects on time, on budget, and as sustainable as possible – in that order. Near the end of my 14 years, they asked for projects to be as sustainable as possible, as first priority. This struck me as an important shift.

Hitting My Crossroads

Ultimately  the misalignment of values between my partner and me took a toll on my health, my relationships, and my happiness. And it was doing the same to the rest of the team, both at work and at home. To right this imbalance, something had to change. I moved on.

The severance package allowed me some time to think about why I’d wanted to become an; with whom I wanted to work; the gaps or barriers preventing me from doing what I wanted; how they could be overcome; where was the best place to achieve success; and, if not now, then when?

As the saying goes, it was time to find my calling. Although it may be more accurate to say that it was time to redefine my calling – to bring it into sharper focus and take action.

Fighting for My Calling

It is interesting to note that StoryCorps founder Dave Isay takes issue with the phrase ‘to find your calling’ … specifically, the verb. “Finding your calling — it’s not passive,” he says. “When people have found their calling, they’ve made tough decisions and sacrifices in order to do the work they were meant to do.

In other words, you don’t just ‘find’ your calling — you have to fight for it. And it’s worth the fight.”

“People who’ve found their calling have a fire about them,” says Isay, winner of the 2015 TED Prize. “They’re the people who are dying to get up in the morning and go do their work.”

Over a decade of listening to StoryCorps interviews, Isay noticed that people often share the story of how they discovered their calling — and now, he’s collected dozens of great stories on the subject into a new book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. He shares 7 takeaways from the hard-won fight to find the work you love.

credit: Emily Pidgeon
  1. Your calling is at the intersection of a Venn diagram of three things: doing something you’re good at, feeling appreciated, and believing your work is making people’s lives better. “When those three things line up, it’s like lightning,” Isay says. He doesn’t suggest that a person has to be a surgeon saving lives to feel like they have a calling; think of the diner waitress who talks to customers and makes them feel loved. How do you find this overlap? “You have to shut out all the chatter of what your friends are telling you to do, what your parents are telling you to do, what society is telling you to do,” Isay says, “and just go to that quiet place inside you that knows the truth.”For me, now eight years into the adventure of SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building, I can confidently confirm that I am operating at the intersection of this Venn diagram.
  2. Your calling often comes out of difficult experiences.
    The misalignment of values with my former business partner caused some serious difficulties at work, at home, with my friends, and how I felt about myself in all aspects of life.
  3. Calling often takes courage and ruffles feathers.
    Setting out on my own was scary, and was legally challenged by my former business partner.
  4. Other people often nudge you toward your calling.
    Upon my telling him that I was leaving, my last significant client at the firm told me that he’d support my business. And that the company’s name should be ‘Sustainable’.
  5. What comes after identifying your calling is what really matters.
    I accepted my client’s offer of ‘a friend with whom to share the journey’, but gratefully declined any financial assistance. For me, it was important to prove to myself that I could do this on my own.
  6. Age is irrelevant.
    I was 48. I had long heard that architects hit their stride at about 50, though the younger me had never really believed it.
  7. Calling often doesn’t come with a big paycheque.
    Going from an established firm to SUSTAINABLE.TO, I took a big pay cut.But it didn’t matter. At the firm, I wasn’t making enough money to compensate for how miserable I was. Perhaps such a sum does exist, yet I am now being rewarded in many more significant ways – reflected in that Venn diagram above.

My Venn diagram lines up at the intersection of:

  • Architecture, something I’m good at;
  • Mentoring, feeling appreciated by others; and
  • Sustainability, believing my work is making people’s lives better.

It was well worth the fight.


For the next stage of Paul’s journey, see his follow-up article, “The Road Beyond my Crossroads

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