While reading the morning newspapers a few weeks ago I came across the headline "McCain Is Now Running Just to Stay in Place". If anyone besides me was closely following the American election in 2008 saw the incredibly rough landing of the McCain Campaign as he fumbled, stumbled and bumbled making one fundamental mistake after another, and another.
He has long built a public image as a man of solid moral character. He doesn't play dirty, he is a veteran, former P.O.W. that would rather let his fellow P.O.W. colleagues be freed before him, etc. Then when Obama's numbers began to rise he outrightly stated "I am going to play dirty" and followed up with a slew of dirty political ads and misleading accusations. It went against everything he had branded himself as up until that point. But he figured it was a gamble he had to take. It barely got him a bump in the polls, followed by a dip which further torpedoed his campaign down like a sinking anchor.
Now that the campaign is over and he is up for re-election to keep his senate seat. He comes to the challenge with a long standing reputation and brand built around what his calls "maverick"; his ability to negotiate between parties and make alliances across political ties to get bills passed, even if it irks his own party. It told the world he was an independent thinker and has the ability to stand above politics. However when things got tough, he willingly threw all that out the door. The political climate in America now with the Republicans and the Tea-Party movement in full swing, is very hostile to the Democrats. In order to gain some immediate popularity McCain told a reporter that he never really considered himself a maverick. He was lampooned in the media and jeered on late night talk shows for days. He eventually went on to keep his senate seat. But for someone who was the presidential candidate for their party it was an embarrassingly close election.
The lesson I extract from all this is that it is really bad to change who you are fundamentally, your core values (or what you branded your self as) for any short term gain. It is just dumb.
Why am I bringing it up in this context?
Because it has everything to do with handling your career as an architect; especially a famous architect who's career is in the spotlight and is closely followed by the rest of us.
One of the best advice I have ever heard any starchitect gave was from Frank Gehy when he said
"Dont look over your shoulders, be yourself, find your own way, become anYour best work is your expression of yourself. When you do that, you become more of yourself. To me that means a commitment to finding your own core values and building on them and expressing it. Finding out what is interesting to you in architecture and following it relentlessly and passionately no matter where it takes you.
expert in your own work."
I also heard Diller+Scofidio say that in this interview. when they said
" We always found things that interested us and that's where we went."
Joseph Campbell the famous mythologist puts it squarely when he coined the phrase-
follow your bliss
He spoke of the character in Babbitt who famously proclaimed 'I have never done a thing that I wanted to do in all my life.' Because he was doing all that society expected of him in order to climb the social ladder. He dutifully conformed to society but never followed his bliss.
The opposite of following your bliss is to go away from what you are really interested in, to go away from the thing that made you excited about being an architect in the first place for some immediate gain.
There is always a big temptation especially with a professon like architecture that is very suceptible to fads and waves of styles to jump on to.
The temptations are many:
-Oh that style is more popular right now so l am going to do XYZ because thats
what everybody is excited about and wants.
-We want to have more money - no one can argue with that we all want more money.
But in the end is it what makes us happy?
I sometimes see articles with titles like "10 hot careers that pays $100,000 a year or more and are in demand". My thoughts are always why would I want to dedicate a major chunk of my short life on this planet to doing something just because it is hot and pays $100,000 a year? Would I not just have a lot of expensive toys and an sad and hungry soul?
Don't get me wrong, money is good. I am not one of those who claim that money is the root of all evil - that's just crap. What I am saying is that you should not go into a career with the major reason being that it pays well. I say go after what you love to do, go after a career that makes you happy, and if it pays well too then great, if it doesn't then figure out a way to make money with it - if that is important for you.
I realy believe that the architects that are really successful or famous are the ones who stuck to their guns, who followed their bliss, and did what made them happy and excited about architecture and branded that interest so well that everyone else thinks it is cool.
It requires an unwevering conviction. If you don't have it get it. Some people are born with that conviction and thats good for them. For others it is developed. What ever you have to do, do it. Find what makes you passionate about architecture, believe in it, stick to it, and convince everyone else around you that it is the best thing since slice bread.
NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT
Liberating Minds Since August 2007