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Question & Define What Success Means To YouQuestion & Define What Success Means To You

 
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garciaarchitects
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Joined: 08 Feb 2012
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Location: San Francisco & Santa Barbara, CA

Posted: 02/08/12 06:19pm  Reply with quote
Question & Define What Success Means To You

Most of us want to be successful, but we may be blindly accepting the picture of success that our society, our neighborhood, or our company culture has established. It's important to examine and determine what your definition of success is. A professional coach can help with this.

Success could generally be described as health, wealth, and happiness. Wealth and happiness are especially subjective terms, however. And, wealth, or the process of producing it, is often counterproductive to health and happiness.

In choosing a career in architecture, you undoubtedly decided that wealth is not your number one priority. Most go into this field knowing that it requires a lot of hours, and does not typically reap huge financial gain. We do it for the love of it. The vast majority of architects work for architectural firms, or are sole proprietors, and make between $50k to $80k per year (in California). If you get into the higher echelon of a large firm, you might make between $100k to $200k at the most, unless you are the company owner. As an owner, an income of $150k to $300k is more common, with the superstars earning even more.

In the large metropolitan areas of California, where the majority of jobs are located, the cost of living is extremely high. Californians, like Manhattan-ites, have a different viewpoint about what a middle-class versus an upper-class income is. The average 2-bedroom home price in the cities I've lived and worked in is about $800k. Many of my clients and friends in commercial real estate make salaries exceeding $1 million per year, and drive $150k cars, so it has sometimes been frustrating to compare my "success" to theirs. But to me, success is not all about money. It's only somewhat about money. I have been able to afford an average 2-bedroom home and a decent car, and that's enough for me. But most architects cannot even afford the average home in the California city they work, and must commute. Recent studies have shown the commuting is one of the most significant factors in creating stress and unhappiness. So, if you live in California, the question becomes: what is more important - home ownership or free time and a non-gridlock life?

When I started making a six-figure salary in my late 20's as an owner's representative, I started wasting a lot of the hard-earned money. My high-paying job was stressful and life-sucking, and the purchases were a way to reward myself. But it wasn't worth it. After a few years, I decided to take a 50% pay cut and go back to work for an architectural firm (Gensler). The question to ask yourself is: what are you willing to sacrifice for money? When I started my practice and worked 60-hours per week for the first few years, I again realized that sacrificing free time and mental and physical health in the pursuit of "success" was pointless. I downsized my ambitions, and decided to keep my firm small for that reason, yet not so small that I could not make a comfortable living.

For many architects, money is not the ultimate driver as much as getting the opportunity to work on high-end or high-profile projects. This goal can also create unbalances in the health-wealth-happiness mix, yet generally offers more satisfaction than the dollar. Through trial and error, I realized that my personal definition of success is: making enough money to afford a nice home in a safe neighborhood, working on creative projects with clients who value our contribution, having free time to do the things I enjoy with people I love.

Elisa Garcia, RA
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