Unemployed Architect: Turning Fear into Success

Pat FlynnMeet Pat.
Pat was laid off as an intern from a California architecture firm in 2008.  But instead of sitting out the slump or trying to find another job, Pat turned his back on architecture and used this reversal in fortune to launch a successful career as an internet marketer and blogger. Now, less than 4 years after being laid off, Pat is making well over six figures. While Pat is no longer working in architecture, his trail to success has a profound lesson for those architects who choose to stick it out. Read how he turned fear into an asset by letting it drive him on to success. In his own words:

The fear of not being able to provide for my family and the fear of not knowing what was going to happen next gave me the drive to take action and go above and beyond my normal self to make something special happen. Without the catalyst of fear and pressure, I would not be where I’m at today. – Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income

I'm touched by Pat's openness and honesty: he admits what many of us are feeling. Fear is an all-too-common emotion among architects and designers these days, especially the fear of not being able to provide for our families, and not knowing what will happen next. It seems we are all waiting for the market to turn around.

In a similar vein, S. Claire Conroy of Residential Architect commented in April 2011 on the many laid-off architects and interns that have “hung out their shingle” while they tread the waters of unemployment. What other choice do they have? For many, starting an architecture firm, or a least giving the pretense of starting a firm, is better than resting on their laurels waiting for the perfect job to come along.

Sometimes, we can't see the forest for the trees when a perceived weakness becomes a hidden strength. We are in this for the long term, not the overnight success. So the question is, what role does fear play in your quest for success? Does it help or hinder? How do you deal with your fear?



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

12 Responses

  1. I must agree to the disconnect and misconception too about architects by the public. We here in Nigeria often think “well maybe its just here” but going through the series of post, I discovered its a world phenomenon. Infact with the failing need for architects and the ever increasing number of architects, there is virtually no job just lying there for the architect, hardly any form of security and that spurs fear. As an architect, I’ve decided to broaden my scope of services from building designs to any other related design just to increase the chances of getting a job done. People really need to be aware of what architecture really is, especially when you don’t work for the ‘big boys’ around, its a profession based on trust, but how you earn their trust if you don’t have an opportunity to transact?

  2. The biggest problem I see is the “disconnect” between what
    should be and what is.

    My observation is that clients view architects as another commodity
    like draftsmen to execute their misconceptions rather
    than experts to be respected. Not to be condescending , after all clients have the expertise in their fields that made them proseprous enough to build a building and hire an architect. But if they know more about architecture than what did I go to school for?

    I don’t know how many times I have tried to convince prospects and clients
    to do things in a more efficient and tasteful way based on years of training, experience and talent. I’m not even talking about pushing the envelope with avante garde design. I’m talking common sense stuff. Especially in residential. But “The customer is always right”

    Instead they want to be told what they want to hear. With supply and demand
    in their favor they can always find that. And part of what they want to hear is that good design can be had from some cheap residential draftsman or commercial draftsman with an architect’s license. So long as they “get what they want”.

    The results speak for itself when you drive down the street and look around. The results also feed the remodeling industry with plenty of working fixing yesterday’s expedient designs. This doesn’t bode well for the serious architect
    and the client doesn’t get the maximum value but doesn’t seem to know the difference or care.

    Architecture is a reflection of our culture. How does our design today compare with pre-WWII historic architecture? It seems to me that people in those days must have had a certain pride in their craftsmanship and neighborhood that is missing today.

    Maybe part of that was because people in those days walked down sidewalks and came face to face with their neighbors. So they had to answer more for their deeds. Whereas today they drive into their drievways, the automatic garage door goes up and can they can disappear without much connection to their neighborhoods.

    At the end of the day the architect is trying to sell what should be, based on training engrained in school, to a culture of what is, right or wrong. This world of what is keeps people like attorneys and deal makers in prosperity while architects and other intrinsic occupations struggle.

    As far as what to do about, I guess it comes down to the basics of human nature:
    Fight or flee. As far as reinventing yourself, I don’t haven’t figured out how to do that without still facing that decision. If you fight how do you win playing David v Goliath. Particularly as the forces of mother nature and time turn the young David’s sixpack abs turns into love handles.

    If you flee, where do you go to?

    Mike C

  3. For anyone looking for help “hanging out their shingle” check out my new project, Nestiv. It grew out of my frustrations as a young architect trying to find work. Nestiv is a central marketplace where architects can sell their home plans. Currently architects design less than 25% of homes. It can be hard to develop your own practice and establish a reputation, I hope Nestiv can help get some practices off the ground. Check it out at: http://nestiv.com

  4. I haven’t gone through something as severe as Pat, but during 2009 and 2010 when I had almost no work, it made me rethink and work at finding ways to network, meet people, shake trees and simply have lunch more often with people to connect. Fear is like pain, it can be uncomfortable, but it can motivate us to do something.

    1. Good analogy of fear = pain. I’m interested how your networking efforts paid off and if you have any advice for young architects who haven’t ‘been there, done that’.

      1. I suppose only time will tell on the marketing effor issue. It did shift my focus to non-SFR work which was long overdue. In my small region, sustaining work on only SFR projects is difficult and doesn’t ‘feed’ the true architect in me. I’ve had some really good clients and opportunities, but it’s not consistent. The commercial work is not greener grass, but different challenges. However, there’s more chance of repeat work and higher visibility in non-SFR work.

        Again, we have all cried, ranted and complained…granted. Now, its time to let that pain (and fear) do some good…me included.

  5. I was on huge fear about “what i’m going to do after I’m graduated from Architecture college” … coupled with the fact that was told by my lecturer: Architecture graduated student who work as an Architect were only 20%, and the rest working as banker, pharmacy industry, and other field that doesn’t directly related to architecture.

    Because of its tight competition inside uniqueness of Architecture industry, only person with a strong passion will achieve its dream, we all hope we could reach whatever we wanted … just like – study architecture = so I wanna be an Architect. 🙂

    I think this is one of the reason why we have to be creative, and to answer what is our drive? just like what Pat say, ” Without the catalyst of fear and pressure, I would not be where I’m at today”

    1. Miftah- I too remember sitting in 1st year architecture school orientation and having the professor say, “Look around, 2 people out of every 3 here will switch degrees before 5th year”. She was right, my class started with around 100 students and by fifth year about 30 were left. Most stayed at the same college but switched degrees.

      Your comment makes me think, how much are unrealistic expectations (about architects) a part of why students (and architects) switch mid-stream? Maybe Lee has some insight on this, as he is a professor.

      1. Alice, your story sounds all too common. Just yesterday I was talking with some of my co-workers at the office about the disconnect between architectural education (design) and what over 90% of architects do on a daily basis (things other than design). One mentioned that she wished someone had explained that to her before she took this path, and I feel the same way. There is a big disconnect also between the public’s perception of what it is like to be an architect and actually being one.
        Thanks for sharing your story and I hope that your new path is treating you well.

        1. If I may butt in to this conversation since architectural education was mentioned. I think there is truth to this urban legend, but oftentimes we remember our education incorrectly at times. The ‘rite’ of passage of education is often exacerbated in poor economic times. That’s doesn’t discount the comments about the disconnect. To me it really depends on the school’s mission and the specific instructors. I try to introduce reality into my studio, but it is hard to give too much reality when your students are 18 years old and taking their first course. I simply tell them there is no room for ambivalence. You’re either in or out. I think if students have any hesitation, they should change majors. Also, they need to be responsible to research the reality of their career path choice too.

          1. Lee, thanks for adding another (inside) perspective about architectural education. It is easy for us outside of academia to focus on the gaps and overlook the challenges of educating future architects.
            The disconnect to which I was referring does not regard more emphasis on building systems, codes or tectonics, although this is a critique that is often made. I agree with the tenets of a design/problem solving based approach. I was critiquing the misconceptions that students (and the public) have about what architects do. For instance, architects design. Most architects I know do not design buildings, they are involved in the process in some other way. They are project managers, project architects, contract administrators, quality control, etc. The design which is the core of our education in school (renderings, floor plans, etc) is done by the few who have stuck it out for years (usually in their 50’s) to become partners/principles of their firms. I would venture to say less than 10% of architects are involved in the schematic design of buildings.
            However, most architects choose their career because they like designing, drawing, etc. Thus the disconnect. When they don’t end up designing they become disenchanted architects. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
            Finally, your point about responsibility in career choice is well taken. Students do have the responsibility to discover what the vocation of architecture entails. But it would be nice to have some oracles along the way (telling them not only that 60% of them won’t make it through school but that 80% of those who do won’t design). Am I off on my numbers?

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