“Architects have no power”.
At least, that is what a client shared with me during one of our coaching calls recently.
Ironically, that’s a pretty powerful statement. Not because it’s true, but because it’s a context that frames his entire experience and determines the limits of his own possibility.
If you truly believe that you have no power to create your life or effect change, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Resignation wins. You lose. Pretty disempowering, huh?
As I contemplated this, I realized that the statement that “Architects have no power” is simply a more dramatic iteration of a number of common excuses we architects use to snuff out possibility and diminish our power. I’ve heard various versions on this theme over the years, and all of them lead to the same place – an abdication of agency in the face of circumstances.
Yeah, that sucks. Nobody wants to play that game.
In my coaching work with architects and other design professionals I frequently come across objections to possibility. These are the circumstances and excuses that clients raise when confronted with creating stuff in their lives and careers. In my earlier post, “Five Tips for Architects to Design a Life You Love,” it’s the place I start to clear the deck when preparing to create possibility with clients. You HAVE to move these things out of the way or you’ll just stay stuck where you are.
Here are the Top 5 excuses I coach my architect clients on and how to deal with them:
Excuse #5 – FAMILY
Excuse #5 that people put in the way of creating possibility is family. Now, don’t get me wrong – family is super important. However, I find that most people put family in the wrong place on their list of priorities – at the very top of the list ahead of everything else. For many people, family comes first. It’s completely understandable. We want to provide for our family and make sure they have all their needs met.
The problem comes when we put the needs of family before our own. Think about it. If we’re not fully sourced, then how can we be at our best and give our family what they need? If you’re trying to give 100% to your family but you’re not taking care of yourself and not providing for your own happiness, then what will you draw from?
It’s kind of like flying in an airplane. They always advise you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. Same thing goes for sourcing your well-being and personal and professional happiness. Fill your own cup so you’ve got the necessary reserves when others need you most.
Excuse #4 – CLIENTS
Excuse #4 is a common one with architects. Clients become the scapegoat for all sorts of problems, whether they’re the actual source or not. They don’t have a big enough budget. They have no vision or design sense. Their schedule is unrealistic. They don’t pay on time. The list goes on and on.
The problem with this excuse is that it’s a super convenient way to abdicate responsibility for our professional relationships. As long as the problem is “over there”, we don’t have to do anything about it except lament our circumstances and demonize clients to prove how right we are.
I encourage my clients to take a good hard look at what THEY are doing that has things going the way they are. Think about it. What are you bringing to the table that is creating these results? There may be difficult conversations to have about payment. You may need to re-think who you sell your services to. Perhaps your presentations could be refined in a way that gets the client on board with your vision for their project.
Stop hiding behind your clients. They are a super convenient place to give up your power. But you’re better than that. Take responsibility for the relationship and be at cause for creating something new and fresh.
Excuse #3 – HIERARCHY
Excuse #3 is similar to the clients excuse, and I hear it a lot from people who work in large architecture firms, although it’s not uncommon in small firms either. That’s the excuse of organization or hierarchy. In effect, it’s when people run up against an institutional culture or dynamic that blocks their leadership, or creativity.
This excuse seems to have a lot of power because it is about exactly that – Power. Organizational structure, hierarchy, and titles are often necessary to manage productivity, workflow and communications. But they are also all designed to set boundaries, define roles, and limit freedom.
It’s easy to fall prey to this when communicating with superiors or direct reports, when working on teams or leading a studio. We may shift our speaking to accommodate the hierarchy of people in the conversation. We might tone down an idea that seems a bit “out there”. We worry about the effect we might or might not have and how it will impact our future in the company.
This organization and hierarchy excuse, I have found, is the mortal enemy of power and authenticity. It takes courage to find your voice within a firm, even your own.
The solution is to work on your communication skills; especially your speaking and listening. Develop empathy for those around you, both above and below your position. And do a deep dive into your relationship with power and authority. I’ve met too many people who have compromised their authenticity, their voice, and their power because they believe it’s the only way to operate within an organizational structure.
It’s not a zero sum game. You can rise within a firm or organization and still be authentically you with all your brilliance. Everybody wins in that scenario.
Excuse #2 – TIME
Architects are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know. For most, the days are long and stretch from early in the morning to late in the evening, leaving little time for life outside the office.
The second most common excuse I hear from architects is that they don’t have enough time to do everything they want or need to do. Most are struggling to do even the minimum to get by each day. The thought of creating new possibility is often seen as “one more thing to do” and it just makes their heads want to explode. Time is the enemy. There’s never enough of it. And setting aside time to create or pursue one’s passion seems like an unachievable luxury.
In response, we try to manage our time. But no matter how hard we try, we still end up with the same 24 hours each day. You, me, Oprah, Bill Gates, we all have the same amount of time to work with each day. And trying to “carve out more time” to do what you want is a fool’s errand.
So, step out of the time trap and work on the aspects of your life that you CAN control. Decide where you choose to allocate your focus and energy. Prioritize the things that will have the greatest impact in your life and then put structures into place to delegate, streamline, and even eliminate the remaining tasks. Make a list of the top six things that will move your life forward and put your primary focus and energy on those. For many of my clients the Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool for determining where to put your energy. A quick Google search will get you multiple examples of this tool.
Excuse #1 – MONEY
This is the mother of all excuses. I hear it from architects more often than anything else, and it’s the thing that’s most frequently in the way of their success.
I KNOW you’ve heard it from colleagues or maybe even uttered it yourself – There’s never enough money. Whether it’s a complaint about fees or struggling to pay employees or compromising designs because of budget constraints – architects constantly use money as a circumstance to argue for their limitations. For the vast majority of people there is a perpetual scarcity of money. And boy, does it suck the possibility out of a room.
Here’s the good news: Money is just a context. If you can absorb that fact you are way ahead of everyone else. The fact is, there is plenty of money out there. We’ve just conditioned ourselves to believe in its scarcity and limit our access to it.
I’ve got a small example to illustrate my point. I was working with a potential client who wanted to coach with me but insisted that he didn’t have any money in his budget to pay for coaching. He acknowledged the value of our potentially working together, but he was stuck in his story that it just wasn’t possible because the money “didn’t exist”.
With his permission, I worked with him to bust up that scarcity story and we started getting creative. Within 10 minutes he realized that if he simply bagged his lunch each day instead of eating out, he could generate $250.00 a month.
He “created” $250.00 in ten minutes. $250.00 that “didn’t exist” moments earlier.
The point is – if we drop the excuse that money is scarce, we free ourselves up the create the possibility of having it flow into our lives. Move the excuse out of the way and take back the power to generate what you want.
The Power of Circumstances
In the end, circumstances like time, money, hierarchy, clients and family are just that: circumstances. It’s how we react to those circumstances that determines whether we’ll move forward or stay stuck where we are. Once you can distinguish the circumstances that show up in your thoughts and your speaking, you can then choose what you want to do with them. You can let the circumstances run the show. OR, you can get supported to break free from those limitations and generate new possibilities, taking back power and control of your life.
So, what do you think? What’s the story you have about architects and power? What excuses have you used to limit your ability to create? When have you felt powerless due to circumstances? When has your own possibility run up against a wall of excuses that feels insurmountable? What do you do to move yourself beyond all the objections and take control again? I’d love to hear your thoughts and the strategies you use to push beyond where you stop.