Saturday, July 18, 2015

Life Cycles

In a recent interview, Jack Ma of Alibaba fame talked about the various stages of an entrepreneur's career - he listed them along these lines:
Before 20, study hard.
20-30, find someone good to work for, someone who can teach you the passion.
30-40, decide on the direction of your career (and hopefully decide to start up your own company) 
40-50, find out what you are good at and keep doing that.
After 50, invest in the younger generation because they are better than you.
After 60, retire to sit on the beach.
These were his words of advice for the younger generation of entrepreneurs, to encourage them to do better in their careers.

I wonder if this can be applied to our profession as well. At 51, I feel somewhat entitled to make some useful comparisons and suggestions.
In your 20's, study hard. Don't worry about which university is better than the other. It's mostly you who makes the difference, so go to one that you can afford. Recognised by LAM? - all this might be irrelevant if only degrees from local universities are recognized. In any case, it's not the end of the world, simply humble yourself and go for the assessment interviews.
Remember that in the first three years of an architecture course, they teach you to "do" whereas in the final two years, they teach you to "think". Never confuse the two.
Before 30, register yourself with PAM and LAM to learn about your profession in Malaysia and to prepare for your registration exams. Find a job and remember that the probation period is for you as well as the employer; this "walk out" clause enables you to do just that if the job doesn't meet your expectations. What should your expectations be? There are 4 basic stages to an architectural project; get involved in all of them and understand the mechanics and systems. Not only is this experience useful for the LAM Part 3 exams, these hard skills will be useful when you set up your own practice.
And find a mentor to teach you the soft skills; how to manage people, your clients, staff, contractors and to learn the passion that drives a good practice. These two go hand in hand - architects who are passionate about their work are usually good mentors.
30-40; hopefully you have passed your registration exams and are now qualified to set up your own practice. Take a moment to think about your objectives - to make more money? To make a name for yourself? This will shape the nature of your practice, how you practice and ultimately shape your work - magazines like to refer to this group as emerging architects. Imagine! Emerging only after 20 years of practice - architecture has a long gestation period indeed.
40-50; so you have been in your own practice for more than ten years now and hopefully, you have made your mark. Be it an architectural style or a particular building type, a passion for teaching or social change, for research and technology - whatever it is, you are good at it and known for it. Members of the fraternity associate you with this line of work and the public recognise you for it. In some small way, you have left your legacy.
50-60; time to take stock - you have 15 good years left, if you watch what you eat; architecturally and gastronomically - think ala-carte and not buffet. Time to think about doing good, rather than doing well for yourself. Remember when you were guided by mentors in your thirties? Time to pay it forward and invest in the next generation. They have the drive to take the practice to the next generation. This is another way of leaving your legacy; in people.
I disagree with Jack Ma on his last point, it is unlikely that many of us will retire to sit on the beach at 60. Chances are we will still be working at 60; at best, trying to finish one's "best" building to culminate a lifetime's portfolio and at worst, to pay off an overdraft.

Let's hope that it's the former and not the latter.

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