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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Updated: Jan 12

I am often asked by architecture students at one time or other during their academic career whether they should take time off away from school – the current program they are enrolled in – and work for a while?


A decidedly different question than when practitioners ask if they should return to school (ostensibly to complete their studies or get their terminal degree.)


Let alone whether they should stick it out in the field – whether they should leave architecture altogether. For me, to see a project I worked on or contributed to – in any capacity – built, however in-progress in the world, was reason enough for me to stick around and see things through. Nothing – nothing save bringing a new life into the world – compares with this, and makes the long hours and effort required worth the wait.


To see something through that you worked on to completion. Until you have experienced this, there is just no way you can believe nor appreciate this.


Each person’s circumstance is different so as one might expect, there is no one pat answer that would be best for everyone. ‘It depends…’


It is important to ask what is behind the question.


If one feels they need to take time off, for example, to earn money – to pay for school once they return, or help-out a family member who may be in need – this is a personal decision and should be made accordingly.


That said, when they can, I usually tell students to stay.


This can be controversial. To be clear, no one should ever put up with abuse or harassment.


Also, the word ‘stay’ – like what you tell a disobedient dog – can feel coercive and judgmental, limiting to one’s freedom. ‘Obey!’


The directive to ‘stay’ is especially threatening to those who chose to leave the field, who every day need to justify and re-justify their decision.


But what is behind my suggestion they stay is the path of least resistance. If one can – and this will no doubt require bravery, courage and not a little determination – complete what one has started.


During the pandemic, students understandably deferred their acceptances to school programs. Again, if done so due to immediate need, then this could be construed as necessary.


But one needs to be honest with oneself. Sometimes we prefer to put off the inevitable – like rescheduling dental appointments – because, if we are being honest with ourselves, to do so will be uncomfortable, something we would prefer not to subject ourselves.


School is work – and we fool ourselves to think that working fulltime is in any way, other than perhaps mentally, and event then, “taking time off.”


If one wants to take time off from school to build confidence, we need to ask ourselves: Should we just plow through and complete what we started? Wouldn’t doing so build confidence by proving to ourselves that we have stick-with-it-ness and can accomplish something?


When I survey my students to name one thing they are most proud of, they most often cite getting into the college of their choice. Wouldn’t following-through by graduating from that program build as much, if not more, confidence than to drop out (no matter what name, whether deferment, postponement or otherwise, we give it) to join the workforce?


For those who lack confidence, working has its own triggers and can raise equally nagging questions about one’s capability and viability. In these circumstances, while sensitive to each student’s situation, I suggest staying – sticking it out. At the risk of sounding like a parent (and what professor, especially with children of their own who wouldn’t come to them for career advice, isn’t a neutral parent-substitute?)


Quitting has been having something of a heyday – what with quiet quitting and Annie Duke’s book, Quit, not to mention The Great Resignation, Big Quit and the Great Reshuffle – and I am all for quitting as a strategy to move one’s career forward. In fact, ironically, I believe in quitting so much that I was once fired for my belief – something I will cover in a future post. This is what I believe Seth Godin was getting at getting_at when he wrote that ‘strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations.’


One strategy I suggest to my students is to map out their anticipated timeline – from today through what they believe will be the end of their working career – then to plot their college years on this timeline. School comprises a tiny fraction of one’s working life. Why delay it?


I believe that the rewards of toughing it out, persevering, and completing what one has started will reap benefits throughout one’s career. When asked to name one thing they are most proud of, they can cite having put their heads down – if not believed in themselves acted as though they did – and persevered.


What a great story that would be to tell in job interviews in the years to come.

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