September 17, 2009

Presently Planning for the Future

If you do a Google Books search for “Buddhism present moment” you get 2,780 different books. If you do a regular web search you get 367,000 hits. It’s interesting to me considering I need to devote this present moment and several present moments in the coming year to contemplating my future.

I’m a planner, by inclination, education, and hopefully profession. Now I’m looking for a plan. It’s ironic that up to this point I’ve always known exactly where I was going, even when I didn’t know exactly how to get there, which was often. I was shooting for a Master of Architecture. Along the way I tacked on a Master of Community and Regional Planning. The goal has always been to graduate, find an internship with a firm, pursue an architectural license, become a certified planner, and someday open my own practice. I’m beginning to question this goal, have been for a while in fact, but I need to understand why I question it before I can answer the question.

I’ve written about the myth of the “real world” after college, attempting to destroy the dichotomy between the two. It’s true that I don’t think life inside the ivory tower is any less real than life outside, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t different. I often complain about how I’ve been in college far too long. Which leads me to wonder, is the impulse that sent me wandering the bottomless depths of the internet this morning in search of PhD programs born from a genuine interest to continue my education or a fear that I’ll be either unable to succeed at my previously held goals (job, license, business, etc.) or that those goals will fail to make me happy.

I don’t really like that phrase – “make me happy.” I know that a job cannot magically “make” me happy anymore than anything else. Yet it still seems appropriate. I question whether or not this long-held goal is actually right for me anymore. What if there is something better our there? More fulfilling? More suited to me? I’m suffering from a case of “grass-is-greener” even though I can’t even see the other side of the fence just yet. But is this question itself merely a mask for my insecurities.

Three summers I’ve applied for internships with architectural firms and three summers I’ve come up empty. In 2008, I did get that internship with Rocky Mountain Institute, which has been the highlight of my college work experience, but RMI is not a firm and I’m uncertain I could pursue my goals of licensure with them. So that leaves a nagging doubt – why didn’t the other firms want me?

When I do interact with professional architects, planners, and firms, I am often disappointed. I participated in some design charrettes and client focus groups for the new Multi-Cultural Center, a boring box of a building which will lend itself to neither ‘multi’ nor ‘cultural’ anything. Last Friday I verbally danced with the design firms for the new Nebraska Innovation Campus, but their plans left a cardboard taste in my mouth. Years ago, I signed up for the mentoring program through the college but our mentor could offer hardly any input on our studio projects, seemingly out of his depth, and instead showed off his firm’s work of strip malls and uninspiring schools. The architects who come to our studio critiques either get hung up on the number of fire stairs shown on our plan and ignore all other aspects or get into high-brow conceptual arguments with the faculty, while we listen on in exhausted silence.

Yet when I interact with clients and certain other designers, I am energized. Yesterday my planning studio class (10 of us) knocked a design framework for Innovation Campus out of the park. We identified the major issues, created a conceptual visionary framework to guide the design of the entire site, and broke down into three teams to deal with what we see as three major areas of interest. Our two professors, one professional consultant who’s been sitting in with our class, and naturally ourselves, were quite pleased with the scheme and baffled by the professional firms’ inability to come up with something even half as good. I mean really, in the grand scheme, a professional firm with years of experience should be able to spank our asses, right?

Is this the kind of job environment I’ll be diving into? Do I want to do that? On the other hand, there are a few bright spots. I’ve met some architects from firms here in town and elsewhere who seem to have it going on, people I would love to work with and learn from. But what if they end up being similarly stifled by the reigning industry culture? Moreover, I’m interested in design and I know that both architecture and planning have many far more detailed sub-disciplines. Will I be bogged down with busy-work (necessary or not), either as a low-on-the-totem pole intern or a licensed architect? Maybe I won’t mind the little details. I did some work with a contractor on punch list items when I was at Shambhala Mountain Center and I enjoyed that, concrete cracks, door frame scratches, roofing flashing, and all.

Moreover, what if the grass really is greener? What if I’m overlooking something? I’m intrigued by these architecture and design charter high schools I’ve recently found. I really do like to teach and help people learn, but I’m not at all interested in tenure track and I feel I should have some extra work experience first anyway. I like working with communities and I’m interested in exploring community-based design further and finding solutions for the pervasive issue of gentrification, such as a PhD would allow me to do. What about my writing? What about my Buddhist studies? Chaplaincy training? What about travel? The Peace Corps? Japan? Hell, what if I fail the licensing exams one too many times?

It sounds like impatience. Maybe it is impatience. It is definitely uncertainty, worry, anxiety. The way I know how to deal with these things is to sit down and turn my mind towards working out a solution, finding a plan. I don’t have to stick to the plan, but it’s nice just knowing it’s there. A part of me just wants to let it all go, fly by the seat of my pants, devil may care, but that part of me is not the wiser part. That’s the stick my head in a hole part and hope it will all go away. No, I need to sit on the ground of uncertainty and spend some time trying to understand what I really want (yes, even though desire is the root of suffering, blah, blah, blah) and how I can get there from here.

I have a few more months to figure it out, so I’d better pay attention, and if I don’t have a plan by then, well, there’s always that hypothetical job in a shoe store.

1 comment:

Teacher Jim said...

A plan is good. But plans change. That's life. If you make the plan too rigid, you won't see other opportunities when they come up.