Keeping Things in Perspective: Finding the Balance
Recently I was given a gut check that seemed notable and worth sharing. It led to several questions those of us in design, development, construction, brokerage, etc., might consider. Do you remember why you got into your profession? Was it more exciting then or did it matter more to you in the beginning? Have you kept your inspiration or do you need to find it again? Have you kept balance?
A professor I greatly admire, Phil Gallegos, recently retired from the University of Colorado’s College of Architecture and Planning – the only such school in Colorado. He’s credited with founding, against high odds, the most successful design and build program of all the architecture schools in the nation. In addition, he led CU’s new undergraduate school of architecture. It’s also the most diverse architecture program in the U.S. On top of that, he raised four daughters with his late wife, earned his doctorate in architecture and ran a highly successful architecture firm along the way. And he’s not done yet.
When giving his final remarks at his retirement party, he said that he was proud to have been part of those accomplishments, but that they were not him; they weren’t his soul. That stopped me in my tracks. He never lost sight of who he was, where he was trying to go and what mattered to him. I’m not sure many of us can say the same.
Our work is so fast-paced. Whether you’re in design, brokerage, law, consulting, property management, owner representation or development, the real estate industry is demanding. It’s complex and challenging. The rewards vary, but there are unique opportunities in this industry for an uncommon level of recognition, and there is tremendous satisfaction that comes from seeing an idea come to life in the built environment – not to mention the potential financial gains. The work provides for a living and a lifestyle. On its good days, it’s fun. On its great days, it’s a major high. But if you don’t make a point of always fighting for that thing that gives your life real purpose, this business can be all consuming. It can slowly erode at everything else that matters to you, including your soul.
A Never-Ending Balancing Act
When you are building a business in this industry, evenings and weekends that once offered respite now look like valuable time to catch up if the work has fallen behind or to get ahead if you see an opening in the market. When a project is behind, off hours can provide safe harbor to get back on track and avoid uncomfortable business situations.
Social opportunities aren’t just for camaraderie; we have contacts to make, tend to and grow. That means going to events and meals and activities. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a choice. Put in the work or someone else will. It’s part of our culture as Americans in general, and especially in this industry.
All the while we have personal lives calling. There are friends, significant others, kids, pets and our extended families. We have sports to play, mountains to hike or ski, movies to see, holidays to enjoy and dinners to attend with folks outside of work. We have lives to build.
Compounding the issue is our relationship to technology. Remember how technology was supposed to make us all more efficient and – in theory – freer to spend time on the things that mattered? Instead, we just found more things to do.
Technology: The End of “Snow Days”
There was a time not that long ago when a big snowstorm, a remote vacation or a flight across the country meant you were simply unavailable for a little while. Like it or not, you were unplugged. For better or worse, our constant ability to connect – from 30,000 feet or a boat in the middle of the ocean – means there’s no respite from the strong pull of work. Just one more email. Just one more call. The enormous conveniences available to us also bring a loss of quiet and down time if we’re not careful.
Reclaiming Your Time
Much has been written about this juggle of our modern lives. Academics study how we live, how we work and how we interact with one another. In fact, these studies often directly impact how we design spaces. They offer insights on our rapidly evolving culture and expectations and propose solutions to make everything work better.
These new models for working and living compete for media time. It seems like every day, someone is espousing new approaches to technology, time management, design and organizational structures. The pace only seems to accelerate.
Many accomplished people in our industry get consumed with the relentlessness of it all and fail at the balance. They get to the end of their careers and they were so defined by their job that they don’t know who they are outside of it.
My advice? Find a friend and mentor like Phil. Spend time with people who remind you to keep things in perspective. Devote space to really thinking about what you want from your life and this industry. Then stay true to yourself. There are special souls among us who show us that it’s possible to do big things and still have a big, full life. Real success is being able to look back on a lifetime of major accomplishments with excitement for what’s ahead, and your soul firmly intact.
Published in the March 2020 issue of Building Dialogue.