Path to Engagement / Ladder to Success

I distinctly remember my internship at the two firms I tasked for the opportunity to teach me what I would know to become a well rounded architect.  Although it's been over 45 years, I recall the experiences as polar opposite experiences. 

In my first position, I was all eyes and ears.  The "drafting room" was full of young bright aspiring interns, from a sophomore in college to recent graduates to a couple of folks with some years on their resume.  I was there to learn and not expected to do much else but absorb the work, gain an understanding so I could repeat the task on similar projects with less instruction each time and grow my value to my employers. In turn they took me by the hand and taught me a whole lot about architecture.  I was thoughtfully moved from partner to partner to learn each area of business and how they managed their process.  I really treasured m time in this firm.

After 3 years, it was time to move on and I found a promising opportunity with a diversified firm where my many interests might be utilized.  Sure enough I had flexibility and variety and I took full advantage of this BUT my employer was more interested in my production than my creativity.  He promised a reconsideration of my meager wage only if I could bring in some work to the firm.  Fair enough I thought, and soon I successfully landed my first project.  But to my dismay, I found it had little impact on my status in the firm or my wage.  I began to challenge the opportunity at this firm.  After all, if I could bring in work to a relatively thankless employer, I could do the same for myself, right?  My six month stay seemed like an eternity.

I think young staff today are significantly wiser to the ways of the world than perhaps I was.  Maybe it is the Internet, a more broad education, the fact that they are children of the boomer generation or now children of the children of the boomer generation, the so called "X" and "Y" generations.  What I experience in the workplace of today is that there is a yearning for a path to be defined, a ladder to climb to attain their goals.  They are not happy being the cogs of the machine, rather they look for opportunity and recognition and perhaps as important, a sense of purpose to their work.  That purpose might be to engage in sustainable architecture, or bring civility and pride to a community through design of a school, park or playground, or to deliver projects that inspire others to teach and learn through collaborative spaces that elevate excellence.  Given this, they will climb.

It is engagement that lights the fire.  More specifically engagement with purpose.  It is an ethereal formula, but once developed will catch fire and burn brighter and brighter as word spreads and young staff become engaged and invested in the opportunities you present.  

It is entirely different from the motivations that rocked me and my world into taking entrepreneurial action by starting my first firm.  Or, is it?  I left because I didn't see that path, or that ladder to climb.  Maybe we're not so different from the youth of today at all.  In fact, except for our ages and all the media hype telling us we're different, maybe we are more similar in spirit than we might believe.

This timely and meaningful conversation would make for an engaging lunch or dinner topic.  If you'd be interested to continue this discussion, give me a call -  I'll buy.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at