Lora Teagarden is a practicing architect at Ratio in Indianapolis and the founder of L2 design. Her website and blog offers a unique insight into professional practice together with inspiration and tips for young architects.
Many times the supporting stage hands in life don’t get the publicity that the actor does come awards season. This doesn’t make them any less important. In fact, they’re invaluable. As a young professional, these “stage hands” take the shape of mentors and friends. Pro tip: Those relationships overlap in the best circumstances.
The last two years of my personal and professional growth have been great … and are hopefully the beginning of a trend toward continued growth. I’ve worked some (OK, many) hard and long nights, networked more than my introverted self typically enjoys, finished my testing and got licensed. While there was a lot of hard work on my part amongst all that, I would be remiss to overlook my support structure of mentors and friends. I’m thankful for them every day of the year.
Having mentors to learn from or to turn to for advice is important — I’d even say tantamount — to your career success. They don’t have to be a certain age or rank in their given profession; they don’t even have to be in your profession — though in most instances it helps. They don’t have to know everything about everything, either. You can have different mentors for different subjects or chapters of your life and career, based on a certain expertise you’re looking to learn or path you’re hoping to follow. The important piece is having a resource (or 12) to learn from. I’ve asked my mentors everything from “how do I deal with a bad boss” to “where are all the good guys” to “how do I respond to this offer letter in regards to ‘x.’” They’ve proven their value time and time again in supporting me.
To get an idea of the varied roles and subjects that shape the career of this young architect, below is an (incomplete) list of my invaluable support system and a bit about the (massive) roles they play. In no particular order:
Deb Kunce; via CORE Planning Strategies
Want to meet a rock star in the profession? This is your gal. I’m lucky to have this business-minded genius in my digital (and local) corner because she’s someone I’m constantly learning from. Whether it’s client or consultant interactions, how to network or what an organization is looking for when it comes to leadership … she’s not only been around the block, but was probably the leader of the block’s committee.
If Deb is the business rock star, Bob is the digital world equivalent: the “apex of architecture blogging,” so to speak. We became digital “friends” over Twitter … and after multiple AIA Conventions and #ArchiTalks interactions, I’m thankful to count him as a mentor and friend. While he rarely, if ever, toots his own horn, he’s built up Life of an Architect on hard work and firsthand knowledge-sharing. He teaches perseverance by walking the talk and is always available when I have a question, be it about a simple blog thought or a technical construction detail. When I have a blog — or a bourbon — question, I go to him.
This lady — I don’t even know where to start. We met at an AIA Indianapolis board meeting a year and a half ago when I was asked to take on the role of PR Chair. We laughed over jokes about “eating the whale one bite at a time” … and the rest is history. She’s become not only a mentor, but a dear friend and confidante. We’ve talked everything from career to family … and she’s talked me down from the edge of frustration about missed professional opportunities. The person who knows you well enough to help you calm down when you’re pushing and expecting too much of yourself too quickly … is one of the best people to have in your corner.
Mark LePage; via EntreArchitect
Thinking of starting your own business or want to learn about leadership? Look no further than this guy. As busy as he is with Fivecat Studio and EntreArchitect, he still takes the time to mentor me when I have a question … even if it means a video conference on a Friday afternoon. He’s a wealth of wisdom and experience, and I’m lucky to have gotten to know him.
A woman after my own heart, this chica. Marica is a young architect who started her own professional practice and now rocks the modern residential architecture world with her design work via Studio MM. When I have questions about how she manages consultants or contracts, she’s always willing to share her experience. Co-cheerleaders from afar, we try to keep up to date with each other’s happenings. This is another mentorship I’ve been grateful to see blossom into friendship.
I honestly don’t remember how we first met, but this social media savant has become a great friend and mentor. He makes himself available to bounce questions and ideas off of and is a great resource for all things architecture marketing. He’s been a massive “stage hand” in helping me make sure I build the foundation to grow AREsketches™ properly. Beyond all that, he’s a blast to have a coffee or a coffee porter with.
Rosa Sheng; via ARCHITECT Magazine
Yet another awesome architect and advocate I’m grateful to have in my corner. Rosa has pushed and prodded and helped me grow as an advocate and young architect in ways I didn’t even know were possible. If you want to see someone who encompasses the definition of “eat the whale” day in and day out — look to her.
Paul Reynolds and Mike Riscica
One local friend (though we first met on Instagram), one digital friend — both friends and co-mentors. Paul and I share lessons in careers and growing businesses as well as jokes about #builditgram’s and #whyyouhireanarchitect. Mike is leading the crusade for young architects and recently published his own book. Both of these gents have been instrumental in pushing me to think big with the AREsketches™ while keeping me humble and laughing all the same.
Allison and John Anderson
These two introduced me to my first AIA meeting in Coastal Mississippi. They also took me on and mentored me while I was trying to find my place in the world as a young aspiring architect shouldering the career burden of constant military moves. While our interactions have been on and off since leaving Coastal Mississippi, I know they’re always in my corner cheering me on, ready and willing to provide advice and help if asked.
The #Architalks crew; via L² Design
The #Architalks Crew
The brainchild of Bob Borson (see above), the #ArchiTalks crew was built out of the idea that having multiple architects come to the metaphorical table and talk about a subject is better than none. Through it, I’ve gotten to know some of the mentors mentioned above as well as other architects in various stages, shapes and sizes of career paths. Our once-a-month “dinner table” communing has spurred other discussions and friendships, providing a veritable Rolodex of people with whom to bounce ideas off of or simply share in joys and pain points. They reinforce the importance of friendship in the profession — and that multiple brains are better than one.
The Archispeak Guys
These three … if I compared them to the Three Stooges, it would be in the kindest (and not dumbest) of ways. Neal, Evan and Cormac keep me laughing while learning, which I think is the best way you can learn. I’ve also had serious conversations with each of them about professional growth and paths as well as joint discussions about avocados and guacamole. They keep me honest and humble by acting like the big brothers I never had.
My AIA YAF fellow board members
I’m new to this leadership group (see below about mentorship finding you), but I’ve already learned so much from these peers. In fact, I spent a day and a half in Texas a couple weeks ago sitting around an actual table just trying to soak in all of their wisdom. I look forward to our work in the coming years and can only imagine everything I’m going to learn from my fellow Directors. They remind me that mentorship is a give-and-take, and you never know who you can learn from.
Corny, I know. But I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t have you reading it, all three of you! You keep me accountable and push me to be the best I can. In a profession (and world) that can too easily become a race to the bottom, you help me strive to always give and better our profession.
The next step in mentorship
The second piece of the mentorship puzzle is realizing that at some point, and probably sooner than you expect or feel comfortable with, you’ll be a mentor. Mentorship is a two-way street that never stops. Find a mentor, learn from them and then pass it on. The best mentors realize they’re growing you and that you have something to give, too. This is not about hoarding knowledge, it’s about bettering the profession. Mentorship may seem daunting, but what I’ve found is that if you simply focus on being the best at what you do while interacting with your peers and the profession — mentorship finds you.
Until next time,
This article first appeared on L² Design. All images courtesy of L²