Change is terrifying! Why?

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Change is terrifying… and amazing… and TERRIFYING! We are taught from a very young age to behave, listen to your teacher, sit, learn, get good grades to get into college. Finally get into to college, listen to your professor, sit, learn, and get good grades to get into a good job. Graduate and hunt for that good job, listen to your employer, sit, learn how to work their way. Do well until you save enough in your 401k to retire at 65 years old (69 years old if you are a Gen-Z’er… sorry guys). Do not ask questions. Work hard. Do as you’re told. Do not cause a fuss or get into trouble. Stay in your lane.

Well, I ask a lot of questions. Always. My poor parent’s ears have been bleeding from the day I could form gargled sentences. What is that? … How does that work? … What does that button do? … Why? I was always touching. Always exploring. Always drawing and building. Always moving. Always missing my shoes…oops.

I sat on a cold and hard chair fused to a cold and hard desk for over eighteen years of my life, thinking that the education I received was exceptional. I thought I was slowly finding the balance between the part of myself that wanted to behave and do a good job and the part of me that was always curious and questioning. My curiosity for how systems work, love for art and color, and being raised by a gaggle of architects, contractors, artists and landscapers it was no wonder that the built environment called to me. It gave me everything I needed; creativity and challenge mixed with rules and order.

Attending architecture school full-time while simultaneously working at an architectural firm quickly shot me into the real world and all the experiences of the industry. There was not a challenge I could not take on, a problem I would not throw myself into, and well, let us just say sleep was a secondary thought. After school I was able to take part in several ground-breaking projects that will continue to shape an entire community long after I am gone from the world. From hospitals with the latest high-tech surgery suites and robotics labs, to a state-of-the-art high school whose footprint is larger than the third largest stadium in the world. Even restoration of a church that had historic significance and required kindness and passion to bring it back to life. I was there for it all – learning, listening, absorbing, and working very, very hard. After all, that is what you are supposed to do, right?

 

I realized as I continued to develop myself that it was not actually the architecture I loved; it was creating spaces for people. Giving them something to grow in, learn in, be cared for in. To excel at my job, I need to be in the room when the client or user is talking about their space and day to day tasks. I need not only hear them speak, but also how they speak. It is amazing how what is being said is sometimes far less important than what is not. You cannot know how to create a space through bullet points on meeting minutes. Bullet points cannot guide or feel or create a sense of trust between the client and designer. You need people and emotion and conversation to create properly, and to guide your client as they themselves grow and change into the new space designed for them, resulting in something that is both functional and beautiful (and of course, cost effective).

The images above are from previous projects I’ve contributed to.  Please note that I do not own the rights to these projects or their designs.

What many passionate professionals do not mention though, is that it breaks your heart a little each time. You pour so much time and effort into a project and community for sometimes years, working with teams of people, guiding them patiently through meeting after meeting, town halls, learning exercises and heated discussions. Hours and hours of work, analysis, and execution all to one day, in a blink of an eye, walk away. It is the happiest day to watch little learners run through the halls of their new school, with their larger-than-they-are bookbags, freshly pressed first day outfits and new light up shoes, eyes and mouths opening wide to take in their new naturally daylit and brightly colored environment. It’s amazing to watch, but also very sad… because you have to say goodbye. In those eighteen years of learning in a classroom, no one prepares you for the pain tied to creation. How a part of your soul is always left behind in the brick and mortar.

The images above are from previous projects I’ve contributed to.  Please note that I do not own the rights to these projects or their designs.

As the years went by and my experience evolved and sharpened, the time came where my hard work, diligence and knowledge granted me a promotion, taking on projects and clients of my own with a team of talented people. I was finally seen and given acknowledgement for responsibilities I was already developing. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I had given so much of my time, personal life, and large chunks of my soul to climb the professional ladder. I was very ready and fully prepared for this new role… and it was not shortly after I began to feel the faint pull on my neck from an imaginary collar.

I have dedicated more than half my life to study, over a hundred thousand dollars (that I’m still actively paying), and years of 60-80 hour weeks to get to be in the room I was finally in, working alongside the heavyweight champions of my firm. I worked extremely hard, stayed humble and was always open to adjustment or learning from both my team and superiors. And boy, I was still the person who asked a million questions. This time with my shoes on!

Over time, however, I saw more and more how the world surrounding me worked. That there was a layer under the day to day that I could not quite put my finger on. I just knew I was being held back; getting snapped at by some and avoided by others as I moved into my new position. I was not doing anything differently. Was not treating them any differently. Why do I suddenly feel like I am a threat?

Now to say I am perfect would be a bold-faced lie. Perfection is a myth. I make mistakes. Lots of them. But I always, always made sure to learn and grow and always take full responsibility – even if it was a team member’s error it is always my error. I am in charge. It is on me. Always.

I was confused. I could not understand or put into words why I was feeling dread more and more each day. I loved my job, helping people, and working with a team. I was loyal. I had worked with many of them since I was sixteen years old. I did not understand what was happening. I continued to learn and grow as much as I was allowed to.

I remember very vividly once being called into my boss’ office, the door shutting slowly behind me, my mind racing as I had absolutely no idea why I was here, alone. A drawing laid in front of me, completely covered in red pen marks. I instantly recognized the drawing as something I helped with briefly months ago… and I recognize the handwriting… It looked bad. So many red marks on a black and white drawing. My mind quickly tried to put the pieces together.

Before I had the opportunity to ask questions or explain that every line and note on that drawing was reviewed and approved by the same individual who later used that awful red pen to undermine my education and experience, I was told “maybe we should take a few steps back” and “maybe you’re just not ready for this position.” It was that moment I knew that my career moved from hard work and diligence equaling success to the ability of navigating politics within the firm. There was an imaginary game being played, I knew it was there, I just did not want to play it, and up to that point I thought I was successful in that avoidance. Turns out I was just 300-style Sparta kicked into the bottomless pit of interoffice politics… and I was losing.

I remember sitting there in that room, door closed, looking at the faces of people who are supposed to be my mentors, and feeling my eyes begin to fill. Not because I am in trouble, as I have said I will own up to any error, but because I felt that no matter what I said, they would never believe me. And why would they? They trust the red pen guy; he is older than I am and has more experience. The reality that in a moment I was essentially right back to where I started at the beginning of my career, trying to find the balance once again between the part of myself that wanted to behave and do a good job and the part of me that was always curious and questioning, I was frustrated…hurt… confused as to why I was being treated this way.

The images above are from previous projects I’ve contributed to.  Please note that I do not own the rights to these projects or their designs.

 

I bawled my eyes out that night. Like… ugly crying. Red, puffy face, snot, sobbing. It was not a good look. It had been years since I have cried like that. I cried not because someone had sabotaged me… quite honestly I just pity that person as he will most likely never find joy or content in this world…I cried because I realized the plan drilled into my head to do a good job, climb the corporate ladder until retirement was not going to work. I was faced with the terrifying reality of change so many, including myself, feared. I just wanted to be left alone…do a good job…but my imaginary collar was getting tighter, chafing my skin, and making it hard to breath… and snuffing out my passion for architecture.

Had I wasted the first thirty years of my life working toward the wrong career? Am I really meant to be a part of this world? Is it too late for me to change? Am I just being selfish and should instead be grateful for what I have? Am I completely burned out? What do I do? Should I just submit and shut up?  The list of questions running through my head came in the hundreds in the following weeks.

With great pain and facing your reality comes an opportunity. I had to decide. Architecture was my first and true love. It was in my blood. I needed to make a big change to save that part of me before it was gone. I spent many nights wide awake, planning in my head, going through the pros and cons and formulating options. I tell you what, if it was not for the blind and unwavering support of my family, I am not sure how much longer it would’ve taken to start writing this next chapter, but here we are!

After some self reflection and diving head on into books and podcasts and TedTalks created by successful people as crazy as I felt, I’ve finally decided to stop being terrified.

Hey there. My name is Jessie Ellis. I am excited to announce and share with the world my next chapter, the start of my own firm, Gable Design. I cannot wait to share this experience with you and help my community. Bring me your ideas and I’ll share my skill. Let’s do this!

Jessie Ellis

Jessie Ellis

Wife, friend and dog mom with 18+ years of education and 12+ years as a commercial design professional. Always inquisitive, creative and empathetic; trying to live each day with intention.

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And to the person who read this whole ramble of a blog and resonates your own journey with my own – do not be scared. You are never too old or too young or too stuck to redirect your life. The moment you jump into the new adventure I promise you will finally feel better, and if you need someone, I am here.

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