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The Best Mentors Think Like Michelangelo

January 29, 2020

Here is an article that I found useful while discussing the career path of a young female colleague. The discussion was especially difficult because it involved letting her go; putting the running projects in peril.

Mentoring young people in the field of Architecture can’t be easy, with the field of design being over-represented by one kind of thinking, and with so much stereotyping.

It is difficult to fight one’s own deep rooted biases and gendered socializing, specially when affirmed by one’s specific experiences. Of women who leave randomly, on short notice… with little regard for the chaos they leave behind. Without really thinking of a long term career, evidenced by how often they burn the bridges.

Young graduates hiding the fact that families will marry them off at any moment. Married ones citing marriage as the reason when choosing to leave. Mothers feeling guilty and second prioritizing work. Seniors leaving at the peak of their earning curve, with families and elders to care for.


Because the stakes are not high: They earn so little – their husbands or families typically earn much more in comparison. Tradition is for women to marry up and men to marry down.

Because the hours are unpredictable: They are expected to help with the house and family in evenings. Rare are good creches in office or outside.

Because sites are in remote locations, almost entirely masculine. Even when toilets exist, the doors don’t lock. They and their families have safety concerns while reaching a site and coming back, and are relieved only when they reach home.

Because they are perceived as non-technical. They may be preparing drawings – but making a building is different. Most people have a hard time trusting a young woman on a site with foundations and slabs if not selection of tiles. Everything is addressed to the male in the team irrespective of age and role.

Because because.

And this is when work is not easy for any architect, of any age, gender, or capability. For the 5% sparkling successes, the rest barely get recognition for their contribution to society, get meaningful employment, and any power to make decisions. Architecture is a gloomy business from the inside, despite the glamour (and the occasional highs). World over.

Already most are self critical and give themselves a hard time about aesthetics. It takes 50 years to know how to build, and build well – something that makes both the designer and the client happy. The struggle in creative fields is real. Many creatives quit, diverge, settle for less than their potential.

Also, it takes resources and contacts to get commissions in a country where the field is still maturing – not everyone has the wherewithal, not everyone’s dad ‘knows someone’. Most architecture offices are principal architect driven, work is not possible to scale up, commissions remain personality driven. There are no big, stable employers. Therefore, very few jobs and most of them in small offices that are themselves struggling.

Design Time is drowned in the time to take care of other aspects of work. Free work in the name of giving opportunity, rampant non payment, very few fair contracts. No laws to protect an architect, no strong professional bodies (Read about CoA and IIA elsewhere on this site) to argue for them.

Why read this article? Why mentor architects?

That too, when the results are more than discouraging… Why did I take the trouble?

It is a grim choice, career in architecture. But this article tells the mentor to paint a picture bigger and brighter, and, it tells the mentor to accept the mentee’s self first.

Although the article does not mention the corpses that Michelangelo opened up, every so often, to learn, making him able to discover/ uncover/ sculpt the perfect sculpture. But that is the burden of a mentor: To go through the dead unsightly innards of systems, in order to refine one’s vision to sculpt a beauty so effortlessly, almost as if ‘releasing’ it.

It is still worth, for sculpting an architect is sculpting the future of Architecture, and the better the mentoring, the better the future!





P.S. And then there are amazing peaks of experiences, sometimes, that make all that struggle worth.


On: Harvard Business Review

By: W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith

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