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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Rosa Sheng, AIA

While I wanted to join the #Architalks fun earlier last week with a blog contribution representing a typical day in the life from my own #Archimom perspective, I was stretched thin with multiple project meetings, afterwork care and quality time with my 2 girls, TM32PP outreach and "other" projects. Regardless of the "full" days, I was most paralyzed with the thought of choosing which "day" to highlight that would provide an authentic snapshot of who I am.

So after a week of careful thinking, I am sharing my authentic self here. While I am still a relative rookie/newbie to social media, I started my official open Twitter presence earlier this year. I fumbled with the "tagline" that would briefly sum-up who I am. It took me awhile and it took a few iterations to come up with the following: Architect, Innovator, Maker, TigerMama, AIASF Board of Director, Chair of @Miss32Percent. Each has a place in defining me.

I am 9+ years in as an #Archimom. It's never an identity that I had envisioned for myself when I decided at age 11 to become an Architect. And yet, I have come to embrace the chameleon-like quality of Archimom-ness as second nature. But let's be frank and candid here, it's not easy, it takes hard work, passion and perseverance. While a career in Architecture is difficult enough to maintain, adding marriage and motherhood into the mix has its own unique challenges. There have been more sleepless nights than the deteriorating memory can catalogue. Resolve not to break down in despair, even though you sometimes wonder if you are insane for making these choices. Looking back, I have never regretted my decision to become an architect, spouse or mother. But it is a precarious puzzle to navigate on a daily basis as far as owning your #Archimom identity, choosing your priorities, and how to divide your time.

I have been fortunate. I had a great role model in my Thesis advisor/professor Marleen Kay Davis at Syracuse University School of Architecture. She balanced teaching Architecture while raising 2 young children with calm, confidence and grace. I graduated during a recession in 1994 and changed jobs quite a bit trying to find my passion and the right fit. I was hired by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in 1997, moved to Pittsburgh, Pa and started working on the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA. When asked by our client of what we could do to speed up the development of the project, I half-jokingly suggested that they should move our entire team out to California. Well, 3 months later, we moved out west to finish the project and ended up establishing roots for the San Francisco office. At the tale end of the Pixar project, I met my partner in "crimes of passion". Since then, my personal and professional lives have been deeply interwoven. 

I have had the rare opportunity to work on some of the most prolific projects of our time; including the Apple High-Profile Retail Stores, Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College, Square Headquarters. But more importantly, I have worked with some of the most amazing clients, consultants and project teams; relationships that have valued my contributions, respected my time and supported my journey as an Architect with a family.

An Archimom's Secret Sauce Ingredients :

  • Be authentic, be hopeful, be resilient, be proud. 
  • Get Licensed as soon as you possibly can. Life happens and there will always be another project deadline. Yes it's expensive, but think of all the money you invested in going to Architecture School. Think of it like gaining citizenship. You have more rights (and responsibilities).
  • Taking a leave of absence: for off-ramping and on-ramping between your leave, come up with a plan/flexible schedule that works for you. Negotiate. It's okay if things may change, but maintain clear communication. Stay connected while you are on leave. 
  • My spouse is my co-parent and equal life partner in all things. He makes leaning out possible. 
  • Invest in childcare, Invest in your future; find the right fit of values, hours and flexibility. It may be difficult to resolve the cost of care being close a part-time salary returning from leave. The longer you stay away from practice, the more difficult the journey will be getting back in.   
  • Face the Confidence Conundrum. Speak up. Know your worth and value. Bias is out there, especially for lack of understanding of the #Archimom's dilemma. Don't forgo asking for a raise, even if you think that you are fortunate to have a flexible schedule coming back from leave.
  • Expect the unexpected. While you try to establish some resemblance of order, structure and peace in your life, be prepared for things to go south. Don't beat yourself up for coming up short, tomorrow is another day.
  • Set aside time for you and your spouse to do special things once a month or more often if you can. It is these times of doing somethings out of the ordinary that you will feel most inspired and rejuvenated. ( aka. "Treat Yourself" or "The Finer Things Club). 
  • Build a support network. They can be clients, consultants, project team members and other Archimoms. Have them be your mentors and champions. Share your challenges and your triumphs.

Everyday Moments of Truth: 

  • We have a morning and evening routine that changes everyday. Having a working family Google calendar is essential for remembering all the appointments, bill payments, child care and life's important events. 
  • I try to read with my kids every night since a very early age. It is quality bonding time and you are also saving on future SAT Prep courses.
  • I love to cook. So much so that I spend a lot of time making food for my family. I cook a lot on the weekends and then fridge or freeze for the coming week. Friday nights are my night off, so we splurge and dine out. We eat breakfast and dinner together as much as possible. Family conversation is what I look forward to during our meals.
  • It is difficult, but work and life flexibility brings the challenge of setting boundaries. Work while at work and focus on family while at home. You will feel less guilty. 
  • I really try to leave the office when I have committed to leave. I try to check in with my project team members at least an 1 hour before departing so I don't get caught talking and leaving abruptly or worse, getting home late to relieve the nanny. I ask for special meetings to be scheduled with 3 days notice prior so that I can make alternate caregiving arrangements.
  • Prioritize face time that you spend at work to have collaborative meetings and interaction. Solitary/quiet work usually takes place at home, if need be, after the kids go to bed. I leverage email on my iphone so that I can be responsive when necessary during the week.
  • With The Missing 32% Project, life has become really full. Some have asked, "How do you do it all?" My secret? I don't do it all at the same time. It's like the story about the jar with rocks, pebbles and sand. Figure out what your rocks are and put them in the jar first. I have learned more recently from reading Leading the Life You Want, by Stew Friedman. What gives you energy? Focus on those things and try to tie them together. It has been life changing and worth your time to read.

Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, @rosasheng

Senior Associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

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