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Year 12 yearbook photo

Year 12 yearbook photo

A mad cap path

This rambling post shares a bit of the madcap path I’ve been on that has led to me into existential crises at multiple ages, trying to work out what work I can do that will both allow me the freedom I crave and the sense of meaning I need while making a contribution to the world.

I’ve wondered whether my crises might have been avoided had I found my ‘work in the world’ at an earlier age.  Whether a specific field of endeavour might have given me the confidence and direction I needed.  But decision making was never my strength, and I think I couldn’t have settled on any one particular subject and felt satisfied.

My intentions for this post:

  • to share my unconventional, winding, messy path
  • to declare my respect for architects and the work they do
  • to explain why I’ve never fit the mould of an architect and how I’ve struggled to find my place in the world
  • to share what I’ve come to at this point in time
  • to share my story in a vulnerable way as a means to clarity

Unguided curiosity

I’ve often felt envious of those who knew what they wanted to do at an early age and set forth on a path to pursue it.  There is a lot of power in having such focus.  I know this from the few times in my life I felt clarity and saw the path open up before me.  Mostly though, I’ve felt more like a blind pilgrim, feeling my way, or a mad explorer, running madly and erratically up every path I’ve come to, seeking to discover fresh insights.

And so, part blind and part curious, I bumbled into studying architecture.  It wasn’t something I’d even thought of before I had to select my preferences for university toward the end of high school.  It was a given that I would go to university.  My passion was studying, and my mum had missed the opportunity to go to university and so had always expected it of her two daughters.  At school I was a dedicated student, soaking up every topic and hating to miss a day of school for fear of missing out on learning something.  If I could have studied everything I would have.  As it was I took on the maximum 15 units in my final year rather than the prerequisite 10.  I was simply a keen learner and enjoyed learning for the sake of learning.  I don’t remember ever having any career guidance.

When it came time to select my preferences for what to study at university I found the choice almost impossible – until a friend announced she was choosing architecture.  The thought of architecture had never crossed my mind .. never even crossed my radar.  So the esoteric (to me at least) nature of it sparked my interest.  This was followed with a rationalisation that, since it combined two of my favourite subjects – art and physics – it might be ideal.

When the time came the following year to start university, I had gotten not into my first preference of architecture at Sydney University .. but my second preference which was architecture at the University of Technology, Sydney.  This particular university had a very career focused approach to architecture, with students expected to work in offices as part of the program.  Most of the other students were mature age students who were very focused and determined, with no doubt that this was their thing.  I certainly didn’t have such certainty .. in fact, all I had was doubt .. and so within two weeks I had transferred to a Bachelor of Industrial Design (which I never actually started).  I definitely wasn’t ready to dive into an intensive course and career path.  After 13 years of schooling (which I had taken very seriously) it was time to travel.  I found a job scooping icecream, postponed my studies until following year, and prepared to set off overseas with the money I’d been saving, to explore the wider world.

 

Spirit set free

And so began my year of joyful wandering, solo travelling, working enough to survive and developing my confidence and survival skills.  It felt like all my Christmases and birthdays (though I’d never liked either) come at once.  A world to explore.  None to answer to but myself.  Bliss.

I started writing in a journal .. something I’d never had the privacy to do.   I was buoyed up with eighteen year old confidence, reinforced by martial arts bravado.  I backpacked, hitchhiked, wandered, explored, photographed, wrote, found odd jobs, I was in heaven.  Then .. as the year drew to a close .. I made the regretful decision to return to Australia to again start an architectural degree .. this time at Sydney University.

Three years of hell ensued.  I went from utter freedom to entrapment.  And even though the head of first year, having taken in more students than they could accommodate, partly to obtain extra government funding and partly in knowledge of a high drop out rate, suggested more than once that this might not be a good fit for me – my unfortunate trait of tenacity and my lack of a better idea meant I stuck through the three painful years, at which point I was ready to once again escape the clutches of Sydney .. this time destined for Darwin .. as exotic and distant a place as I could think of without leaving Australia.

 

Blah blah blah

This is getting a bit too long, it seems, and I need to get to some point in this story.  I will cut it short by saying that I spent four years in Darwin and one year in Japan during which time I did a number of different jobs which included being a casino croupier, manual drafting for an architect, teaching English to 4-86 year olds, crisis line counselling, studying karate, music, guitar, painting, an introduction to various trades, and exploring the world by foot, bicycle and motorcycle, developing my skills of self sufficiency.

I ended up back in Sydney to reconnect with my almost severed past and, almost as expected, I became caught in the sticky web which had me there not the four months or four years I’d predicted .. but 13 years.  In that time I started a job doing drafting .. chosen mainly because it meant I could develop my skills and maintained firstly because it offered freedom and flexibility .. but over time which clamped down like a trap I couldn’t get out of.  After three years in that job, feeling the pressure to grow, I again took a dive back into the academic world of architecture .. something I was now much more prepared for, but still no more suited towards.  Driving me was a desire to work for myself .. something I figured an architecture degree could help me with.  My confidence was a notch higher than during my first degree .. but still not high enough to embrace this demanding field.  As always, I remained a fish out of water throughout this degree.  Again, studying while working to support myself (same as my first degree), I hung in there tenaciously, finding plenty to keep me inspired and enjoying the opportunity to design organic forms whenever I could.

So why .. having spent six and a half years of my life, split by a nine year gap – fifteen years beginning to end – studying for a profession – have I felt such resistance to actually practicing it??  That is what I’m trying to explain – to myself and to whoever is interested.

I found the study of architecture and insight into the profession inspiring, enlightening and challenging.  There’s only one problem.  I don’t care much for buildings.  People, ideas and matters of spirit excite me much more.  Oh .. and I do love making things .. and working out how to make them.  But buildings are such complex beasts, requiring so many diverse skills and talents.  And the profession requires an energy and attention I just never felt prepared to give.  It requires love, dedication and total commitment.  That’s how I’ve seen it anyway.

The subjects that got me fired up during my uni degrees were rarely to do with buildings ..

  • sculpture
  • film/video
  • Indian and southeast asian art and architecture
  • far eastern art and architecture
  • object design and construction
  • the culture of nature
  • guitar performance (Diploma of Music)
  • architectural design studios (some were inspiring, some painful)
  • advanced digital graphic communications
  • principles and philosophy of design
  • drawing and design: seeing, thinking, understanding
  • creative writing
  • investigation workshop (I had to do this twice – unable to complete my investigations in one term)
  • the culture of nature (probably my favourite course of all)
  • place, identity and difference
  • thinking through drawings
  • landscape animation

Is it any wonder that I didn’t love this study!  I still have piles of books and papers and notes from lots of those courses that I have intended to explore more fully – and perhaps that is what I will do through this blog!

So that has been my unconventional career path that has led me down lots of dead ends.  All I really wanted to do was to explore the world through as many different avenues as I could.  And though I’ve puzzled and berated myself each time I’ve found myself lost and floundering, my explanation has been inspiration, inertia, lack of a better idea, blind tenacity and faith plus a determination to find my own path.

 

In praise of architects

Architecture is a well beaten path .. though offering much scope for exploration.  And that is where I want to go.  Because wild explorations are my bliss.  Dives into the unknown.  Total immersion.

I’ve had many people mention that they would have loved to have studied architecture.  But I would dissuade anyone who, on a whim, feels they might like to go into this field.  It is not for the faint hearted.  I have huge respect for architects.  It is a truly renaissance art and it demands so much – sensitivity, wisdom, creativity, rationality, interpersonal skills, an open mind, intelligence, focus, confidence, good problem solving ability, good decision making ability .. you name it. Oh .. and a love of buildings helps too.  You have to do it for the love.

 

Maybe I should have studied psychology

My latest inspiration, though not a new one, of a path that might have suited me better (at least in terms of the work side of things) would be some sort of psychotherapy practice.  I’ve heard it said that psychiatrists often go into the field to work on themselves and that would have been where I was coming from if I’d gone down that route.  Right now though, I’m interested in it as much for connecting with and helping others.  But it’s only now, at 44 years of age, that I feel I could even start to consider this.  And only now that I’ve done so much work trying to understand people and myself.  Because people have always fascinated and confounded me and I’ve spent a lifetime studying and observing them from a distance.  And I have finally started to break through a fear that was born of confusion but had me overwhelmed by contact with people.  So really, I’m only now at a point that this sort of work feels an option.

Adventure and self sufficiency combined

Adventure and self sufficiency combined

 

A search for reinvention

Over the past few years I have been examining my arsenal of skills and interests, along with my personality and ideal lifestyle, to try to formulate a sustainable and satisfying way to contribute to the world.  Which brings me to this moment in time.

And since this post is long and overdue and I need to publish it so I can shift my focus to other tasks demanding my attention .. I will finish here.  I’m squinting through heavy eyelids and I just need to move on, for now.  If you think you might be able to offer a fresh perspective or insights, or want further clarification, or just want to say anything .. please comment below!

 

With gratitude,

Charmaine

 

Wearing today's new skin

Wearing today’s new skin