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The coach: ‘Have I sold out by working for mediocre practices?’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who regrets not working for a more prestigious firm

I work for a very commercial practice. When I look back at my younger self I remember being more ambitious in design terms than my current work allows. Having only worked in mediocre practices, I almost feel embarrassed to say I work here. I realise I might now never work for a well-regarded firm, the kind that wins architecture awards. I sometimes feel like a loser and that a lot of doors are closed. Have I sold out? .

Matthew turner

Oh dear, you appear to be overcome by a powerful wave of regret. Being hard on yourself can be beneficial, but without harnessing the energy to change and learn, it can be very destructive. 

Your use of the word ‘mediocre’ is interesting. What is that relative to? If you weren’t comparing your situation to another version of you, might you be reporting your job was going fine?

I imagine it has many benefits: a good salary, a constant flow of work that is surely, to a degree, stimulating. Would the alternative be any better in a well-regarded practice? Often working for such an office can be more frustrating; slogging away on uncompromising projects, even more bounded by others.

Often working for a well-regarded practice can be more frustrating

Is your view related to your own motivations or the perception of others? Status can be a powerful driver of ambition, but anxiety from the perceived lack of it can run you into the ground.

If this regret really is internally driven, don’t feel defeated and powerless. Architecture isn’t like being an elite athlete; you can reach your zenith at any age. If you have become too comfortable in a rut, there might be some benefit in challenging yourself.

Either way, turn your feelings to something constructive, either make your current situation work for you; or, if you decide the quality of the work really matters, act to change things. But resist resigning yourself to thinking you have no choices and your bed is made.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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