10 years into architecture Anthea Perkas of Studio Nine Architects reflects on the power of shifts in life and career.
Levelling up: The power of shifts and embracing change
‘Work-life balance’ – it’s a funny phrase, isn’t it? It makes me envision a perfect routine that is super easy to achieve and maintain. If I read another blog about someone who gets up at 5am every morning to ‘set themselves up for the day’, I’m going to puke.
I feel like it’s more of a dance; a hustle, a groove. It can be fast, slow, sexy as hell to watch, or an absolute train wreck. Most importantly it’s always fluid, shifting and changing.
Through our careers the goal posts tend to shift; affected by our experiences, interests, and commitments to cater to our evolving selves.
Things have changed over my past 10 years of practicing architecture – from eager graduate working late nights and saying ‘yes’ to every networking event, to now creating boundaries and talking ‘non-negotiables’ as I adjust to part-time working mum, with a one-year-old and baby number two on the way.
It’s a journey that has taught me the power of shifts – those changes in perspective and priorities that shape our lives and careers in ways we could never predict.
Starting out in the industry my aspirations were bound to the ideals of architectural glamour portrayed in movies and magazines – visiting incredible architecture like Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences and thinking ‘I want to create something like this one day’. Architecture however, is not what my fresh-faced 20-year-old self thought it would be. It can be long hours on the computer with sore eyes, a sore back and a pancake butt, documenting a toilet block in the middle of nowhere – living the dream.
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If it wasn’t enough being in such a subjective industry where design is never really finished, the hours invested in each project initially astounded me. So much goes into turning drawings into real life projects – consultants, stakeholders, budgets, presentations, specifications, site inspections, shop drawings, progress claims, defects and meetings, meetings, meetings. Aspects lightly touched on at Uni, but never emphasised as a significant (and important) part of the job.
Late nights at the studio provided the backdrop for some of my most profound learning moments. Those hours allowed for exploration of design options, exchanges with peers, and deeper research – without the stress of having to leave at 5:30pm. I chose those nights, not out of necessity but because they offered me the freedom to delve into inspiration and to work at my own pace.
Being a ‘yes’ person brought me experiences I otherwise wouldn’t have come across. Attending every industry event, forming connections and seeking mentorship supported me through my first job. Cue dog with business tie meme titled ‘ I have no idea what I’m doing’ – we’ve all been there. Those experiences turned into opportunities to mentor others, be part of innovative learnings, research papers, conferences and invitations to jury awards. Invaluable experiences that have shaped my career, and most being out of work hours.
Shifts are inevitable, whether they’re driven by life-altering events or personal revelations. And as we change, so do priorities. Now as I prepare to welcome my second child, I’m faced with new choreography. I’ve been asking myself – How will I maintain the same career drive and ambition? How do I have those insightful moments when staying late is no longer an option? How do I stay connected to the industry?
These are questions I’ll be asking myself for a while. I don’t have all the answers but I’m realising that these shifts are a prompt for us to pause, reconsider our emotions, and recalibrate our goals – encouraging us to evaluate alternatives and embrace change.
Our S9 values ‘find what matters’, and ‘smarter not harder’ ring through my mind. A decade in the industry has taught me career goals can coexist with motherhood. I know that same drive is still there, it just looks a little different. I can still be a ‘yes’ person, but at this point in my career, maybe there needs to be more consideration into what I say yes to, and what is still supporting me. I can still have those moments of exploration, they might just be a little more structured. Immersing myself in all those opportunities early on was time well invested and never wasted.
Rather than looking too far ahead, I’m setting simple, realistic and achievable goals. I’m keeping open communication with my work team to find projects that align to these goals; I’m selecting only a handful of key events a year that will serve me; and I’m adjusting my networks to support me in this current phase.
So right now, I’m doing the dance. And as the rhythm changes, I’ll embrace it and continue to evolve. It’s not surrendering, it’s growth. It’s not a paired-back version of me – it’s the 2.0, a level up.
Anthea Perkas is an Architect at Studio Nine Architects. Beyond project work Anthea is an active member of the architecture community, co-founding the ArchiEd initiative with the Australian Institute of Architects, speaking at national education conferences, publishing research reports and holding jury positions for the SA Architecture Awards and LEA Awards.