What Exactly We Do For a Living

About a month ago, I was at a party when a neighbor asked what I did for a living. At first I was confused, having wrongly assumed that everyone knows I am an architect and a principal in a design/build firm. That obviously was not the case! I was always under the impression that everyone knew what I did for a living: combining architecture and construction to redefine remodeling for a well-defined, target clientele.

What I was not prepared for was this person's reaction. It was just a simple question: “What do you do for a living?” My initial answer was that, as an architect, I guide my clients through the difficult process of designing and building spaces to meet their needs. What I heard in response was that his daughter was a decorator and her boyfriend was a carpenter, and they “basically did the same thing.”

After picking up and dusting off my architect ego, I explained that I was trained as an architect, thus bringing an extra level of skill and experience to the process.

He then asked, “So what's the big deal?” To me it was like comparing someone with a medical degree and MD behind their name with someone who happened to have a box of Band-Aids and a bottle of aspirin in their medicine cabinet!

My mind reeled. What ran through my head was that last year our firm generated approximately $2 million in revenue, with few, if any warranty issues, and clients were happy because we exceeded their expectations by bringing projects in “on time” and “on budget.”

Now it was to be my turn. In my darkest thoughts I asked, “What qualifications do your daughter and boyfriend have? Is your daughter formally trained in interior design? Is she credentialed as ASID or CKD? What of her boyfriend? Has he sought professional certification? Is he certified as CR or CGR?” One must not take professionalism lightly you know.

When reality again graced my psyche, my verbal answer was short and simple: “I'm a professional. As a design/builder, a remodeler; it's my job to create spaces that you and your family will enjoy.”

But what is it I really do? As a professional design/builder, I wear many hats. I think my qualifications include:

  • psychologist (trying to get into our clients' heads)
  • architect/designer (unscrambling what's in our clients' heads and capturing it on paper)
  • long-range planner (making sure that both our employees and trades are always working)
  • office manager (running the day-to-day business activities)
  • arbitrator (making sure all of our employees understand the mission and vision of the company)
  • firefighter (having to be able to put out fires between whomever)
  • multitasker (doing at least a half dozen things at any one time)
  • accountant (we don't want Uncle Sam to close us down)
  • laborer (who do you think cleans up when there is no one else around?)
  • salesperson (probably the hardest thing to do when you are not a natural)
  • husband (learning to share the ups and downs while still listening and being there for your spouse who tolerates missed meals, long hours and working weekends)
  • father (learning to balance your personal life with business life)
  • fortune teller (knowing what's going to happen in the future, when to say “no” to the client from hell and “yes” to the one who will refer you forever)

So who does run these many successful, nationally recognized, award-winning design-build firms? I'm proud to tell you Professionals. These professionals have varying backgrounds, everything from Harvard MBAs to English Professors to carpenters who have learned to identify a left- or right-hand door by putting their back to the hinges, who learned the business literally from the ground up. It's their professionalism that sets them apart, and I'm proud to call them brother and sister.

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