Today is a good day. It’s a good day not because the weather is fine, or because I’m looking forward to something, or because someone has complimented me on my work or how I look, or something I’ve done for someone or something someone has done for me. It’s just a good day. If you run your own business, you come to cherish this feeling.
I remember weekend days in the past, working for someone else, having days where there was absolutely no responsibility, no stress and no thought of tomorrow or yesterday. Lying in my back yard on my stupid yellow banana lounge in the sun, just happy to read a book and drink in the warmth. This feels a little like that.
I should explain that I’m sitting somewhere between 8,000 – 10,000 metres over the Victorian Highlands in a rugged old 767. My phone is off, my email doesn’t work, and there is no guilt about not doing anything. This is the joy of travel, not going somewhere, not travel stories to tell your friends, but being able to be completely disconnected, and allowing yourself to be. This kind of time is crucial to your wellbeing.
Running a business is really a 24-hour thing. Anyone who thinks that starting up something on your own gives you flexibility and freedom is deluded. It’s bloody hard work and will be for the first few years. Particularly in the architecture or design field, where you are responsible for managing and assisting clients through what may be the largest investment they will make in their lives. If it’s a commercial project, you are dealing with someone’s livelihood. If it’s residential, there is the added emotional vested interest in you doing your job properly. On top of this, being seen to be responsible for a number of other people with their own vested interests (i.e. builders, trades people, consultants, local councils, suppliers) and you are potentially dealing with a situation where there is an awful lot at stake, and many shifting scenarios affecting the outcome over which you do not fully have control.
All of this is very stressful, and potentially litigious. It’s also really rewarding, particularly when you start to see the bones of something coming together and the look on your client’s face. Hopefully that look is not shock and horror.
Perhaps the most important factor in all of this is the emotional investment that is required to really pull off a good job. You can tell the difference between a building designed by someone who loves what they do, and one where the architects were just going through the motions. You see the joy in the details, the composition and the way it works. This is one of the things that struck me when looking through Gaudí buildings in Barcelona. At Casa Milà, the way ventilation is managed is as beautifully detailed and resolved as the curve and profile of the handrail on the stair, the mouldings around the windows and the detail on the top of the chimney. Gaudí and those in his office clearly loved what they were doing. A good local example is the new Design Hub at RMIT by Sean Godsell. This is a breathtakingly simple and restrained piece of architecture from the proportion of the entire thing to the details of the facade.
Being emotionally disconnected from what you are doing might get you a better night’s sleep, but it’s a bit like living in a loveless marriage. Although even in the best relationships, you still need time out occasionally.
I read with alarm recently that some airlines in the US are starting to offer wi-fi on flights. The bad thing about this (for me anyway), is that it takes away one of the last places in my life where I am forbidden to connect with the outside world and I am required to have down time. Someone else is in charge and responsible for everything. I’m not responsible for anything more difficult than fastening a seatbelt.
It’s time for the tray table to go up. In about ten minutes I’ll have to go through that ritual of white shirts and conspicuous frequent flyer tags standing in the aisles loudly explaining to the person they have just called that they are “still on the plane”. There is that rush to get reconnected with the outside world. Just for today, I’m going to stay in my seat that little while longer.