WILA Interview Series: Advice

image: iStock © PeopleImages
image: iStock © PeopleImages

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015-2016 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN’s co-chairs and officers developed a set of 17 questions, then sought out willing landscape architects and began the interview process. The following is an in-depth look at responses to the last group of interview questions, asking what general advice they have for new landscape architects and what specific suggestions they would have for their 25-year-old self.

The result: be focused, be fearless, be engaged, be connected. It will work out; build the relationships and put as much into those professional relationships as into the practice of the profession. We are not alone in our workplaces. Use those around you to help define and determine where you want to be and work to get there. Good advice for anyone.

Many of our respondents suggested that new landscape architects be active and decisive in pursuing interests related to work focus and content and to seek out mentors and be engaged in learning from them about specific needs and aspirations. While some suggested focusing on the aspects/areas of most interest in landscape architecture, others encourage a well-rounded, more broad-based approach to the field. Be sure to do your research before reaching out to respect the time of the mentors and get involved early in ASLA and other professional societies through writing or activities to build relationships and connections in your new career.

As advice to themselves at 25, most focused on a version of ‘Relax, it’s going to work out.’ Coming in second were variations on ‘Build your relationship network with as much focus as you put on work.’

What advice would you give young people entering landscape architecture?

Most interviewees recommend being unintimidated when asking questions and becoming an expert on the job through research and questions early in one’s career. Fearlessness was another theme in many of the responses: be unafraid to collaborate on design projects; be open to other opinions and advice; be confident, seek out the mentor you need; and be active in the conversation—mentors don’t live your career for you. Also frequently mentioned was focus: on doing your best work, on staying engaged and inspired with your design work, on learning what you need and asking enough questions to build your expertise.

Quotes: Advice

“Find ways to write about design and present at conferences—right away! Don’t wait. It is hugely helpful to one’s career.”

“Ask as many questions as it takes until you uncover the answers that satisfy you. Cultivate high standards and expectations for yourself and those around you. Go for it! Be daring and inventive! Push the limits and test the boundaries!”

“The advice I would proffer is that once you know what you want to do keep a steady course, and share with as many friends as possible.”

“Don’t be afraid to collaborate with people on design; work with people, and you will learn a lot. Don’t go too far down the road with a particular fixed design solution before consulting with your design team or mentor. Start with the big picture, then work down to the details.”

“Be open to advice, and be thoughtful of people’s time and opinions. If you are going to specifically seek out someone for thoughts or suggestions on your career, make sure to research the person, and have planned questions or areas of conversation. Don’t expect people to solve all of your issues—they can provide insight, but you shouldn’t look to others to plan or direct your whole career.”

“Stay focused. Try to find ways to stay inspired when your job is less than ideal. Demand the respect and salary you deserve. Try to stay fully employed—working part-time, taking time off…, or taking a lengthy…leave could very likely impact your career ambitions, so weigh those decisions carefully. Recognize that…deadlines are deadlines and you need to find ways to get your work done regardless of your familial obligations.”

Is there something you current self would like to say to your 25-year-old self?

The advice from these respondents to themselves at 25 often centers on reassurance that they were going to be successful and recommendations to keep in tune with what is important so they could work toward success by being flexible, engaging the profession, and challenging themselves. Great advice for everyone.

Quotes: Advice to yourself at 25

“I wish I had better understood the dynamics and operations of a deadline-driven professional services business, billable expectations, client demands, etc. and their impact on predictability and consistency which affect one’s ability to achieve work/life balance.”

“There is plenty of time to figure ‘it’ out. I put a lot of pressure on myself to know what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Let it be more fluid than that.”

“…If things are really driving you nuts, you must nurture what it is in landscape that keeps you so passionate, do your own competitions, read, make art, have shows, sit on juries, teach, perform—whatever it is that keeps you engaged.”

“Stop stressing. Worrying about the future of your career will only get in the way and prevent the clarity you need to have in order to succeed. Stay the course and things will work out as they are intended to.”

“Be more selfish and strategic. Don’t get too comfortable—take more risks.”

“…you may not have set the world on fire with some very notable project…you have raised 3 beautiful well balanced children…”

“Ask questions, speak up, mistakes are OK if you learn from them and listen!”

The Women in Landscape Architecture PPN would like to thank the 25 women who agreed to participate in our interview series. We hope that hearing the voices of these ASLA members helps other members to see that they are not alone. Our shared experience as landscape architects affects perceptions of the practice by allied professionals and the public. Landscape architecture is fundamentally a social enterprise. The ability of the profession to design and build strong communities is predicated on the networks we build and relationships we create as designers. Understanding how we can solicit and hear all the voices at the table helps to strengthen the discipline. We hope the interview series has provided support where needed and a reminder to check for missing voices at your design table.

by Kristina Snyder, ASLA, WILA PPN Officer and Past Co-Chair, and Chair-Designate of the PPN Council

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