How this Architect Gained Work-Life Balance While Shifting From Task Doer to Team Leader: Amanda’s Story

How this Architect Gained Work-Life Balance While Shifting From Task Doer to Team Leader: Amanda's Story

Amanda, Associate Principal at ZGF Architects

I am a licensed Architect and I’ve been working from home for the past few years in Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. Over the past year, I’ve been transitioning my role from a task doer to team leader. I reached out to Maya because there’s a lot of soft skills involved in managing a large team that I didn’t necessarily learn in my training to become an architect.

New Leadership Role and Work-Life Balance

One of my pain points has been this sense that I can’t bring all of myself to my work and my family. I have two toddlers – that’s a big responsibility right there not including my work as an architect. And the only examples that I had of people who work “normal” hours are those that have left my profession. I have had this thought for a couple years, with small kids at home, where I’m like, “I can’t do this. I can’t maintain my family life that I want to maintain and my career path.” And it just didn’t seem possible at all. And that was really a point where I was like, “I need to [either leave my profession, or] hire somebody to help me produce quality work and prioritize my family time.” 

I also recently stepped into a new leadership role where I was doing a lot of things for the first time and I wasn’t presenting my usual confidence. Maya helped me with mindset shifts that really developed my confidence in what I bring to the table.

Working with Maya

We met once a month and I worked on assignments between our meetings. Before our first meeting, we did an inner critic exercise. Where, as my inner critic popped up throughout the day, I would write it down and then analyze where this voice came from. And it was interesting because it unearthed some aspects of my past experiences, all the way back to high school and where this lack of confidence was coming from. 

I was able to see that I was bridging this gap in confidence by over preparing. Thinking that I needed to be more responsible for things than I actually did. So, that was really helpful to understand not only the source, but then how to overcome it.

Now, my inner critic is still there, that voice is still in my head, but I can recognize it and immediately I'm able to change course or just acknowledge the thought and then set it aside and move forward.

We also did an exercise called, “What would X do?”  Basically, if I am in a situation in which I am not sure what to do or say, I imagine what a colleague or leader I admire would do. I have learned how to step into that person’s shoes and really exemplify their best traits.  And then move beyond that to internalizing those practices and making it my own voice over time.

I consider their style of leadership too. During a meeting, for example, there might be a technical question that I didn’t necessarily have the answer to, but somebody else in the room might. And so in the past, I would think that I needed to have the answer to that question. And so then, if I step into the shoes of someone that I admire, I would actually ask a clarifying question, and then turn it over to another teammate to answer it, because they’re actually closer to the issue and more equipped to answer that question than I am. And it also helps the rest of the team shine versus me being the spotlight all the time.

The ideal calendar was another exercise that was really insightful because I was overwhelmed with so many meetings and everyone asking me questions all the time and not being able to have time to actually do any work and that whole struggle. And then, that trickles into personal life and not being able to have any personal time for myself (to meditate or workout in the morning, for example). We set up an ideal calendar together using her process. This made it super clear to me when I needed to protect pockets of time, as well as understanding how much focus time I actually needed. Gaining clarity there was really helpful.

This tool will really help me when we return to the office and anytime I change to a new project with a different cadence of meetings. It’s something that I lean on every day, and it helps me set up the upcoming week the right way. 

Creating Healthy Boundaries Through Coaching

I have healthier boundaries, healthier practices, and habits day-to-day. I’m now working out or meditating every morning and able to say no confidently to things that I don’t need or want on my plate. My team and my leadership has recognized my growth and they’ve given me more responsibility. I’m now stepping into even a bigger leadership role on a new project. So, that’s a nice feeling.

I didn't think being able to have "me time" everyday was possible before in this role with two small kids. But, now I'm seeing not only is it possible, but I'm also executing it.

I’m now setting in place an approach moving forward as I move on to the next project, to maintain and improve upon what I’ve established thus far, in those healthy habits and really try pursuing that moving forward.

I learned that the more hours I work, the less efficient I become, which means I need to work longer. This gives me even less time to do healthy things for myself. But, if I just take a step back and do all of the healthy things first, I get more done. Not only does it make a difference for my mental health, it also increases my focus and productivity. It has a win-win effect. 

For example, we had a major deliverable due last Friday. In the past, I would work after hours and on the weekends. Now, I’ve noticed on my time sheets, that I am slowly working less hours. And there was a moment there where I had two full weeks where I worked 40 hours, which is totally unheard of in my profession. I don’t recall if I’ve ever accomplished that before this year!

[Performing a 40 hour work week] did feel weird, but in a good way. And so, I was like, “I want to do more of this.” And, I can attribute a lot of that to the time that I’ve spent with Maya, working through all of these elements.

She has really great insight and gets to the point efficiently. It’s really interesting because I like to meander and explore all of the options. She’s like, “No, you need to do this and focus on this. You need to spend five minutes on this.” That really helps me understand how I can work too, versus just noodling on something for hours on end.  

Blazing the Trail for Women in Architecture

It’s funny, knowing a lot of my friends from college and colleagues that are at the same mid-career point and seeing where their career paths are going, experiencing burnout, and exploring alternatives. I was seeing where I want to go in my profession and not being able to have someone that I could or even wanted to look to, to step into a similar role while maintaining my lifestyle. And so, now actually being able to picture that, and not only picture that, but step into it, in an empowered way where it’s very doable.

I was able to recognize that my career path is doable and that I wasn’t going to burn out by utilizing tools and systems Maya and I established.

Another thing that I’ve started doing that Maya talked about is a regular wing woman meetup with a peer. I started doing that with some of my friends that are on different paths. And I was talking with my friend that left the profession for something else and she was like, “That’s amazing, that you’re making this work. And you’re now an example for others that they can look to, and you can potentially change the whole culture at large at your firm.”

I’ve always just said yes to things as they come to me and now, I feel like I’m at this mid-career point where I can pause and assess. I’ve accomplished everything that I’ve wanted to accomplish since getting my architecture degree and license, and I have several successful projects under my belt. Maya helped me reassess and clarify my career trajectory by making it accessible with my current lifestyle.

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