It is no secret that architects tend to have a bleak record when it comes to things like personal relationships, high divorce rates, substance abuse, mental distress, and exhaustion. It’s not just me saying this, there have been numerous international studies about the architecture industry and mental health. At various times throughout my career, like many architects, I have found myself not leading the healthiest lifestyle. It starts in college with all-nighters, then moves into the arduous licensure process, and eventually, you may find yourself with the added responsibilities of being a Principal or Managing Partner at a firm. The expectation and demands of the profession are ever-present. Shorter deadlines, multi-tasking, long-term burnout, and trying to put out multiple fires at once can lead to anxiety, stress, and dysfunction in your personal and professional life as an architect. Still, like many who share my profession, I overwhelmingly love what I do. I have learned that balance is the key to continued success. The problem is that balance is easily disrupted, that is where the practice of meditation and mindfulness helps me recenter.
I was first introduced to meditation back in college, initially by a professor and then through some friends. At the time it seemed relatively innocuous, but then again, I thought I knew everything in college (when in reality, I knew nothing). Growing up in New Jersey, we wear our stress like a badge of honor. We all know the stereotype of Jersey-folks, flying off the handle, having short fuses, and being wound up too tight. These notions are mostly spot-on. If I would have stayed on the east coast, rather than moving to Montana in college, I would likely have had a heart attack by now. Montana’s serene nature eases many tensions, but I realized fly fishing alone would not resolve all my anxiety, as I found it coming on faster and harder all the time. I desperately needed a better way to remain calm when navigating through the daily whirlwind that is ever-present in our modern practice. That is when I decided to revisit meditation.
My daily routine now begins with 20-30 minutes of meditation. It is that special time where nothing happens, and all the to-do-list items are set aside. Mindful meditation allows clarity and focus to set the tone for my entire day. I find that daily meditation helps me be less reactive and more centered in my decision-making. The more I meditate, the more effective and efficient I become in my time management and relations with those around me. It helps me be more in the moment and present with my staff, clients, and family.
More recently, using the practice of mindfulness, I’m better able to resist the compounding demands of the industry. As deadlines get shorter, construction gets more complicated, supply lines slow down and schedules get delayed, it is in our nature to try and jump in and fix these issues. We do everything we can to ensure the best outcome for our clients, but it takes time and practice to realize what challenges are out of our control and find peace in that. These issues tend to work themselves out, whether we get worked up about them or not.
There is a phenomenon going on right now where people are trying to work faster and take on even more tasks, but the results are slower progress and more costly mistakes. For me, the principles of mindfulness have brought me greater insight into helping understand the daily “rat race”. I am less scattered and have learned to slow down when everyone else has sped up, which has helped me find greater clarity and open space within the chaos and constant buzzing.
The practice of meditation has also altered my full daily cycle, including my ability to (*usually) sleep better. I say “usually” because I have two golden retrievers and a cat which aren’t always conducive to a restful night’s sleep. I have also discovered that meditation is not just a mental health tool, but my physical health has improved as well. I find myself eating better and exercising more easily.
If nothing else, meditation over the past year has helped me remain flexible and nimble in my strategic thinking. This ephemeral approach has kept me sane through what has been arguably one of the most challenging times in modern history. This timeout and deliberate pause in my daily routine continues to be a powerful tool in recentering, refocusing, and slowing down the daily hysteria to make managing an architecture firm in 2021 fun again.
I wasn’t always so balanced, and it continues to be a lifelong journey for me. If you find yourself in a similar situation, there are many tools to help you on your meditation journey. I began with a series of simple “How To” books, then shifted to online guides, podcasts, and websites dedicated to mindfulness and meditation. One of the most popular, and a favorite of mine, is Headspace I like Andy Puddicombe’s cheery English accent, it reminds me of the Geiko Gecko. I can easily tune into his daily, short 3–4-minute podcasts with simple instructions to help me regain some balance throughout the day. He also has a Netflix series, Guide to Meditation, which can help get you started.
Since I’m prone to easily becoming restless and nervous, meditation is something that I can continue to work on for the rest of my life. It is something that I often feel like I am just touching the tip of the iceberg, but now I have a map through the ice fields. Best of luck finding a way to regain your balance.
Tony Perpignano, CWG President