to be good

Good is a word that is rarely used without modifiers. It’s often erroneously surpassed by words like great or fantastic. I think it stands alone. For instance, how do you measure if you’re good at something? Can you ever say or know if you’re good at something? Will someone else ever say you’re good?

When I say good, I don’t mean moderately talented, clever or even skilled. I just mean good in the purest sense of the word without superlatives or any other adverbs in front of it. Good is just that, good.

Last week we were fortunate to have Thad Mosley, a Pittsburgh sculptor visit our First-Year design studio to show his work and discuss his process. Part of our First Year curriculum at CMU is doing work in our shop where students learn to “make” out of wood. Having an honored guest like Mr. Mosley is humbling after seeing what he can do with wood. Here is a man, 86 years old, who has carved many-a-piece of wood and I think we can truly say he is good. Sure we can use a plethora of other positive adjectives, but I believe saying simply good covers it. As he spoke in simple but profound terms you could sense the years of experience, the learned knowledge from perfecting a single craft, a deep skill and with the utmost of beauty. Regardless of whether you “get” his work or even like it, it is clear the man is good. He has spent time at it. He knows it.

As I pondered this, as I regularly do with things like this, I thought about having been an architect for more than twenty years now. I’m beyond a novice now, but in “architect years” I’m still quite young. Most days I feel like I know nothing. Some days I wonder if I know anything. In fact, it’s not until I’m asked a question, show my work or sketch in front of someone where I begin to feel confident in what these years have taught me. Will this ever change?

If we look at Frank Gehry, 83 years old and an architect in his prime, he is not quite twice my age. The year I was born, Frank wasn’t anywhere on the radar and when he was my age, he had built his house, but hadn’t done any other work for which he’s now known apart from the start of his cardboard furniture. If we look at the other Frank (FLW), he had quite a few houses built by the time he was mid-forties, but his real significant works came after that; many decades later.

Some have stated that it takes 10,000 hours at a skill or task to begin to master it. That’s a minimum of five years of 40 hour weeks. Of course, during those five years I doubt one did solely a single task whereby to master it. So how long does it take to be “good?” What does it take for one to be recognized as good?

I believe if you want to be good, you have to want it and pursue it. Think of a good musician. That person probably started playing at a young age and practiced and played incessantly for decades. They fine-tuned (pardon the pun) their ability to play by knowing their instrument better than anything else they do. It’s probably like an extension of their hands. Since I have no musical ability, this really blows my mind.

Being an architect is not just a job, a career or even a vocation. Perhaps it is to you, that’s fine. However, to me it’s more than that. Yes there are far more important things in my life, undoubtedly. But if I make it to 86 or even 83, will someone look over at me and say, “see that architect, he’s good.”


It’s an instant world, but the best things in life are not.


photos are from trublueboy’s stock photo gallery on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions)

to be good

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