looking back I wonder

taylor hall, kent state university

Summer is almost over and the thought of “back to school” triggers Homecoming events and a return to the routine of attending school. Some of you may be free from that pattern right now, but with a son in high school and a wife who’s a teacher, it’s ingrained in our life’s pattern. I suppose it’s an opportunity to think, to think back on this journey as an architect, but more importantly as a person.

Yeah, I think a lot about the past, in fact, I’ve moved past the point where I even question if contemporary culture is better than the past. At some point, I walked through a gate where I realized I prefer elements from my childhood, high school and college days most. I don’t remember when that happened, but looking back, I cherish my 80’s high school and college days and being a young child in the 70’s. I even remember the early days of our marriage in the early 90’s. Fortunately, architecture (and fashion) got a whole lot better since then, but not music or movies.

KSU boys 1989.jpg
masonry competition convention Cincinnati, brian, lee chia, fritz, me

Most will state they have no regrets when looking back, but that’s not being honest. For me I would have avoided that additional hot dog at those picnics and overall eaten entirely differently in my 20’s and 30’s. There would have been better relationship decisions, but perhaps I wouldn’t have realized how meeting my (future) wife Amy rescued me from myself and from unhappiness and certain disaster. Dating during architecture school can be pure disaster, but this brilliant girl stuck with me from my third-year on and I’m still wondering why she is still here after celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I look back in wonder.

amy and me 1989.jpg

We learn from disaster, we learn from suffering, we learn from mistakes. We look back and thank someone (for me it’s God), that things turned out as well as they did. I’ve always wanted to be an architect (OK, for at least 80% of my life), and I am an architect. Not bad – huh?

Grandma Calisti 2.jpg
c.1972 or 1973

Have you ever wondered where would you be or what would you be doing if you could change one – only one – decision in your past? Think about that – one decision – even the smallest one and what other changes would have been put in motion from one change. What if you wouldn’t have dropped that class? What if you wouldn’t have the courage to take that class? What if you would have gone home instead of going to…you know where? What if you had not run into “that” person and developed that friendship or that relationship? What if you would have listened to your parents? What if you didn’t listen to your parents? What if you had more confidence in yourself? What if you didn’t act like an ____ that night or said those words?

Smithfield St Bridge.jpg

So, I look back and wonder…

  • What if I my father hadn’t died just before I turned five?
  • What if my mother would have moved back to her native country of England with us after my father died?
  • What if my grandparents didn’t leave money to my sister and me to help with college?
  • What if that “train-wreck” relationship didn’t lead me to Kent State to study architecture?
  • What if I wasn’t so obsessive about every project, every design issue, every…every?
  • What if a few close friends hadn’t been such competition and encouragement all through school (Fritz, Brian)?
  • What if I hadn’t taken that job at the Rathskeller (pizza) restaurant on campus?
  • What if Amy had walked in her first day to work (see above) and met someone else before she met me?
  • What if I hadn’t stayed up all night to finish that project – those projects?
  • What if I hadn’t been in debt, burned out, or not gotten ‘mono’ my final weeks of school?
  • What if I had finished my master’s degree and stuck around Kent State another year or two?
  • What if Amy had landed a permanent job before I did, and I moved to Ohio instead of going home to PA?
  • What if I hadn’t listened to her when she said I was “too good” to stay in my current job?
  • What if I took another job in Pittsburgh instead of starting my own firm in 2003?
  • What if I hadn’t developed key relationships that led to referrals and ongoing work?
  • What if I never noticed or read architectural blogs that inspired me to write my own blog (339 posts ago)?
  • What if no one ever read my blog? Wait, does anyone read my blog?

What if…what if?

Now…let’s move on.

Every decision, every event, every tear and every person I’ve met has contributed to who I am and where I am. I wouldn’t change that. However, that doesn’t mean that changing one decision or one event or one person couldn’t have made it quite different and we wouldn’t know any better. Looking back, it makes me wonder, truly wonder, if nothing else out of curiosity, but certainly out of gratitude, how things ended up the way that they did. Don’t be afraid to look back.

I invite you to read more about this topic from my friends for another #ArchiTalks post.

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Coming Home to Architecture

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Coming home as an architect

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
9-11 — A Look Back

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Michael Riscica AIA – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Homecoming & Looking Back

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Homecoming Memories

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Looking Back…Was Architecture Worth It?

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Homecoming, in 3 Parts

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Just give me a reason : Homecoming

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Is It a Homecoming If You Never Left?

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

looking back I wonder

7 thoughts on “looking back I wonder

  1. Nicely put Lee. I’m guilty of saying “no regrets” at some point only to realize how foolish it was, even if no one else heard me say it. Reminiscing like this leads to gratitude and that’s a good thing.

    1. I’m fortunate that I never made any decisions that brought shame to my family or got me in legal trouble. However, I said and did things that hurt peoples feelings that I wish never happened.

  2. I’m gonna say it. No I really don’t have any regrets. I try to use those times I look back on maybe some questionable (bad) decisions as learning opportunities and how I can improve in the future. They might even be decisions I need to go back and correct, but again, that decision led me to who I am, so I can’t regret it if I am OK with who and where I am now.

  3. J Dreier says:

    Nice photos and nice memories. I look up people throughout my life and wonder how they are. I especially love reading about their lives. Your crazily designed envelopes I received, I kept for years. Congratulations on a thus far successful life on all counts!

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