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Sometimes you don’t have all the answers, but thankfully having all the answers is not a prerequisite to building confidence. I’ve struggled for a long time and still do at times with lacking confidence as an architect, even after being assigned large projects and getting my license and being put in charge of teams. The nagging lack of confidence persisted despite other people’s confidence in me. Over time I’ve found that confidence doesn’t come from being perfect and knowing everything, but from a deep reserve within that we can draw on when things get tough. There are many ways to cultivate and strengthen that deep reserve and I asked several rock star women architects how they do it. This series on how to build confidence as an architect showcases their advice. Check out Part I and Part II if you missed them.

Below is advice from Joann Le, Principal at Dao Architecture, Jennifer Wright, Project Manager at LRS Architects , Christina Noble, Principal at Contour Design Studio, and Celeste Lewis, Principal at Celeste Lewis Architecture.

Joann Le says:

“I grew up in a culture where women typically don’t lean in, speak up, challenge or do any of those things that would help young girls gain confidence. To overcome these cultural norms in order to easily navigate in a male-dominated architectural profession and construction industry, I tried to follow my own self help advice:
 
1. Be involved in the construction administration phase of a project at least once. The learning curve is high on a construction site and interaction with Contractors will prove your mettle.
2. Be curious, ask questions, and don’t worry about being judged.
3. Be very knowledgeable but it’s okay to be imperfect.
4. It can helpful to find a mentor or champion whether male or female.
5. Be firm but have a sense of humor, as that helps diffuse many challenging situations.”

Jennifer Wright says:

Don’t judge
Curiosity cultivates your creativity. It may not appear that what you’re interested in relates to anything relevant or useful, but follow your curiosity without judgement. All those disparate points will align to create a holistic creative self that brings a unique quality to your projects. It’s important to remember what or who inspires you when things are tough.
 
Spread out
I take on opportunities outside of work that utilize and strengthen the skills I need to be a successful project manager. For instance, one of the reasons I joined the AIA’s ForWARD Committee was because I hated networking and I knew that this would force me into meeting new people. Having a common topic around the committee’s efforts made meeting and speaking to new people much easier. As the years progressed and my confidence grew;  I volunteered to coordinate programs, speak at events & eventually was asked to lead the committee.

Another example, was joining my children’s school PTA Board as the Volunteer Coordinator. I knew this position would require ample delegation and organizational strategies, two skills that directly relate to my day job. The qualities that I see as most valuable to an architect are a willingness to listen, a passion for problem solving, patience towards the process of design and an ability to communicate well.  These qualities can be gained through succeeding in your daily work, but for me there’s a more profound sense of confidence that grows from utilizing your skills to give value to organizations and groups.
 
Trust your gut
When you are overwhelmed or stumped, just dump all that you know out on the page or the drawing. You typically know more than you think, it just needs to get out and be sifted through. From that point you can find the gaps and find meaningful ways to deal with them. Most people are happy to answer your questions, but are more inclined if you come to them with your own assumptions and efforts first. Carve out time to be a lifelong learner of your craft by reading books, magazines, going to lectures or events. All these pieces of information will inform what you do and help you feel more confident when facing a challenge or a blank page.

Christina Noble says:

Confidence is about trust:

Trust in your friends, that they will love and support you.

Trust in yourself that you can face any challenge that comes your way – not only because you’re strong enough but often you don’t have any other choice.

Trust that things will come for you in their own time and at their own pace.  It may not be in the perfect order you imagined or on the same timeline you expected, but it’ll happen at the time that’s right for you – when you have the knowledge, the experience and the power to do what needs to be done.

Celeste Lewis says:

Confidence is a rock solid faith in oneself to solve anything on the path ahead. To be your most confident self, there can be no one you trust more than you!   Practice nurturing this faith in oneself by being grateful for who you are and grateful for the many things you take on. Simply being content without self-judgement, nurtures more confidence…. like a dandelion’s inevitable return…from flower to seed to more flowers.  


Confidence is not a false cockiness but a calm quiet strength that is without hubris. It’s a self assuredness that knows you will be there for yourself and allow yourself to learn, make mistakes and grow.


In the early stages of your career, you won’t know much empirically, but if you strive for knowledge, further education and accept your mistakes as the learning experiences they are, more confidence will follow.

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Photo Credit: Original art by the author.

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