The following article is a guest blog post from our dear friend Adam Denais, who is an active contributor to the NEXT Architects Facebook Group. He originally wrote this post for the group, which he let me publish as a guest article. Feel free to send this blog post to your friends and coworkers.
Abdallah El Cherbini
We know each other already, but catch our readers up to about who you are, your career path so far, and what you are all about!
Hello, my name is Abdallah, I was born in the United States. I spent most of my life living abroad, when I was young my family moved from one country to the other, I was very fortunate to experience different cultures and places while growing up, it certainly had a positive effect on how I interact with people and view the world today.
In early 2017, I returned to the US looking for work. Given my foreign degree and lack of experience, I wasn’t expecting much. To my surprise, within weeks, I landed a job in NYC of all places; in my mind, the race was on. I wanted to prove to myself that I was up to the task and that I deserved to work here.
I quickly realized that the amount of work was overwhelming, never had I experienced such a fast-paced, demanding atmosphere; I wasn’t sure what to do and how to tackle it. One late night in the office, I remember a co-worker telling me, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” In hindsight, I am not quite sure if that person had any idea how much he had actually helped me. What he said triggered a chain reaction. I realized that something had to change. The cookie-cutter approach was not working out for me. I had to find my own way!
To find my answer, I experimented with a couple of approaches to find what best suited me. I believed the best and quickest way to improve is through exposure. I decided to open up my own company while working a full-time job. Juggling both my private work and office
work made me push my boundaries, which helped me improve professionally. I was surprised where it led me. I did not expect to gain so much out of it, but a couple of years later, I think it’s the best decision I ever made. I am learning so much every day from the wide variety of
projects and people I meet. I gained a lot of respect from my co-workers and boss in the office. I think it’s because I was always willing to and enjoyed sharing what I learned with whoever is interested and willing to listen.
Like most of us, I enjoy the challenge. While I will continue doing my own work, I feel that the future has more challenges waiting for me to tackle, I just need to find them. I was very fortunate the past couple of years, I feel obligated to give back to the architectural community in any way I
can. My hope is that someone might find my story helpful and impactful to them.
What is your passion for architecture? What gets you up in the morning?
I love architecture for the good, bad, and the ugly. While there are topics in the field I always avoided, I learned that only makes the problem worse. Recently, I started renewing my passion for this field. In the past, it was the typical stuff, designing, programming, rendering, interior/exterior design, etc., but now I have found great interest and admiration in the behind the scenes portion of the building. I am starting to learn what makes a building
work, rather than only focusing on how it looks and feels.
I remember my boss used to tell me, speak to the building, and it will speak back to you. I never really understood what he meant until recently. I guess in his own way, he was trying to tell me that I needed to understand how a building works before I started designing how it’s going to function and look. I spent the majority of my free time learning the different topics related to the ‘insides’ of a building, how they work, different trades involved, why we build them the way we do, what are the best construction strategies, etc.
On my way to work, walking down the streets of NYC, I look up and see the tall high-rise buildings of midtown Manhattan; I pick one building and start thinking how they might have built it, initially I was doing this exercise for myself, but it quickly morphed into an office hobby where multiple co-workers and sometimes even the principal would jump in and join the conversation. It seems like an easy and universal topic for everyone to
contribute and learn something from. I have found great enjoyment in learning how buildings work, and I think my office has too.
Whether this is your passion or not, the main goal to remember is to stay active, find something you like doing, preferably in the field of architecture that is not related to your daily tasks at work.
How do you know when a company you work at supports your health and success?
I think there is no one right or definitive answer to this question. I believe understanding one’s work environment is crucial to finding the answer to this question. It all starts at the top. The company’s culture will influence and be a determining factor in the overall work environment. While it saddens me to say, in my past experiences, I have worked with firms
and people who had great distaste towards other’s happiness or success. While I try not to delve into their reasons as to why they do it, all I know is it is unacceptable and selfish.
Having my own practice has taught me to create a set of guidelines that allow me to gauge potential clients or firms. This, in turn, helps me avoid working with someone I will regret in the future. While it is hard to say that I always make the right decision financially, I can at least say I have no regrets. Working with someone who is not looking for my best interest is draining and frankly not worth the mental strain.
I have come to cherish the people and firms who find it in their best interest to support my success and health. The best types are the ones you don’t have to ask. They do it on their own. In my mind, I know that if I have to ask, then I am probably in the wrong place, and I should have done my homework before offering my services.
Granted, most of us work full-time jobs and do not have the ability to pick and choose who we work with. My strategy in the office involves surrounding myself with a group of people within the firm who share the same goals, and together we were able to make a difference. There is power in numbers, and as a group, we were able to convince the principal architect
that it is in the benefit of everyone (the firm included) that the common problems need to be addressed. Some of the main points raised were surrounding mental health and more support from the office, less working hours, etc. Obviously, this is not a solution that fits all; fortunately, we had a boss who was understanding and willing to listen to our concerns and help us address them. So my advice is to find a way to make it work and don’t give up!
What are you doing to build a career/life that is healthy for you?
I think the majority of us in the profession suffers from finding the right work/life balance. I had many failed attempts to find such a balance myself. I think it’s because I was trying to fit myself into someone else’s idea of what a work/life balance is. In the office, I get asked this question a lot. My answer is always it depends… what works for you might not work for
me. I am single, 27 years of age, and hungry for knowledge and success. My definition of work/life balance is completely different from, say, a family man or someone in their late 50s or 60s.
The key to my advice is to take everything in moderation. If you feel burned out at work, then obviously, you are overworking yourself. A lot of my co-workers and colleagues constantly tell me that I am overworking myself. While that could be true in their eyes, it is not in mine. Let me explain. In this current chapter of my life, I believe that there is no problem pushing the boundaries and sacrificing a little as it is part of my plan. As the
financial folks would say, the ‘returns’ are amazing. The problem arises when it’s not part of the plan. Maybe it’s something you already did years ago and are not interested in doing it again, or you are just not interested in the idea of doing something like this, and that’s totally fine! There is nothing wrong with expecting a normal healthy work/life balance.
It really comes down to what YOU think is good for YOU. My advice is to find your own way, gauge yourself, look at life as a series of projects on a timeline and allocate the amount of time you want to spend on each task while keeping in mind that you already know what your limitations and expectations are. This method has worked for me in both my own
practice, office work, and personal life. You can always discuss being overworked with your supervisor or boss at work, and most times, they will understand and give you a break.
Believe it or not, they are probably suffering from the exact same problem you are, which means they will be grateful you brought it up.
Recently, a co-worker came up to me and said because we had this discussion, he learned that work is not to be separated from life but can also be a wonderful part of it. Even though it was never my intent to convey that exact message, I learned that we will all interpret and learn things differently and that there is no one right answer to this problem.
Any tips for someone working to better themselves either as a person or a professional?
The first step is to admit the need for improvement. My drive comes from constantly reminding myself that what I am doing is not enough, and I need to try and constantly improve, even if a little bit. For all you Game of Thrones fans out there, I constantly remind myself of this quote from Daenerys Targaryen “you know nothing John Snow” which always
seems to make me chuckle and is annoyingly fitting.
Sometimes we can be too hard and critical of ourselves, which is normal occasionally. In the end, always important to remember that we should be proud of ourselves for trying to become a better person, never forget that!
I think being genuine and yourself is an amazing quality to have, don’t be afraid to be who you are! Always do your best and be willing to accept critique and advice from others, even if you don’t like it. Be respectful, and expect to be treated the same way you treat others.
Remember, this is not a race. It’s more like a marathon. Take your time, enjoy the process, find people with similar interests along the way, and encourage each other.
Anything else you would like to share? Where can people connect with you?
I hope you guys found this post helpful. I tried to reflect on my own experiences as much as possible. If you want to reach out and chat or have any questions or advice for me, please don’t be shy and reach out. I would greatly appreciate it. Find me on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Take care and best of Luck!