The Mental Game of Taking Your ARE’s

Je’Nen Chastain The Mental Game of Taking Your ARE's Architect ExamThe Mental Game of Taking Your AREs

By: Je’Nen Chastain

It all starts with a very honorable and modest thought: I’d like to be a licensed architect.

It feels great when you say it in your mind. You feel a flutter of energy and determination in your body when you think about it. Eventually, you decide to tell your friend, your parents, your co-worker, or a mentor. They each look at you one by one with curiosity, enthusiasm, and a spark of excitement in their eye, exclaiming, “You should do that.” You’re sold on the idea. You can envision exactly how great it will be when you meet this goal. You decide to commit.

This is the moment where the real work begins. You’ve set a big goal for yourself and its now time for you to show up for yourself. Almost immediately, your mind will be flooded with thoughts that will aim to prevent, deter, and distract you from showing up. When this happens, you have to decide how bad you want it.

Taking the AREs is a mental game. It’s about how well you manage your mind. This big goal you’ve set for yourself will dig up mental noise. Make no mistake; it’s your mental noise. It’s what author Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. It shows up any time we try to grow from where we are to where we want to go. If you’re taking the AREs, you’re faced with Resistance. It’s you and your mind standing in-between completing this goal.

Earlier today, my friend finished a marathon. He came in 15th place at 2 hours and 52 minutes. He had been training for months. As he sat tiredly in his chair post-race he described to me that he started running this morning, then he ran some more, and eventually reached a point where he wasn’t enjoying it anymore, but continued running. I asked him how he kept going when he wasn’t enjoying it, and he described the mental game required to overcome his negative thoughts. Ultimately, his strategy boiled down to

  1. Do not stop running
  2. Finish the race.

When the Resistance arises when you’re working on your own ARE marathon, here are some questions you can ask yourself to manage your mind:

  • What is holding you back at this moment?
  • Are you willing to let it go so you can reach your goal?
  • How many hours are you willing to put into learning the material?
  • How many distractions will you allow to creep into your thoughts?
  • Are you getting in your own way?
  • How honest are you going to be with yourself?

Before I passed my first ARE, I didn’t know to ask myself these questions. My mental noise of Resistance was holding me back from my potential of doing the work, and I didn’t even know it. Many thoughts came up that shut down progress: I changed my mind. I don’t want this. I’ll do it next week. I’m going to do something else today. I want to do it, but I’m so tired. I don’t have the energy to study. I don’t want to give up my weekend.

The list was endless, until one day I received a letter in the mail from the California Architect’s Board. The letter stated that my eligibility to test was going to expire unless I either passed or failed an exam. This was the moment I had no choice but to commit. I booked the exam.

Each day I picked up the study materials, I had to coach myself through studying. Every distraction that came up, I had to find it in my mind and shut it down. Every moment of doubt that came forward, I had to recognize it as unnecessary and move past it. Every time I got to the end of the page, I asked myself to keep going. By the time test day arrived, a pattern had emerged for a state of focus I could put myself into. I had learned how to create this state of focus in my mind by managing my thoughts and eliminating what didn’t serve the cause.

The lesson I hope to leave with you is this:

Every person who aspires to do something big and challenging in their life will be met with their unique mental noise. Challenging dreams such as the ARE require you to learn how to manage your own mental game. The key to achieving a marathon is simple:

  1. Do not stop running.
  2. Finish the race. And should you fall, or get off course
  3. Pick yourself back up and keep going.

Thank You!!


This is a guest blog post by my good friend Je’Nen Chastain who has been researching business strategy and leadership development for architects for a decade.

She's best known for her work through the AIA as a two-time past chair of the AIA Center for Civic Leadership, a former national board member, and a former national president of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). She has spoken extensively across the country on leadership development, women in architecture, and career advancement.

In 2017 she completed her MBA in social entrepreneurship while working as both a designer on educational, cultural, and commercial projects and as an architecture marketing professional. Currently, she is the marketing manager at Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in San Francisco and is actively working on her AREs.

She is a recipient of the AIA Associates Award and has received awards from AIA California and AIA San Francisco for her extensive work to solve challenges impacting the profession. Come hear her speak later this year at A'19 in Las Vegas and the AIA Women's Leadership Summit in Minneapolis.




Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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