This is a long story and I won’t bore you all with all the minute details, but it is a story about details. It’s about the little things in life that add up to a big deal; with the end goal being a professional licensed architect. My path started with going through the motions of what is expected of a young architect-in-training and by the end I realized why I needed to become licensed and what it really means to me.
It all starts with graduating from architecture school, followed by that first big job offer, and beginning life as an intern. I spent 6 grueling years in architecture school; obtaining my undergraduate degree followed immediately by a master’s of architecture degree. Upon completion of my master’s degree, I received a job offer to become a full-time architectural intern at a good firm and began the Internship Development Program. I had a love/hate relationship with the internship position: loved it because it required a lot less brain power than being in school which allowed me to pursue “having a life” and hated it because you feel undervalued, bored, and anxious about whether you made the right career choice. You hear a lot of people tell you that they felt the same way when they were in your position and it just takes experience and time but I remember still questioning why would I want to be an architect feeling criticized and dejected every day. At the time that I started work as an intern my personal life was taking an unexpected turn as well. My Air Force pilot (boyfriend) of a year had gotten an assignment to move to England for three years and moving to England and being closer to him seemed a lot more exciting then chipping away at my internship development hours. I remember feeling trapped as soon as I started working full time and wanting so desperately to do something unexpected. So, in 6 months from the time that he got his assignment to the day he moved, we decided that I should try to move out to England on my own so that I could have the freedom to pursue my own career aspirations, travel, and independence before we got serious (married). It seemed like a plan that would be the best of both worlds; a way to test the waters of being a military spouse before diving in headfirst while still getting to pursue my dreams of being an architect. Now this is the part that I won’t get into the finer details of this story, but word of caution to anyone who thinks, “I’ll just move to another country”; buckle up because it’s a bumpy ride and obtaining a UK migration visa is a whole other story! Summary of that story: my boyfriend left for England and 15 months later, one failed visa application, and $4000 in application fees later I was on a plane to join him with a Highly Skilled Migrant Visa good for 5 years. My plan was to find an architectural position in London and we would live in Cambridge which was the only location that had reasonable commute times for him to drive to the Air Force base and for me to commute into London.
When I arrived in England, the economy was starting to take a downturn globally and it ended up being a terrible time to try and be a foreign immigrant looking for work. Months and months went by with no luck in the job search and I became increasingly frustrated and hopeless at the thought of finding an architectural job. It was a hard time in my relationship with my boyfriend because it was also my first exposure to life as a military life and showing up as a girlfriend rather than someone’s spouse was not the norm for an overseas military assignment. My boyfriend is an F15 pilot and being a fighter pilot comes with deeply close-knit squadron community and showing up as the token girlfriend immediately sets you apart as an outsider. I also quickly learned that trying pursue a career as a military spouse, especially in an overseas assignment, is not typical. I won’t say that I didn’t meet other military spouses in England that had jobs but maintaining a career when your spouse is away from home frequently, being the stable home base for your family, and navigating a foreign job market seemed to be a daunting hill to climb and that’s not even considering the employers who aren’t interested in applicants on timelines. I learned quickly that for a lot of military spouses it wasn’t the lack of career interest but more that the odds of finding a career field that was adaptable and flexible for their/our lifestyle just didn’t exist or wasn’t accessible for them. As much as I enjoyed being a part of the fighter pilot community, creating friendships that became closer to me than family, I knew that if I wanted to have a career in architecture it was going to be an uphill battle. It took 6 months for me to get that first job in London and gave me plenty of time to realize that I really wanted to have a career, I believe this time in London was a big turning point for me. I missed architecture a lot in those 6 months and realized I had a passion for the profession that made me feel like the best version of myself. I also found that I wanted to be an example for military spouses that having a career is possible and I wanted to give a voice to a group of people that is often neglected by the job market. Sidenote: during this time in London, my boyfriend become my husband.
I worked in London for 18 months before we got an assignment to move to Las Vegas and shortly after arriving in Las Vegas, I found a position at a great firm, SH Architecture, that was very accepting of my military lifestyle. Now that I was certain I wanted to have a career in architecture, I began chipping away at my NCARB requirements and began taking my Architectural Registration Exams. I had lofty goals of getting through all 7 registration exams in a year and I’m sure like most architectural candidates, I experienced more than once the crushing defeat of receiving results with “FAIL” on them. At the time that I started taking my ARE’s there was a 6 month waiting period to re-test and as much as I wanted to get through them quickly I had to wait and true to a military lifestyle, we got an unexpected assignment after 2 years in Las Vegas and found ourselves moving to Okinawa, Japan for another 3 years. Living in Okinawa would be almost impossible for me to find architectural work so I resolved to study for my ARE’s and I pursued doing some contract architectural and building modeling work. I enjoying having a career break but, again, I really missed being in architecture and wanted to use my skills and talents towards something beneficial while overseas. I marketed myself as a graphic designer to various air frame squadrons when I saw the need for logo designs, squadron swag (squadron pride is a big deal in overseas assignments), and any other graphic needs. I started with our own squadron and I was then hired to do design work for 5 other squadrons! It gave me an opportunity to still do design work and stay connected to the design community. My husband worked long hours and was away from home frequently, much like our time in England, so falling back on my design background gave me an identity that again, gave me confidence and solidified my passion towards design.
While in Okinawa, I became pregnant with our daughter and I felt the pressure to wrap up my ARE’s before she was born because I knew that trying to become licensed after having a baby wasn’t going to get any easier. I made plans at 4 months pregnant to travel to Hong Kong which was the closest NCARB testing center to Okinawa and re-took my Structures exam. I was extremely nervous to take an exam in a foreign country so my friend came along and she was so supportive of my decision to take an exam while living abroad. Good news, I passed! At that point I was 6 exams down and 1 to go. I made arrangements at 8 months pregnant to fly home to Seattle for a baby shower and to take my final ARE. Bad news, I failed…for the second attempt. I was completely dejected, frustrated and at this point frankly, out of time before baby girl would arrive and I knew that my life was going to change completely and I really didn’t know where my career would land. Shortly after Caroline was born, we got another assignment, cutting our Okinawa assignment short by a year and this was back to Las Vegas.
We moved back to Las Vegas in the summer of 2015 and this time it was with a dog and a 6 month old and I started making plans to return to work at SH Architecture. Returning to work as a military spouse and as a new mom was a whole new challenge for me and completely unfamiliar and in a male dominant profession, being a new mom can be very lonely. In the past, I was able to operate independently with my husband’s frequent deployments and long work days but with the addition of a baby to our lives, my perspective on being a military spouse changed dramatically. I found myself having to be the sole, stable parent for our child, work a full time job while also managing career aspirations and on top of that still needing to study and complete my final exam. I wanted to quit my job, quit taking exams at least a dozen times because it just seemed like too much for one person to take on, at least, at this point in my life. A good friend work encouraged me to just take the plunge and schedule my last exam because with one test left to go it was foolish to not see getting licensed through to the end. So I sat at my computer, blacked out, and somehow my exam was scheduled. I remember sitting in the testing center last January, so nervous and praying for this to be last exam because I just didn’t think I had it in me to take this again. I wanted so badly to become licensed and finish what I’d started professionally and personally towards finding my voice as a military spouse and as a working parent. I wanted my military spouse friends to know that career goals and reaching your full potential is attainable and I wanted them to know that their support along this journey has had a huge impact. It means so much to me to know being licensed is more than just a piece of paper giving me status, but it’s an identity that gives me confidence to know that I can work hard and create success within any constraints. I want my daughter to know that women, especially military spouses, can be anything they want to be. Good news: I passed!