This spring I had the opportunity to see Jane Goodall speak In Denver. She was full of energy and insights and watching her presentation and presence on stage, you could not believe she was about to turn 79. She had lost no passion, sharpness of mind, eloquence of speech and did not appear disinterested in speaking yet again on topics she had discussed and presented innumerable times before.
Her speech was well paced and balanced, and left the listener with a lot to think about. She began back in her youth, tracing the unlikely path she took from a young girl to a world-renowned anthropologist and researcher. The foundation of her luminous career could be traced to her early childhood curiosities and the unwavering support of her mother. She spoke of her insatiable interest in animals, and how she wanted to read as many books about them as possible before learning how to read. Once she could read her favorite activity was to sit in the tree in her front yard and read. She also noted on many occasions that her mother always offered unwavering support of her daughters interest, and allowed her to explore the local fields and farms as she pleased. These childhood experiences solidified a lifetime of passion for the living world.
In addition to her passion, she also embraced opportunities that allowed her to traverse her unlikely career and educational path. She worked very hard in order to save enough money to go to college. She was educated to become a secretary at her mother’s suggestion, convincing Jane that secretaries were needed all over the world, including Africa. She got a job offer to be a secretary in Nairobi, and from there began to get connected to the anthropologist Louis Leakey. He hired her on as a secretary to help organize his research notes, and from there he noticed her brilliance and passion and selected her to help with his next project. She ended up studying Chimpanzees in Gombe National Reserve in Tanzania and the rest is history.
What can be learned from her brilliant career? Can we apply some of those lessons to our own aspirations? I think the answer is wholeheartedly yes. There are many ways a career, and life, can take shape and outcomes contain no certainties. However, discovering and pursuing a passion or fascination of something and following it until the end seems a good way to start. Further, embracing unusual or unexpected opportunities can completely change the trajectory of a career. Lastly, recognizing and valuing your support network is an invaluable asset.
Architecture is a difficult career full of ups and downs, continuous learning, obstacles and opportunities. Many architects don’t peak until they are in their 40s or 50s, so one must be fully committed to the practice and have the patience to continue to pursue their passion. Obstacles and opportunities arise frequently and the way they are handled can often define one’s path and happiness overtime.
It’s an exciting narrative to be written and explored, and a little wisdom from Jane Goodall may help along the way.