Former workaholic and perfectionist Talina Edwards has learned that slowing down and enriching her life has enabled her to achieve balance and success.
When the Parlour team asked me to be a part of this inspiring series of ‘Letters to my younger self’, they posed a few questions I could reflect upon. The BIG question that is always asked is about work-life balance, and the answers are as elusive as the quest for the holy grail… So, this sets the scene for my letter, and I realised that as I was composing this, I was also tuning into my future self to give me the advice I need to heed right now.
Dear younger self,
A wise soul will one day disclose to you that they know the ‘meaning of life’. This will resonate with you and become part of your story. Do you wish for me to tell you now? Or should you wait and figure it out for yourself? To be honest, you’ll first hear these words of wisdom before you’re ready – you’ll comprehend them intellectually, and understand their truth, but you won’t feel their real meaning deep within your heart until the time is right.
People come into your life for a reason, but like all life lessons, the reason may not be clear at the time.
Everyone must find their own purpose on their journey of self-discovery. We all start life as the most authentic versions of ourselves, but this can become clouded. As a child, you always knew what you wanted (and what you didn’t!). You’ve been confident in your abilities and very diligent. You always seemed to achieve whatever it was you set out to do, never relying on external validation. You love people, you love buildings, and you love the natural environment. You’ve always been a creative soul, while also excelling at complex maths and science subjects. You were strong in your convictions that you wanted to be an architect from a young age. When your high school’s career-advisor recommends you study engineering “because we need more female engineers”, you will stand your ground as you intuitively know that you will need a profession that balances both sides of your brain, and that you are not destined for a career as an engineer. With hard work and dedication, you will obtain one of the highest scores at your secondary school and set off for the University of Melbourne to study architecture.
I ask that you always maintain this faith in yourself, your competence and the path you are on. If you believe you can, or believe you can’t, either way you will be right.
You will embrace uni life, soaking up all this fascinating new knowledge and feeding your intellect, while also loving the social and culture aspects (well, you know what they say about all work and no play!) However, you will now be a very small fish in a very big pond. The push towards the high-scoring VCE objective subjects means that your creative side may have been a little neglected, so initially you might find architectural design subjects quite challenging where the critiques are very subjective. Your positivity sometimes will get called out as naivety, so instead of being as outspoken as you once were, you learn to hold your tongue. In the early years of uni, your confidence will be put to the test.
You will always find your way again; some detours are inevitable to help you develop. Remembering to be grateful for every opportunity will help keep things in perspective.
You endure the competitive nature of your full-time architectural course, the aim for academic excellence and the expected ‘all-nighters’, in addition to juggling two part-time jobs, plus extracurricular activities. As you’ve always been a high-achiever, you can push yourself too hard, and this will take a toll on your health at times.
You will need to learn to slow down, and pause, and not forever be in such a rush.
You’ll travel independently, living and working overseas for a few years, and this will be an amazing period of personal growth. Meeting other people, experiencing other cultures, and seeing more of our remarkable planet will give you a better appreciation for our connection to each other, all living creatures and Mother Earth. Having this time to see the world around you from a different perspective also helps you gain perspective on your inner world and remember who you are.
You’ll celebrate the ’small-wins’ as you journey into the unknown, and if you can keep this mindset of an intrepid explorer, it will serve you well with your architectural career, and family life too.
After you graduate from university and find your perfect job, you will get registered as soon as you can, because you can. You will love life as a young architect, you’ll meet your soul-mate, and life is close to perfect for a while with less stress and more time to enjoy living! However, your next big challenge will be the joys and hardships of parenthood. For a while you will be intoxicated with love nurturing this fragile little being, but you’ll also feel lost in a sleep-deprived state that feels endless. You will diligently study for this gig during pregnancy, not fully grasping that there’s no such thing as straight As to a newborn. The worry about ‘not getting it right’ and approaching parenting from an intellectual mindset is not helpful – you’ll need to find your emotional intelligence. As you learn to politely ignore advice from well-meaning others and trust in you and your baby, you will realise all the answers to your questions are already within you – just waiting for a calm and quiet moment to arise.
You must learn to trust your intuition, find joy in the little things, reflect on your priorities and remember to not be too hard on yourself. You are enough.
You and your partner will always march to the beat of your own drum, so now is not the time to start ‘Keeping Up With The Joneses’! When a tree-change opportunity appears, taking a leap of faith will pay off. This will be the best decision for your little family, as you will need to be closer to your extended family and rely on your ‘village’ to help you.
Asking for help initially feels like a failing (but it is not!). I only wish you’d learned earlier that ‘you can be anything, but you can’t do everything’ (especially not all at the same time!).
When you start your own architectural practice, you must be careful not to fall back into ‘workaholic’ and ‘perfectionist’ mode, as you’ll soon feel overwhelmed from being too busy, rushing around all the time and trying to multi-task, yet achieving less. You’ll need constant reminders to slow down, smell the roses, to just be in the moment, to find quiet time, and enjoy playtime! If you don’t find this ‘ease’ in your existence, it will lead to stress and ill health – the literal meaning of ‘disease’. You’ll know when things are on the right path, as doors will keep opening in front of you, and it will feel as though the universe is on your side, and your spark will stay ignited.
You don’t need to work so hard, to try so hard, ALL the time, and constantly ‘be doing’. You associate ‘just being’ with laziness, but you need to DO less and BE more.
Even though you always knew you were going to be an architect, this title alone will not define you. If you undertake personality tests, your results are often split evenly. You have both extrovert and introvert traits. You love that architecture is the culmination of science and art; it is analytical and rational, yet also relies on creative instinct. You feel that the best architectural experiences provide contrasts to evoke delight – the play of sunlight and shadows, contracted and expansive spaces, connections between indoor and outdoor environment, well-composed views and some hidden discoveries, while being practical and beautiful. The yin-yang symbol is a perpetual cycle of complementary opposites, yet in harmony with each other to create the perfect whole. This symbolism epitomises this idea of ‘balance’ in life. In reality, the two halves will never be perfectly even, always one side or the other being more influential at times.
The aim of finding that middle-ground, the median, or ‘the mean’, is literally the ‘meaning’ of your life, and will be your lifelong quest to try to find equilibrium.
You will need to figure out your priorities, and find your happy medium. Your holistic architectural philosophy will also be your life philosophy – you’ll achieve harmony when you pay equal attention to people, planet, purpose and profit (or sustainability in terms of social, environmental, spiritual and economical realms). You’ll learn to have faith that everything happens for a reason. You need to know that you are an amazing woman and you will achieve great success in your life.
It’s now up to you to define what ‘success’ looks like to you; focus on what your heart desires and keep moving in that direction, and trust that what will be, will be.
P.S. Please re-read and reflect on these words regularly to help give you strength and clarity, especially in those times of self-doubt. Trust your gut and listen in if it’s a ‘hell-yeah!’ or not. Don’t be afraid of the unknown – everything can be figured out.
Talina now lives in beautiful Ballarat with her partner, their two sons, and their dog, Pearl. She started her architectural practice in 2012, following more than a decade as a project-architect with leading sustainable architects in Melbourne, and in Bath, UK. Talina Edwards Architecture: elemental design focuses on a holistic approach to sustainable design, green buildings, healthy homes and natural living. Talina loves being involved with her local community, and was proud to be awarded the Peter Davies scholarship for the Leadership Ballarat and Western Region (LBWR) program run by The Committee for Ballarat in 2016. She is currently co-chairing the Ballarat Architects Regional Practice networking group.
Mar 13, 2020
Thanks for sharing your story. Your search for balance and meaning in your work and life is inspirational. You truly appear to have achieved success on your own terms.