Being deliberate and thoughtful about her work and career has helped bring her priorities into sharp focus, says Ingrid Bakker.

When you decided at the age of 16 to investigate the idea of being an architect, you were onto something. You will embark on a long, fulfilling career designing places people love, which is your passion. You listen, learn and work hard. Enjoy your success, and remember to share your most valuable lessons with others, including:

Follow your own path

When it comes to important decisions in your career, keep a clear head. Shut out the voices saying ‘you can’t, you won’t or you shouldn’t’. Walk tall in your own shoes, doing things your way. Don’t play into stereotypes. When you are 27 years old and one of your first employer’s wives suggests you’ll have to stop working soon if you plan to have kids, explain confidently (and politely) that you think you can manage both well (then go and prove it later). Start thinking about the kind of people you want to work for next, and look at whether they will support your aspirations and be aligned to your values. You’re going to encounter plenty of obstacles along the way, but you just need to learn how to jump over them – or go around them. Try to handle life’s curveballs with grace and good humour.

Slow down, and be patient. What’s the rush?

Some say life is short, but a career can last for ages. Always aspire to be better, and never apologise for your ambition, but try not to rush things. Sometimes progress comes slowly, but it’s no less rewarding when it happens. Give yourself time to learn from the things that don’t go your way – and to enjoy the things that do.

Nurture your creativity (and your brain). Take time and space to think.

Hitting ‘pause’ to stop and think is one of the most valuable, under-rated things you can do. It might feel like you are procrastinating or standing still, but you’ll thank yourself later for doing it. You need to be deliberate and thoughtful about your work and your career. That means taking stock of what you want to do – and how you want to do it. Some of your most creative ideas will come screaming through the silence – or when you are stuck on the tarmac on a plane in a thunderstorm

Get to know your colleagues – and build lasting relationships with them. You’ll be crossing paths again (and again).

The people you meet early in your career might be your business partners in the future. Invest the time in building great relationships with the ones on your wavelength. A ‘tribe’ you enjoy working with will make a difference to you throughout your career. They’ll become your trusted network of collaborators and partners. They’ll help you be better at what you do. And they’ll probably share a glass of wine and a laugh with you when you need it most.

Make sure you ‘put down the ladder’. There are great women coming up just behind you.

When you’re busy climbing the ladder at work, it’s easy to forget there are still some people on the ground below you – people who are probably a little younger and a little less wise to the world. Give them a hand up when you can. Some of the best conversations you’ll ever have about work will be with recent grads – energetic, enthusiastic professionals full of fresh ideas. Support and encourage them, because they’re the future of your industry.

Back yourself. Always.

Remember that people are not judging you all the time. In fact, they’re mostly thinking about themselves. The other mums in the school ground are not saying you’re a bad parent because you work full time and can’t do a shift at the tuck shop. Your colleagues are not angry with you for needing to leave at 5.45pm to get to crèche before 6pm (because … fines!). We’re all a little insecure about something. But try not to let those thoughts bog you down.

Soak up the love and support of great friends. Down to the last drop.

Friends will come in and out of your life. You might keep some forever. But you’ll lose some too – and sometimes in the saddest circumstances. Make time to nurture and treasure your friendships, especially with your inner circle. Because what’s life if you can’t share it with great friends?

Remember ‘the days are long, but the years are short’ – especially when it comes to your kids.

Sometimes parenting is hard – and it can feel like you’re dragging yourself through the day to look after their needs, to get everything done. But one morning you’ll wake up to find your kids are walking, starting school, turning into teens, learning to drive – and you’ll wonder where the years went. Enjoy every moment when they’re little, as they will become your best friends when they’re big (and probably taller than you). Kids are the best project you’ll ever take on.

Finally, if you can’t absorb everything in this letter, just try to remember this: the best advice you’ll ever get will come from … you.

PS – Get a dog sooner rather than later. It will bring you so much happiness – and unconditional support. (pictured: Ingrid’s dog Kody)


Ingrid is a Principal and Board Director of HASSELL and a registered architect with over 20 years experience in both the architectural and interior design industries. She has led teams on a variety of workplace, residential, hospitality, retail and commercial projects. Based in Melbourne, Ingrid is part of the Regional Management team, jointly overseeing the Australia Region. She has been on the Australian Institute of Architects Chapter Council and currently sits on the Victorian Architecture Awards Committee. She is also a member of the Victorian Commercial and Corporate Real Estate Committee for the Property Council of Australia and is a member of the Committee for Melbourne.