The economics of careEmma Healy 27 November 2022
Emma Healy advises her younger self on embracing her sensitivity and warm heart, and prioritising community, self care and money in order to invest wisely in people and projects.
I don’t want to sound too harsh but I’m wondering when you’ll stop playing the good girl. Stop performing for good grades and compliments. I know they seem important now, but they will be meaningless soon enough and the compliments will be sparse and won’t even touch the sides. Care more about money. I know you think it doesn’t matter but it will later. You don’t need heaps but you’ll need more than you think. There’ll be opportunities and big ideas and as the world becomes increasingly more uncertain, you’ll want money to invest in people and projects with the potential to shift the trajectory of society back towards an economics of care. You’ll need money for that, and it’s much nicer raising children when you’re not worried about money too. Yes, you’ll have children. I know you think you won’t but you will – and they’ll matter more to you than anything to do with architecture. In actual fact, they’ll force you to articulate why architecture matters to you and why you might choose to continue to practise it.
Once you’ve dropped the ‘good girl’ thing you can skip right over the white saviour part too. Stop trying to save the world! At best it’ll be embarrassing and at worst it’ll be damaging. You may destroy your health and some relationships in the process. Many relationships will persist though in spite of it all. Don’t run away from conflicting opinions, people and situations you don’t understand. Work on your nervous system, then move towards them. These people and situations will likely become the most meaningful to you.
After you’ve stopped trying to save everyone else you can leapfrog right over the beleaguered outsider identity too. You actually do belong in architecture. Not everyone expresses themselves the way you do – it doesn’t mean that they don’t care or they don’t value you. Look for evidence of the goodness in people, even when it’s expressed in other ways. Don’t be embarrassed by your sensitivity. It’s not shameful to care. It’s not problematic to have a quiet little voice. You don’t have to change your tone or your message. You might need to change your audience.
One day a mentor will tell you your warm heart mattered more than your intelligence and it will shock you. Don’t be ashamed to be soft. It’s needed, and it’s not as rare as you think. In time you’ll find there are lots of other people (other architects even!) who are like you – you might need to look for them in other places though. You might find them in the garden, on the farm, in recovery, in the gallery, at the markets, at the working bee. Hone your craft but hold your professional identity lightly – the profession is changing more rapidly than you can anticipate.
You’ll be well grown before you realise you don’t ‘adult’ well. You’re chaotic and messy. It won’t get better; in fact, it’ll get worse. It’s not such a big deal. Be grateful for your childlike enthusiasm, your ability to be awestruck. A more tragic fate would be to lose that. Things that other people find easy will seem excruciatingly difficult – learning to drive, passing the registration exam, getting your kids to school on time. You will fail multiple times at these and many other things. You’re not here to be an all-rounder, stable or excel at every facet of the profession (or even life). There are things you can do that others can’t. Like finding connections between complex ideas, seeing patterns in chaos and resonances within seemingly competing priorities.
You’ll try heaps of different things in your attempt to ‘break up’ with architecture and you won’t pull any of them off! You’ll meet tons of awesome people though, and that’s actually the point. You’ll discover that your attempts to leave the profession were actually ways back into an industry in flux. De-couple your identity from any of your businesses, side hustles and passion projects. You are not the work. I repeat YOU are NOT the work. The work can be crappy, the work can be a disaster… and you can still be just delightful and utterly loveable.
I haven’t wanted to tell you this but you’re going to live through a pandemic, depression (all facets of the word), mass extinction, multiple natural disasters, and the demise of capitalism. There will be times you’ll think you’re broken – but it’s the systems that are crumbling. So, start gardening now. Grow food. Be resourceful and surround yourself with practical people whose skills complement yours. Learn what your essential skills are and how you can support your local community. Stop putting your body and your health last; it needs to be number one or none of the rest of it will even be possible. Weaponise your privilege but ease back on the critique and judgement of yourself and others – everyone is way more interesting and nuanced than you give them credit for. Soon enough you’ll be needing each and every one to survive and thrive in the emergent future. You’re needed… good luck!
Emma Healy is co-founder of Landings Studio, a multidisciplinary design practice that utilises the co-founders background in horticulture and architecture to create regenerative housing and community developments for the mutual benefit of people and the environment. An experienced architect, Emma was awarded the 2019 Queensland Emerging Architect Prize from the Australian Institute of Architects in recognition of her design skills and community contributions. She has also worked as a project manager for Architects Without Frontiers on the Cakaudrove Womens’ Resource Centre in Fiji, which was awarded an international Good Design Award and exhibited at the Venice Biennale. She collaborates with Loata Ho on the feminist research practice WomenBuild and is an Associate of Parlour.
Banner photo: Emma at the 2021 Brisbane Spring Salon, which she convened. Photo Alannah McTiernan.