Your professional sword

Dec 09, 2019

You have to keep the blade sharp through the long process of making key connections, educating oneself, and repeatedly rising to the challenge.

Careers in the design profession have always been a little different, and one of those things that, if you are not in one, it’s difficult to understand. The commitment to the work is overreaching and extensive. The pay is small for the time requirement. The choice to be at work verses engaged with other things in life, most people don’t understand. Many relationships – personal and professional – have fallen to the wayside because of the unique culture of this profession. Designers, for the most part, aren’t like everyone else and they always strive to be better no matter the cost.

One of the best analogies that I have developed for this is a sword. Throughout history great swords were crafted over time. The craftsperson began with raw material and took months if not years to create steel that was heated and folded over many times to create the hardest and sharpest sword possible.

Like the craftsperson, a designer exits college with raw material. We have all of the basic knowledge of what it takes to become a professional. You begin your career with that first job, large hammer strokes, and those details that you draw over and over until you understand them. You see them in your sleep. Then the sharpening begins, this takes a little more time. Under the tutelage of other professionals you learn and expand your knowledge. Sometimes testing it at war. During meetings with clients or city council you are asked questions that you must know or help with.

You become a better professional as time passes. As your knowledge grows you switch stones for your blade. Promotion and changes allow you to refine and broaden your knowledge; your professionalism grows. You become a better designer. Always sharpening, always learning, doing your best to surround yourself with the best people that you can; helping yourself become the best designer and professional that you can be.

In order to become the best professional that you can, you have to surround yourself with the best people. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  1. Ask to work with different people in your office. If you look around and see people who are respected and proficient at what they do, be sure to ask them questions. See if you can get on projects with them. Watch them. They are respected for a reason; they have sharp swords.
  2. Read or watch. There are so many periodicals, like this one, which contain the collective wisdom accumulated by many people over many years. Find something you are interested in and make it your specialty. Find a niche. Become the go to person in the office for that specific thing. Maybe it’s ADA requirements, maybe its city codes. Be the best person at your office at something. You may not have the sharpest sword overall, but you can develop a sword that is sharpest for certain tasks.
  3. Challenge yourself. If there is no one in your place of employment who challenges you, and you have looked for all other ways to help make yourself a better professional, you should possibly look for a challenge in another location. Maybe something new is what it takes to keep you interested and build your career and make you become a better professional.

Whatever it takes, just like any warrior, your sword is what you take into battle every day. Make sure you keep it as sharp and strong as possible. Your team and the profession needs you.

Hank Thomas is a landscape architect at SWA Group. He can be reached at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.