We are told to show streaks of our soul, to be original. To show irreverence. And especially, place your mark on the world. Eschew tradition. And while you should be yourself, you should also, somewhere along the line – if you’re lucky, between high school and turning thirty – find that originality is only the beginning.
Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright is known for pioneering one of the most important movements in architecture. His mastery of the compression and exaltation of space has little to do with inspiring awe (although that it does), and much more to do with a space that is living. That shows you how to act, impresses upon you what to feel and has a conversation with you. The building has a conversation with you, not Wright.
Which was probably a great mystery to those who knew Wright while he was living since he was quite the arrogant bastard. But his architecture lacks ego. Wright matched a structure to its environment. The infamous Guggenheim intentionally looks nothing like the home of Taliesin.
In contrast, Santiago Calatrava or Frank Gehry, two of the celebrity architects of present-day, are very recognizable. No matter where you are. No matter what city you’re in. A Calatrava or Gehry building has a distinct stamp, an identifiable arrangement with their hand apparent. An impression, of themselves.
And however distinct those buildings are from each other, they are also, ultimately, more of the same. The type of sameness that dominates strip mall suburbia where big-box retailers have stamped their own identifiable arrangement with the ease of reflecting the last box onto the next, so it is the same from town to town to town.
It isn’t quite fair to compare a Walmart to a Calatrava, of course. A Calatrava is beautiful and a Walmart is most certainly not. But it is fair to compare this obsession we have to create and stamp our brand – in all of our novel and impertinent glory – across our careers, and projects and relationships.
Maybe if we all tried a little less to leave our imprint on the world, something might rise that’s a bit more meaningful than ourselves alone. We need to concentrate less on being special, and more on matching ourselves to our environment. Success isn’t about you.
Wright did this through architectural structures. You’ll do it through a lesson plan. Or diving. Or an iPhone app. Or parenthood. Whatever.
But if you say, “That’s not part of my brand,” you are missing the point. Match your skills and talents to the environment around you – those jobs, projects, affairs, and challenges that form our lives. That is change; listening to the milieu and giving it a voice.
Dilute your brand. It’s less than you think anyway. Pay attention to what’s bigger than you. Match your rhythm to what needs to be done. Respond.