Career Change

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    Is it truly possible to make money and have a life in this profession, let alone find a job?


    Evidently, just about anything health-care related, but not really my thing.


    Thanks Henry.

    I used to have my own landscape design-build business before I attended school, but it seems the market for landscapers is more flooded now. I’ve thought about hanging a shingle for landscape and graphic design services, as you said, to help with presentations and doing residential design on the side, but I can’t bring myself to put in the leg work of advertising and going door to door like I used to. In talking this out with family and friends, I feel like this (generally speaking design and construction) is what I was ‘meant’ to do since I was a kid, so it’s difficult to turn my back.

    I’m sure there are a lot of people out there like me that feel this way and bel9eve there is nothing else we could do to improve our chances of finding work. I also think that being in a somewhat regimented degree program contributed to my complacency regarding my career path. I’ve totally lost the sense of ‘hustle’ I had as a everyday landscaper. At the same time, I’m not necessarily looking forward to sitting behind a desk 14 hours a day. I got into school because I wanted to get licensed and become a landscape architect and run my own business again, not serve the corporate world for twenty years.

    If nothing else, it’s nice to get it off my chest. I hate to come off as complaining, but I suppose if nothing else this is as good a time as any to talk it out and I’m sure there are plenty of others out there dealing with the same conflict.

    Chad Crutcher

    I am very fortunate to have what in this economy could be called a relatively secure job in a good company well-positioned to make it through this. That has not always been the case in my career. Twelve years ago I had made the decision to try another way to make a living after the 90’s recession in CA pretty much sunk my San Francisco design practice. During those years of difficulty, I got by with a patchwork of part-time and unskilled jobs, some putting me in humiliating situations in front of former competitors to my failed practice. One job was a delivery courier; to this day I don’t know if any of them recognized me. Just as I was about to take a full-time job dealing poker at a local casino, the courier job brought me an opportunity that allowed me to return and prosper in landscape architecture. That story is too long to tell and not relevant to this discussion, but, I am very grateful for that and my current situation.

    I offer these comments as a counterpoint to the frustration and pessimism of this thread so far. Believe me, I’ve lived it and it stinks.


    Have you noticed the uptick in job postings on ASLA? Check the architect job sites and headhunters, too..there are jobs out there.

    Also, how bad do you want it? Are you willing to relocate? There are some pretty nice jobs out there, especially if you have some experience. I know this is doubly a bummer for young people, but you are also in a better position to respond to the broader circumstance if you have no children, mortgage or other fixed commitments. The time to take those big life risks is now. Living elsewhere, outside your comfort zone, is the best thing for designers. Richness of experience and seeing other ways of doing things pays off big time later.

    As for skills to develop and/or polish? I don’t care what anyone else may say, and I always assume they have the goods to back up there opinions, for my money….LEARN HOW TO DRAW, DRAW, DRAW! Not only will you impress your friends and colleagues, communicate your designs better and more convincingly (not to mention you’ll be a better designer when you draw your designs and see where they suck! Then you get to fix ’em before someone else points it out!), you will become far more confident in yourself, and that leads to less apprehension and more action. Sound like a Mike Lin seminar? Well, yes, as I just did his weekend seminar to brush-up my perspective and color skills. Project fee budgets don’t support hiring consulting illustrators right now.

    Back to my original point and sorry for the detour.

    I know this kind of advice/encouragement can sound trite, especially when, from your perspective, I might look like a fat cat. But, I have the credentials to offer it. Did I mention that I went bankrupt in 1996? I lost everything, and I mean everything. I started over from scratch at age 47. My life is very, very different now.

    So, trust me, and Henry, when we say this, too, shall pass. And, when it does, with university enrollment in LA either stagnant or falling, there will be so much demand for so few qualified people, you will write your own tickets. As in TV commercials, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Question is, what are you going to do about it?

    Good luck, and do well doing good.

    Roland Beinert

    Do any of you more experienced LA’s have decent back-up ways of making money? What I’m thinking at this point is that the first thing I’ll start doing when I find a job again is start saving to buy a duplex or something, and then live in one part of the duplex and rent the other half. Does that sound crazy? I got the idea from my current landlords. They are just an average couple, and they don’t seem particularly rich, so it can’t be too hard to fund. My great aunt owned a whole complex of apartments and was always very well off. I like landscape architecture too much to leave it, but I want to explore ideas on how to support myself in down times. I’m sure there will be plenty of recessions during the life time of most of the younger LA’s here.

    Bob Luther

    Our industry follows the economy and for the younger members of the forum we are experiencing this massive downturn for the first time. Most of the older LA I have talked to about this are not worried they went through the early 80’s and the early 90’s recessions and scratched and scraped to get through, they got through and built or re-built their business and marched on. I am in the process of dismantling my consulting business to work directly for on of my clients, I am not sure how thinks will workout in the immediate future, but as the economy turns and the building industry bounces back our industry will again be flush with jobs. We are all feeling the pain of this downturn (some more than others) and we are all pulling for each other because if others in our industry are getting new jobs there is always something on the horizon. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!

    Chad Crutcher

    Aren’t you the young fellow from Reno I met at Mike Lin’s seminar last weekend? Remember me, also from Reno? If I have you confused, my apologies.


    For most of us, even if you own a reasonably successful practice, but are not a superstar, your income in landscape architecture probably won’t make you financially independent. Comfortable, perhaps, but not rich.

    In spite of today’s real estate market, in fact because of its current state, that duplex is the best way to back yourself up financially. If you read my post about going bust last decade, it was getting my hands on a couple of rental houses that helped change things. Sure, things are bad now and I am upside down on both, but both have always been rented (in a great neighborhood) and they pay for themselves, for the most part. I can wait. Real estate, even though getting in might be tougher now, if done creatively to get around the credit squeeze, and wisely located, is never a bad bet. Also, if you read my post, it was relocating in and out of Reno twice for job changes that allowed me to buy them first as owner occupied, live in them for a period of time while working there, and renting them when I moved. This way, it was easier to ge tthe initial financing. The moves were a cycle back to the Bay Area and then back to Reno, which, by the way, included the same concept of purchase, and this time, sale at a nice profit, of a Contra Costa County townhouse. I did not want to manage a rental from so far away.

    I believe this might also fit my thread of the last post: that you have to take charge, be willing to stick your neck out and put it on the line. No matter what the circumstance, opportunity is available for those who go after it. I’m not saying be reckless or impulsive, but do your homework, legwork and talk to those who’ve done it. Arm yourself with information.

    Jay Smith

    I have also been seriously considering either a career change or a backup career/source of income. I’ve been looking for work as an LA for almost 18 months after 8 years in the field. I’m relaunching my search this week with a new portfolio/website/cover letters etc. I really hope the fish start biting this time around. The recession seems to be over, perhaps a few firms out there will start to add staff again. (I know of a couple of people who recently found jobs).

    I have learned a few important lessons from this recession:

    1) contacts – work as hard at building a network as you do your job.
    2) keep up a stronger portfolio (take pics, keep up a website, etc.).
    3) Have a backup source of income. (maybe a small business or ‘something’).

    This recession has really been a nightmare. Once I land a new position, priority #1 will be to start looking at backup careers. In the past, the idea of running my own LA business has not appealed. But after going through this, I’m not so sure. I would rather have an LA business that is barely holding on (but at least bringing in ‘some’ income) than to be working for someone esle, completely at the mercy of their workload, only to end up earning zero if they have to shed some positions. Ahhhh, lots to think about.

    Roland Beinert

    I’ve never been to a Mike Lin workshop, but I was living in Reno till February of 2008. I worked for Tom Stille (Interpretive Gardens/Pinyon Design) for about a year and a half. Now I’m in Boise, ID, though. Do you work for Hansan Landscape Architecture?
    Nick, it’s kind of funny how all the newer LA’s seem to be going through the same thought process in reaction to this. Weren’t you the one who started a discussion about switching to architecture? I spent about three weeks investigating that myself. I also went through a period right after I was laid off when I thought about abandoning LA. I’m still considering going back for graduate school and getting a grad certificate in bioregional planning at U of I.
    Does anyone know about opportunities overseas? That, along with all the other things I listed, is something I’ve been thinking about a lot during the recession.


    It is funny. It’s almost like it’s a different situation today than previous recessions I keep hearing about here and elsewhere.

    I believe I did start that thread about architecture. Maybe I’m alone on this. I certainly enjoy design, but there has to be a balance.

    A close friend has been working since they graduated over a year ago. There’s paying your dues, and then there’s down right abuse.

    Ski coaching seems like a good option at the moment.

    Mike Tupa

    I’ll also agree, In the last dip in economy I had receivables that were 180 days old. My days were spent making phone calls to almost beg for a payment. In some cases begging LARGE companies for a couple K to pay some bills.

    This will pass, Old acttive firms will be smaller, New firms (of old associates or partners or recent grads) will spring up to form the basis for the new group of LA consultant firms. And, then we all are too busy to complain.

    Adam Joseph Shramek

    Not right now lol


    I understand supply and demand, but AEC seems to have particularly high elasticity.

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