Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

5 Mentors that are in my life

5 Mentors that are in my life

From my sophomore year of high school to now, I’ve always surrounded myself with people that I admire and that I can openly seek advice. To this day, I call these people my good friends and will always feel that way about them. However, others would say that they’re my mentors who are guiding me through my life. Through their guidance and eyes, they have informed and witnessed my failures and success in my education, career, and life as an architect. Here are the 5 types of mentors that are in my life.

1. Colleagues at work

Ever since I started working at the architecture firm where I’m employed, I’ve had the chance to work with all of the architecture and planning staff on multiple projects. With each new project team, I found myself gravitating towards specific project managers and architects. I also decided to keep my distance from others who I wasn’t able to find a personal connection.

Focusing on the project managers and architects that I consider my mentors at the office, I’m constantly drawn to a specific skillset, willingness to help, and passion towards their work. Naturally, I was drawn to them because they were willing to take time out of their day to sit with me and explain the best approach to accomplishing specific tasks. As I exponentially grew at the firm, they witnessed my growth and were excited to be a part of my life. In fact, our relationships have developed to a point where I can be trusted to complete projects on my own and ask higher level questions along the way.

If you’re just starting out in your career as an architect or designer, make sure you talk to everyone else at your firm and get to know each person. You’ll quickly find someone whose personality, skillset, and passion are related to yours. Try to get on their team for a project and offer to help them complete their tasks. Along the way, ask any questions and for help with any tasks that you’ve never done before. Slowly, your relationship will grow and before you know it, you’ll have a fantastic mentor to guide you in your career!

2. Professors with whom I’ve found a connection

Throughout my time in architecture school, I went through lots of struggles, which eventually led to a continuous path of success. At the beginning of architecture school, I isolated myself from all of my colleagues and I didn’t find a connection with my teaching assistants and professors. In fact, I signed up for a mentor through a new initiative that the school offered and only met with my mentor once.

Needless to say, I started to feel as if a career as an architect would be a lonely road. Every day, I woke up, went through my morning routines, went into my architecture studio to show my teaching assistant or professor my work, and I would go back to my dorm room to design the next iteration. This cycle went from my freshman year to the end of my sophomore year.

Once my Junior year began, I decided to listen to all of the advice that I overheard from my colleagues and students from the upper years. They would always talk about working together in the computer lab or in their architecture studios late into the night and weekends. So I spent all of my time at these places and quickly developed my modeling, drafting, and graphic skills. Best of all I grew as a designer because I was able to talk to others about my ideas.

Over time, I began to get noticed by my professors who saw how much effort I was putting into my studio work. From reading books and magazines in the library to making physical models and teaching myself new computer software, I was constantly in search of more knowledge. Soon, my professors began asking me if I would be willing to teach other students these skills. I constantly asked my professors questions and asked for suggestions on reading materials and setting myself up for success.

Before I knew it, I graduated with a high GPA, entered graduate school at the same university, and was offered several teaching positions. I chose to teach the freshman studio, which was the year that I almost dropped out of architecture school. Ironic, isn’t it?

As I began my thesis year, I was so interested in every class, book, and design that I saw. I asked lots of questions in all of my classes, which my peers hated. However, my professors were excited to have thoughtful questions and an interested student! We began talking more about their research outside of the class and eventually, they switched the conversation to asking about my research, life, and vision for my future.

Naturally, I shared everything on my mind and asked for their advice on several ideas. We would discuss these ideas for hours until one of us realized that so much time had passed! From each of these wonderful discussions, I was able to think through my ambitions, goals, and career path with people who have decades of experience in the field that I was only beginning to understand! Best of all, they’ve become my best friends and we meet a few times a year to chat and eat great food!

If you’re starting your education in architecture school, don’t worry if you’re struggling to understand this new world of designing the built environment. Whenever your brain is about to explode from thinking about your project, ask a peer or professor if you could talk through some ideas with them. In addition, find your specific interest in every class that you’re taking. Ask questions that relate to these interests so that you can learn more about it. You’ll find a professor that you gravitate towards or they’ll find you. Get to know them for who they are and offer your assistance with their research or projects. Eventually, you’ll develop a strong relationship and they’ll offer their guidance whenever you need it!

3. My closest friends

In my life thus far, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many fantastic people who have been by my side for a very long time. As I matured and focused more on my life and career as an architect, my personality changed and my vision for my future is constantly becoming clearer. This clarity led to the tough decision to let go of certain friendships that would eventually be more harmful and negative to my future.

Currently, my group of friends are all optimistic people who are all willing to share and listen to stories of failure and most importantly, success. We understand that we’re on different paths and that they’ll inevitably lead to the future that we’re working towards. This trait allows us to speak to one another with an open heart and mind.

As my third group of mentors, my closest friends are the people that I gather with to discuss our vision for our future. This usually takes place at a restaurant with some delicious food and it all begins with catching up on new events in everyone’s lives. Once we’ve all started chatting, we’ll inevitably ask one another about their plans for their future.

What are you financially working towards? Do you have any student loan debt? What is everyone’s opinion on paying off student loans over a longer period of time versus a shorter period of time? How is everything going in your career? What aspirations do you have for the future of your career? Will you start your own business?

All of these questions are followed by everyone’s personal thoughts and examples of how they’re planning to, or have already, worked through the issue. The beauty of having this group of friends is that they’re all roughly the same age as I am, which allows us to talk on a common ground.

4. My siblings

Unlike my friends, I entrust any and every information about me with my siblings because they’re the closest people to me. Growing up in the first generation of an immigrant family who escaped the war in Cambodia, my family and I grew up in a rent controlled building in the Bronx in New York City. We were surrounded by similar families of all ethnicities who didn’t have enough money to afford simple pleasures.

Although we didn’t have money, none of my siblings and I ever knew that we were growing up in poverty. In fact, we thought it was the way that every family in America lived. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we would take advertisement papers, lay it on the ground to create a large square that everyone could fit around, put our plates and bowls of food on the paper, and sit cross legged on the floor. We would eat the meal in front of us, share stories, laugh, and simply enjoy life.

To say the least, my siblings and I grew up in a household where we shared everything; food, soaps, drinks, clothes, school supplies, and so on. This lifestyle led to a strong bond between my siblings and I, which makes us feel comfortable sharing any and all information with each other. My siblings all know my financial history, my life goals, and everything that I’m working on. They also know all of my biggest downfalls and turning points in my life.

Having my siblings as my mentors has been a blessing because they’re the people that I feel comfortable sharing my deepest secrets and brainstorming solutions to big life problems. They’re the ones that I know I can call at any time, any day, with any issue, and they’ll help me find clarity in my life. They help me clear my mind of all major problems so that I can focus on moving forward.

5. My mother

Last and most importantly, the most important mentor in my life is my mother. Knowing only a small portion of her life and how she lived through oppression and war in Cambodia, ran through several countries, and eventually made her way to America has always been an inspiration for me. Even after experiencing all of the pain and misery in her childhood, she has only been optimistic about each of my siblings and has only shown kindness and love to everyone she has encountered.

To keep this as short as possible, my mother is the person that I most confide in with everything in my life. I seek her advice on the biggest decisions that I’ve ever had to make and she has always given me an answer that made the most sense and were in my best interests. She is the person who I will always trust and that I learn to be like every time I visit her in New York City.


Finding mentors in your life with a high level of trust is important because they’ll be the people that you feel comfortable sharing all of your thoughts. They’ll help you clear your mind of issues that begin to cloud your day to day activities. Each day won’t be brought down by remnants of the past, but instead, there’ll be more hope. Eventually, you’ll find a level of clarity and all you’ll see are the next steps in your life.

ArchiTalks #27

This post is part of the ArchiTalks blog series where a topic is chosen for fellow bloggers to interpret and write about. This month's topic was "Mentorship". Check out some of the other posts from this series by clicking on their title below!

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
teach them the way they should go: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust

Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Mentor5hip is...

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
My Mentor

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood - Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Mentorship

Ilaria Marani - Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)

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