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Susan Williamson – Bad Advice

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When I was in high school I wanted to be an architect. As a younger child, I would play with blocks, tinker toys or Legos for hours, designing houses. I even remember trying to build houses out of playing cards, a difficult endeavor.

I guess I came by this honestly. My father was a building contractor. My parents designed and built two of the houses where we lived. I was often sketching floor plans and very conscious of the layout of any home I entered.

And, I read The Fountainhead.

When I suggested my future career to my guidance counselor, she immediately shot me down.

“You’re not good in art,” she said, “and architects have to do all those drawings.”

Although stubborn in many things, I caved at that. And worst of all, my mother agreed.

Our high school art teacher delighted in those who could with little patience for those who didn’t know how. It wasn’t until I was married and in my thirties that I realized how much of art was all about teachable technique. My husband taught high school math. In the next classroom, a young teacher turned country kids who had never even seen art into accomplished artists.

I know that you can’t create great talent merely by teaching art or writing or horseback riding—there has to be some natural ability and inspiration, but you can teach reasonable skill which is what I would have needed to begin an architectural career. Now days, I wouldn’t even need that—a computer does the sketching.

Although I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up, I do think it may be a little late for a five year architecture degree. Interestingly enough, our daughter tried to transfer into architecture in her junior year, but the college she wanted turned her down and she didn’t want the school that wanted her. However, she did meet her wonderful husband in an architectural history class so maybe all was not lost.

Of course I might have been a starving architect, but not sure if that would be worse than a starving writer, substitute teacher, riding instructor  and decorating store owner—all of which I have been. And we did modify a house plan and build a wonderful passive solar home. We remodeled a house into our first store and designed a second retail space to suit our store. We remodeled our last kitchen as well—not the work but the design, so I was able to feed my calling.

But I can’t help but wonder what other dreams my counselor may have quashed, not because she was bad at her job, but because of what she didn’t know.

As for me, I will continue to watch HGTV, read design magazines and sketch floor plans.


Susan Williamson is the author of two novels: Turkmen Captives and Death on the Trail, published by Indigo Sea Press and two e-books: How to Buy Your First Horse and How to Get By as Time Goes By published by High Tide Publications. All are available from  She is the former editor of The Edmonton Herald-News.

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