Pekka’s story: A career path is a passageway full of surprises

A career path is a passageway that often takes you in very surprising places. When you are at an intersection, it is sometimes hard to see which route is the best for reaching your goal. However, it is reassuring to notice that many different routes lead to the same place. As Erkka Westerlund said, the most important thing is not the goal, but the journey there. Below is a short story about my career path, which is still only about to get going.

As a child, I often played with legos, as many others have. When I was building something, I designed different buildings and environments for different needs and different people. I would then play with my lego characters in living environments. At that time, my father first voiced the idea that the boy “could become an architect”. My father’s encouragement from a young age has helped me trust myself and my own decisions in the many challenges of life.

After upper secondary school, I applied to study architecture at the university. It happened that I was not accepted, which forced me to consider other options. What if I never had the chance to study architecture? What else could be my passion?

At the same time, I had applied to study mechanical engineering at the university. That is what I started studying after my military service. My aim was to focus on structural engineering. In other words, on buildings. It soon became apparent, that the structural aspect of construction was not something I wanted to focus on. I noticed that I also needed a more humane aspect in my work, a greater connection with people’s lives. For me, it was not just the buildings themselves that were essential, but rather the opportunities they could present to people.

During that year of study, I became interested in pedagogy, or working as a teacher in a comprehensive school. There I could take advantage of my interest in humanity and human life. I realised that I am particularly fascinated by the development from a small child all the way to adulthood and the different needs and challenges in life.

So, I ended up reading the pedagogical VAKAVA exam materials as a plan B. The entrance examinations for architecture are – or at least at that time – comprised of multiple stages, and at each stage some of the applicants are eliminated. Every time I was waiting for getting approved on the next stage, I focused on the VAKAVA materials. That spring, I was finally lucky after all the advance assignments and entrance examinations, and I got in to study architecture on my third try. I left pedagogy and children behind for the time being.

I enjoy a job where I can find the best solutions to meet the customer’s needs

At “Lafka”, as the department of architecture is called in Oulu, I learned so much about architecture, technology and human environments. I recall a eureka moment about a brief by our professor of modern architecture. “Architecture has three areas: technical, humanistic and artistic. Each architect emphasises one of these three areas in their professional skills and work. Still, all these areas are present in everyone's work in one way or another.” I realised that it summarised all my previous ruminations! This would be a job where I could combine my passions for humanism, technology and art.

In my master’s thesis, all this became concrete and, at the same time, something of a circle of my passions was completed. In the end, the topic of my master’s thesis was “play and children’s other activities in the planning of day-care environments”. Luckily, I was guided by a solid multi-talented architect, who has a very humane approach to their work and a doctorate in education, who introduced a lot of much-needed depth into my research-centric and literature-based thesis. Guided by them, I was able to combine my two passions into a single master’s thesis that created many principles for designing high-standard environments for children.

Although I have not been able to directly utilise the theoretical competence I acquired when writing my master’s thesis, it has nevertheless been very useful in taking people’s behaviour and different needs into consideration. In my work, I have been able to plan a versatile arrangement of working environments, schools, day-care facilities, housing and so on. The diversity and multidimensional nature of my work have been just what I expected from my dream job. I enjoy a job where I can find the best solutions to meet the customer’s needs, the best possible environment for the user’s everyday life.

A third side plot of my career

After finishing upper secondary school, I had worked part-time at a sport equipment and apparel store along my studies. I am proud of this side job because I learned a lot about encountering people. I received a lot of training and learned new things, not only about the properties of the equipment but also about the well-being of a work community and encountering the client. The lessons I have learned as a sports salesperson could be summarised in a statement by my supervisor. “It is a failure if a customer buys expensive shoes today, but never come back because of their bad experience. It is much better if the customer does not buy anything today but will always come back to us later when they need sports supplies.”

How could the meandering career story of this young architect be summarised into an understandable whole? I will try to summarise it with a few points. They would probably have been useful to a young me at least, who had great pains with his career path and his thoughts about the future.

  • If you have a long-lasting dream or passion, hold onto it and never be discouraged. It may be difficult to get a study place in many fields, but it will pay off in the end! It’s a great feeling to wake up to work in the morning when you get to do what you’ve been dreaming about for a long time.
  • If (and this is likely to happen) you take surprising turns and encounter stagnant periods in your career, consider how you could benefit from them. I don’t mean a compulsive, constant need to develop yourself. It is still better to do something than nothing at all. For example, working in a sports store was unexpectedly a very good growth opportunity and an important stage in my career, even though it was not directly related to the work of an architect in any way.
  • Let the river of life carry you along. Life is not a train that travels clearly in one direction on its tracks; instead, it takes sudden turns and even throws you in surprising places. Each step always has its purpose. You will most likely realise it later. Right now, your task is to do your best in whatever your job or job description is. A career path is indeed a path that often takes turns and leads to surprising places.
  • A bonus. In the sports store, my supervisor summarised the relationship between an employer and an employee in a very fitting way. “An employment relationship is like a rubber band that stretches in both directions. Sometimes the employee is flexible, sometimes the employer. This way, their co-operation is smooth and benefits both parties.” We were talking about work shifts, as I had just asked for a leave because of an event that was important to me. Today there is a great emphasis on the employee’s rights. However, it is important to remember that the employer would much rather be flexible if I am also flexible whenever I can do it. My supervisor had a lot of trouble to fulfil my request for a leave, but made it work out.

Pekka Määttä