As a kid growing up in the 1970’s, one of my favorite TV shows was ‘The Brady Bunch’. I was fascinated by architecture like Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic ‘FallingWater’, and the father Mike Brady was an architect. I thought I might want to “be like Mike” when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer too, like John Boy Walton on TV, but this seemed much cooler.

Even though Mr. Brady obviously had lots of problems with a divorce and six kids, he always seemed to be so happy over his draftsman’s table busy designing beautiful buildings in his “home office”. He always had a big smile on his face, a beautiful wife and a fresh cup of coffee at all times. What he did looked like fun, and it seemed likely that it was also a piece of cake.

Growing up in the Washington, DC suburbs of Maryland, we took fieldtrips to see the Smithsonian museums. My favorites were the National Air and Space Museum and the I.M. Pei designed East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I loved them not just because of the treasures inside, but the beautiful buildings themselves. My father promised trips to NYC to see the Empire State Building and maybe, if we got really rich, to see the Opera House in Sydney.

By the time I got to Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s “Science and Technology Center” in 1978, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be an astronaut, an NFL quarterback or an NBA star. I didn’t really like physics or biology, so that let me out of being an engineer or a doctor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t superhero material either.

So I opted for the “Architecture and Design” program at Roosevelt. Hey, it had turned out pretty well for Mike Brady – it could work for me too!

Considering I wasn’t an artist like my brother Tim, I actually did really well at drafting. Remembering my childhood trips to the National Gallery of Art, I did a full set of drawings and elevations for the East Wing that I thought I.M. Pei himself would have been proud of.

I helped my classmates build a cardboard model of the buildings (remember before computers and CAD?) that I thought rivaled the best of Mike Brady. So, it wasn’t Hollywood worthy. We got an “A”, though – so how bad could it have been?

Those design classes and some decent SAT scores got me confident enough to apply for the prestigious University of Virginia’s School of Architecture. I applied to a few Liberal Arts schools too, and the University of Maryland (no offense to the current UMUC) as a “backup”. Then I settled down to wait for (I hoped) some acceptance letters.

About that same time, my maternal grandfather suggested that I see a friend of his named Mr. Bryant, who owned an architectural firm in DC called Bryant and Bryant. Since my grandfather was helping to finance my education, and even then UVA was expensive “out-of-state”, he calculated that it was worth it to talk to an architect who had been successful in the “real world”. Just so I was I sure, he said. I figured that in-state tuition at Maryland in the ‘70’s was about $20 a semester – so at least I had that in my back pocket!

When we walked into the Bryant and Bryant offices, I noticed that there were rows of draftsman bearing down over their hand drawings (remember before computers?). In the far corner there were two offices, one for Mr. Bryant and one for the “master designer”. Mr. Bryant sat me down in his office and proceeded to explain the career of architecture to me. The “interview” went something like this:

  • Mr. Bryant: So, Dan…you want to be an architect.
  • Me: Yep, that’s right.
  • Mr. Bryant: How many art classes have you had?
  • Me: None
  • Mr. Bryant: Do you like art?
  • Me: Not really (shoulder shrug)
  • Mr. Bryant: What did you think an architect does?
  • Me: I dunno… (slightly squirming now) Maybe sketch some ideas on paper and hand it over to a draftsman to draw them up?
  • Aside (Have I told you that I wasn’t too educated about the “real world”?)
  • Mr. Bryant: Yes, that’s more or less what a master designer does. But you should understand that our master designer was a draftsman for 20 years before he even got a shot at the job.
  • Me: Ouch. (crestfallen, shoulders slumped)

At this point, after about 3 minutes flat, Mr. Bryant took a deep breath. Then he broke out into a big smile and said “So, Dan – why did you want to be an architect again?” That was probably the shortest interview he had ever done in his working life!

In about 4 minutes I had completely abandoned architecture as a career and, almost before we were out of the parking lot, I had set my sights on a career in “business”and a degree at the College of William and Mary. Thank God I had Mr. Bryant to set me straight at a crucial time in my life. J

To keep the longer story of my career short, I did end up at W&M studying business and changed to Economics after I almost flunked out of accounting my freshman year. Since getting my B.A. in Economics in 1986 (dating myself), I’ve been a retail manager at a clothing store, a programmer and an IT Project Manager at a Federal government contractor.

Through some miracle I got through grad school by going part time and working full time, finishing my MBA from George Mason University in 1995. Until a lucky call from a recruiter and a miraculous hire at the Baan Company in 1996, though, I still didn’t know what I really wanted to do when I “grew up”.

Today, I’ve been doing consulting on the Baan ERP software and the current version of what used to be Baan – now called Infor LN – for over 17 years. I’m an entrepreneur and the CEO of a startup that I founded in 2003, which is called Performa Apps.

Although I never became an “artist” and I sidestepped architecture, I’ve found out something magical. I am an architect! In my job I am constantly asked to be an enterprise ‘software architect’. I’m also collaborating every day with my brother Tim on ideas for the artwork and the content. He creates wonderful, funny graphics and beautiful web design. As he reminds me constantly, though, I’m the ‘master designer’. How wonderful to be an artist and architect after all. 🙂

Not only is ERP software my life’s work, it’s SO much fun. We’re growing ourInforLN.com ERP consulting business rapidly and, although we’re still small, we think really BIG. I’ve found that it’s hardly like work at all if you find your passion. Unlike my experience with Mr. Bryant, however, finding your passion doesn’t have to be an accident.

Although I’m no Richard Branson, I am an entrepreneur that has built a thriving (albeit small) business. While my brother does the artwork and website development for the Inforln.com site, I write blogs for the business, content for the website and copy for our marketing initiatives. I also help out with our social media strategy.

With Tim’s ample guidance, I think I’m finally starting to “get” social media as well. He has helped me to understand that developing content and designing a marketing strategy is also “architecture” after all. OK, maybe I’m not Mike Brady. Maybe I don’t want to be!

Now in my “wiser years” I would say this to anyone heading to college, considering a job change or advising their kids. Please take the time to find out ahead of time what the experience that you are considering is really like. If you think you want to start your own business, talk to someone who’s done it successfully to see if it’s right for you.

As you go through your career and life experiences, I highly recommend that you learn as much as you can about business writing, office applications, accounting (if you’re a Finance person) and IT project management that you can. This will make you more employable, allow you to have better results in the corporate world and help you figure out if you have what it takes to start a new business.

Please do this before you waste lots of time and money on something that doesn’t fit who you really are. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a Mr. Bryant that just shows up in the nick of time to guide them.

It’s definitely OK to not know what you want to do until you’re well into college or even a few years after. Most people don’t. Many people don’t end up loving what they do either, but that’s no excuse not to follow your passions outside of work.

I still love architecture as a hobby and I’ve got several architectural “wonders of the world” on my “bucket list”. Just recently I took a trip with my family to see FallingWater and now I think my boys are pretty jazzed about architecture, maybe not for a job but definitely for a hobby. Although my dad passed away before we had a chance to go together, I’ve been to see the Sydney Opera House. It’s more beautiful than in the pictures, Dad. 🙂

Career-wise, I knocked around with many jobs. I didn’t find my “dream job” until after grad school and almost 10 years in the work world. When you find your passion, though, by all means you should go for it! Just make sure you have a really good idea what you’re getting yourself into.

It’s worth 3 minutes of your time, isn’t it?

Posted by Dan Aldridge

Dan Aldridge is the CEO of Performa Apps, an ERP software consulting firm specializing in Infor LN and Baan. Dan has almost 20 years of ERP implementation experience. He has helped dozens of companies with their ERP software implementations and training including Carrier, Mercedes Benz, Snap-on Tools, Blue Bird, Flextronics and a host of other manufacturing companies. He is a serial entrepreneur and blogger with his new site inforln.com.

You can reach Dan on e-mail at dan(dot)aldridge(at)i-app.com or on his social networks: About.me, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoop.it,WordPress,Slideshare,Pinterest and Facebook. His company is on LinkedIn,Twitter,Facebook,Google+,YouTube, Scoop.it and Slideshare.