My first job was at a large international architecture firm based in downtown Washington DC. I had been a bartender working my way through design school, and one day was in the right place at the right time and landed an interview with the marketing department. I got the job—a summer internship at first—and jumped in with both feet.
The work environment was intense, but I thrived. I quickly became part of a team that was working to submit a design for a major new museum in the city, which meant we were working around the clock, filling whiteboards with notes and sketches, designing and redesigning, and ordering endless cartons of Chinese takeout. I was in charge of laying out the final presentation as large posters with scale renderings of the building design, floor plans, and elevations. I absorbed the terminology like a sponge, and though I wasn't an architect myself I became an integral part of the team. We spent so much time together we became family—a family of tenacious young designers and architects with nothing to lose and ready to take on the world.
When the competition was over (we lost to a firm in Houston), I was exhausted but ready for the next challenge. I realized that, though I'd always been a quiet, reserved person who preferred to do things on my own terms, this new way of collaborating was exhilarating and brought out the best in me. I was trusted to do work that would reach a large audience and have an impact on communities, such as the Museums and Memorials Master Plan for the National Capital Planning Commission. Just a few months earlier I was a bartender with no degree, and now I was sitting in meetings with people who were deciding the future of the city.
It was then that I knew I was a strategist at heart, and this realization changed me for life.