Biking Just As Fast As I Can

Just As We Cannot Determine Our Outcomes, We Cannot Avoid Our Motivations

Duo Dickinson / 5.14.21

I am an architect. I am fully judged by the results of what I do. The outcomes of buildings are the dominant criteria by which our culture judges architects. Our motivations are sometimes known, and are most often the reason we are hired, despite the world’s object-fixation with what is built.

Essentially why and how we help create buildings become the dominant reputation architects have in the world they work in, despite the fact that Houzz (and every other website) can only offer 2-D representation that are the tip of the iceberg of effort. Motivations are often completely unaddressed.

But sometimes what we value, who we are, overcomes what we do. 

This week, a late 20th-Century Architectural Hero, Chicago’s Helmut Jahn, died in a tragic bike accident. Per the AP:

Helmut Jahn, 81, was struck Saturday afternoon while riding north on a village street in Campton Hills, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of Chicago. Jahn failed to stop at a stop sign at an intersection and was struck by the two vehicles, headed in opposite directions, Campton Hills Police Chief Steven Miller said in a news release.

People die every day. Death of any kind is now inflamed by the possibility of dying from the Plague. But this death struck me, because part of me is Helmut Jahn. His unapologetic ego was in full flower as my young career was being born, the perfect embodiment of the imperative to manifest your destiny.

I am 65. Every building that I see getting done without me prompts a little response in my brain. Like Jahn, I feel entitled to be part of every construction. God gives all of us everything, but we, I, still feel that I earn the right to desire everything. Absurd. True. Sad.

A person who knew him in the 1970s worked in the same office. They were both Young Turks, angling to design everything, become a partner, The Architect. My friend decided to go into the office early, 5AM. When he arrived, Helmut Jahn was there. And Every Morning.

By all accounts, Jahn was fully possessed by his outcomes, his buildings, but also the outcomes of those outcomes: recognition and achievement. So, even at 81, the desire to be first, to lead, to determine his own fate, may have made a habit of flying through stop signs.

Helmut Jahn’s death, in post-20th-century ebbing fame, is a cautionary tale. As his signature building, the James R. Thompson Center, is slated for a possible retrofit to residential use, or even demolition, the impossibility of controlling death is made stark by how Helmut Jahn passed.

You can fully achieve control, maximize effort into results, and build your life, but none of us, ultimately, controls our outcomes. We can only control our motivations. And his motivations, which Jahn fully lived, ended his life.

I am sure that he was thinking of his next triumph when he was killed. My brain regularly follows the same path. “Mindfulness” is now a buzzword. But this kind of me-focused mindfulness eliminates all but one perspective: my own.

I think that just as we cannot determine our outcomes, we cannot avoid our motivations, no matter how much we try to focus on results. The paycheck, the resume, the school our child is admitted to, our weight, our hair are all subject to management, but not control.

God is, in the end, fully in control, not us. God also knows, fully, our motivations. No amount of virtue-signaling overcomes my inherent profanity. I want what I want. Until I can see, if not accept, that what I want is just an outcome.

What are my motivations? Yours? What do we value that makes this architect object-obsessed? If being first, or rich, or thin is what is valued, I can warrant it is not what God values. God values us, because He made us, not we ourselves.


Image credits: JAHN

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