Preconceived Notions

Have you ever had a preconceived notion and were surprised and regretted that you had ever had it?

We are human and all possess preconceived ideas based on fact, hearsay, and personal experience.  These preconceived feelings and thoughts help us make decisions throughout the day and throughout our lives; decisions as to where we may travel, events we attend or don’t attend, people we meet or decide not to meet.

Recently, I prepared for an interview with a client with whom I was unfamiliar.  With only a week to prepare, the pressure was on.  Public speaking has never been my forte.  I researched the client, read their Request for Proposal, and studied numerous emails to make sure I understood exactly what they were expecting.  I gathered images of projects that best suited the scope and program and I laid down a rough outline of the speech.  Name, title and where I work.  Check.  Talk about firm history and why we are the A&E team to best partner with for the project.  Check.  Feel lots of anxiety.  Check.  I couldn’t sleep well the night before and I was edgy.  After refining many renditions of my presentation, my team went to the show.  I was very nervous and the weather was too warm for my black suit and tie.  I thought, “Great, they can’t blame me for being nervous – it’s the heat.”  The interview ended up being very casual; and the client, a nine-person panel, was accommodating, engaging, interested, curious, and made us feel at home.  The pressure let off and I think we did a marvelous job.  In retrospect, my preconceived notion was erroneous and what resulted was a positive outcome.

Recently, an opportunity to battle yet again with my preconceived notions occurred.  Several months ago, our firm was contacted by an organization seeking to allow a young student interested in a career in architecture to “job shadow” someone in our firm.  Our firm has been asked to job shadow before on several occasions so this was nothing new.  However, the student came from a “disadvantaged” background.  Some details were explained, but nothing on a more personal level, and I politely did not want to pry.  I admit that I’m only human and imperfect and a preconceived notion did arise in my mind.  When the student showed up that morning, on-time and dressed professionally, upon finally meeting face-to-face, I was embarrassed for having thought what I had.  The young person standing in front of me was a gentleman and proved in the end to be much more.  If I hadn’t heard the word “disadvantaged” maybe those preconceived notions would not have grown in mind. 

It doesn’t matter where we come from, but where we’re going.  This young man was already on an upward trajectory.  I advised him to continue improving his AutoCAD skills and to be diligent in his studies, because we would be interested in hiring him as an intern… and maybe someday as a full-time employee.  Who knows, someday he may become an architect and possibly a firm partner?

I have so much to learn!  Preconceived notions made me prepare for the worst-case scenario in the interview and a single word was fertile ground to grow an idea about someone that was not anything close to reality.  I regret that, especially in today’s climate of political correctness.

We must believe in, look for, and focus upon the potential within everyone, realizing that we ALL have something to share, an opportunity to mentor and a responsibility to guide. We must make up our minds to practice how to humbly and intentionally question our preconceived notions before – and I say this now with certainty - the next situation encountered or the next unlikely individual across our path turns the tables on our thinking and teaches us something about ourselves.