L’esprit d’Escalier

The French have a phrase: l’esprit d’escalier. Often translated as “staircase wit,” it refers to when you think the perfect thing to say to someone, whether as witty retort or poignant parting words, just a moment too late. Like, for instance, walking down the stairs out of a meeting or interview (hence the term).

I had one of those moments today, one that is still bothering me hours after the fact. It’s of course well past the time I could do something about it, but maybe writing will help expunge my feelings. The Big Boss (heh) is in town to visit some clients this weekend, and spent the afternoon in the office. As the day wound down everyone got to talking, and the subject of the business side of architecture came up.

Now, believe it or not, but a lot of architects aren’t the best businesspeople. There’s more to running a practice than sketching designs on paper. As the Big Boss said, architecture is a service industry, and it’s our job to meet the needs of our clients. But architects often have to go out in search of work, which can lead to a feast-or-famine mentality. Thus, the challenge often becomes: how do you balance work demands with worker resources?

A common tactic is to hire people on a temporary basis, adding them as needed when the projects are rolling in and cutting them loose once the well dries up or moves. Luckily our office doesn’t work like that, otherwise I’d be a little more paranoid. But a lot of firms do. Unfortunately, some firms also attempt to enhance their bottom line by hiring less experience people at a lower rate. This may save money in the short term, but in the long term it may cost you more, since inexperience people will need more training (as an inexperienced person, I keep quiet during this bit).

But as the discussion continued, one of my coworkers, talking about the low pay/low quality bit and how that relates to motivation, said something to the effect of “They’re hiring people to work at $XX an hour, and you can’t live on that.”

The kicker, of course, being that “$XX” was less than what I’m making.

Here’s where I had my esprit d’escalier moment. What I wanted to do was pipe up and say something to the effect of “Actually, I don’t do too bad.” But with the Big Boss there, I wasn’t sure that was the best course of action. After all, I’m still within my probationary period, and would prefer not to step on any toes.

The conversation moved on, but as I went about my errands on my way home the comment (and missed opportunity) still gnawed at me. It’s a bit of a sensitive subject for me: while I’m now working in my field, I’m not making that much more per hour than I was as a Costco retail grunt. Sure, I get more hours and a more regular schedule, but I’m still far below what my (brief) research indicated was the going rate, as well as my expectations were.

And I’m not sure how to bring that up. Maybe it’s due to cost of living differences between here and the home office, but I’d like to be making more. Plus it’s a little annoying to hear someone dismissively say “You can’t live on $XX” when you’re actually living on less. And not just living, but managing to pay all your bills and student loans in a timely manner. I’m sure my coworker didn’t mean anything by it, but like I said, it bothered me.

And I’m sure that the dreary day and unnaturally abrupt change in daylight (DST can bite me) hasn’t helped my outlook either. But writing about it seems to have helped. There is a chance, after all, that I may get a raise at my 90-day review, Assuming I have the wherewithal to properly advocate for it. But for now, I’ll just have to settle for being mildly annoyed, as the dark strips away what precious little free time I have.