The first architect I worked under preached there is always something new to learn. Having watched the evolution of building materials and methods over the last 25+ years, disagreeing with her would be impossible. Matthew – architect, podcast co-host, and friend – would tell you the same. This is, after all, a man who read medical journals while his wife was pregnant with twins.

There is always something new to learn.

However, I never thought I would learn to fire a client. And to answer your question – yes, the order of that sentence is correct. Last month I decided my work life would progress much smoother if I parted ways with a newly acquired client. Which is certainly a first for me, and I suspect a first for a lot of architects.

In the 11 years I worked for other firms, I cannot recall a time when a decision was made to let a client go. No matter how difficult they were – and I can recall more than one – we gritted our teeth and kept going. Most likely apologizing along the way. Even as a business owner, I have never been in a position where I felt firing someone was the best course of action and followed through.

But wouldn’t architects be happier if they felt comfortable doing that? Architecture school reinforces the idea that we suffer for our art. Our professors had to. The grad students teaching studio did. This is simply part and parcel of the industry of architecture. So you have a shitty client? Suck it up.

Because no one teaches us – or leads by example – that instead of fretting over a client deciding to not pay a bill and, in the end, capitulating to a reduced fee or other nonsense, we can simply choose to no longer work with that client. Instead of apologizing for our supposed ineptitude, telling whoever is in the process of yelling at us that they need to take their business elsewhere.

Does that mean after all this time, I’m growing professionally? I like to think I am. After all, there’s always something new to learn.

Either that or I have reached a point where I have decided that I don’t need someone else’s drama. As Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous told her mother – “It’s your drama. You act in it.” I don’t need to upend my life either personally or professionally because of a client’s behavior.

“But how unprofessional!”

I can hear generations of architects gasping and telling me how wrong my attitude is. That I’m damaging my reputation. Except there is not one who hasn’t asked themselves, “How do I get rid of this client?” Past experience tells me that means underperforming until the client fires you – because that doesn’t harm your image – instead of coming at them head on and saying, “Bye, Felicia.”

Oddly I can hear my late grandma’s voice in my head telling me I don’t need to deal with that foolishness. The older she got, the less she worried about anyone else’s opinion, much to my aunt’s embarrassment. Most days grandma spent indoors she did so without a stitch of clothing on. Who cared? Which of course meant my cousin had to tell her husband and kids to wait in the car until she made sure grandma was dressed.

I like to think I haven’t reached that point yet. I’m certainly not sitting around naked in my office. So I’ll accept that this experience has provided a great moment of professional growth. And like my first boss, that I’ve learned something new.