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I get to spend billions of dollars (sort of). It’s fun, but not as much as you’d think.

Jim Carrey is quoted as once saying he thought everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer. Mind you, I am not knocking having more money, nor will I reject becoming famous, but I think I understand pretty well the gist of what he meant.

Over the years of doing what I do, I wound up being chief architect or a senior architect on a number of major California building projects, many with construction costs well over $100 million, a few around $1 billion and some a bit more. In the process, it has been routine to be part of a team making financial decisions to spend, save, or evaluate risk impacts involving hundreds of thousands of dollars on an almost daily basis. What did all this money flying around teach me? Number one, that people are still people and do smart and dumb things with the money involved just as people would do when much smaller amounts are involved. You just add more zeros to the values of their wins and the costs of their mistakes. Instead of flipping a suburban home with some new carpet and paint, the developer with means will flip skyscrapers spending millions of dollars on “market repositioning” upgrades first. The end result is pretty much the same in principle, just with more zeros in the dollars of profit or loss. The news has been gleefully covering the leaning tower of San Francisco, so far requiring tens of millions of dollars in retrofitting, but there are other examples of these mistakes, including a famous one from the late 1970’s involving the 59-story Citicorp Tower in New York. Sort of the same sad story as your car mechanic misspending hundreds of your dollars on the wrong diagnosis, just more zeros involved.

Another thing I learned is that “normal” is whatever situation you find yourself in for that period of your life, and you quickly take that for granted, at least if you are not careful. If one meditates and counts their blessings, I’m sure those living in the First World have a tremendous amount to feel thankful for. Instead, many of us fall into the trap, and I’m no different, of bitching over what we didn’t achieve or lost out on. The upper middle class bitches over not being wealthy. The wealthy bitch over not being ultra wealthy. As hilariously caricatured by the Russ Hanneman character in HBO’s Silicon Valley, billionaires fret about falling out of the “three comma club.” People are just people and keep seeking nirvana just beyond the hill they just climbed.

What should this tell us? Probably that we need to stop seeking so much and start being. Want to be happy? Do so, now, in your mind. Or not, but it’s your choice. We apply preconditions to our happiness and this is the big error. We have life and the universe wrong. Life is not about making reality conform to what the ego feels is necessary to be happy, it’s about simply being happy in the now. In a rare moment of insight, I realize the cat lying on my chest, purring, knows that and lives it. For a fleeting moment, I live that too.


Albert Sawano

Albert Sawano has applied experience from over three decades working on major building projects to converge upon a design approach that sets aside traditional polarities such as functional vs. aesthetic, or architectural vs. structural, in favor of design that is holistically-approached, integrative, and synchronistic.

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