The Passion of You

It was damn cold in Drammen in October.

My girlfriend’s mother’s old bicycle was struggling underneath me, more because of the state of the bike itself than the weight it’s passenger. It was damn early as well.

It was 7 am and I was on my way to the warehouse where I worked for the time being. After a summer of all kinds of weird and unpleasant jobs I had finally managed to get a steady income working indoors, sorting athletic gear and underwear. Being a graduated engineer with a master’s degree in structural analysis and design in 2003 was pretty hard. I didn’t have the best grades and the market was slow. So slow that I had to take whatever work that would pay my bills.

And every morning, riding my girlfriend’s mother’s old bike, I passed the huge castle where one of the biggest and most renowned engineering companies in Drammen had their offices. The building was located some distance up a hill, and loomed majestically as I passed, shivering in awe.

I had been trying to get an opportunity at the company, but nobody wanted to take a chance in a very uncertain building industry. After some time though, they accepted my initiatives and I got a job working as an engineer 5 months after graduation. I still remember the day as one of the happiest moments in life. I would be working in a heated office – a castle! – not a cold warehouse. I would even get my own computer and a telephone.

During my studies I had come across 3D modeling in AutoCAD and 3ds max, and was naturally both pleased and excited that I’d be working with the former. LT actually, but who cares – there was warm coffee in the kitchen! I’d done some pretty advanced modeling in acad, learnt sweeps and extrusions, and boolean operations. I had also learnt how to blow everything up in max. I knew I liked it, and I knew I could do it pretty good.

9 months later I sat at the same place, staring at my computer screen. I was the world champion of offsetting lines and counting rebars. Every time a design changed, I’d redo some pretty basic calculations, offset lines and count the rebars over again. And over again. I never saw the faces of the architects that I worked with and I very rarely did more advance engineering work than validating concrete foundations and wood structures. I had become disillusioned and demotivated. Don’t get me wrong – I am eternally grateful to the leaders and colleagues how took me in when no one wanted me, but I was simply not passionate about the tasks I was doing.

By 2005 I got a job offer. Through coincidences and connections I was approached by a company who needed someone to teach 3D AutoCAD. Both my mother and father were teachers, I knew I loved 3D and the decision became pretty easy to make. I spent 3 months preparing my first Autodesk Architectural Desktop (ADT) Basic Training session, and learnt more during the 3 days of the course then I did preparing. After a few of the next training sessions I learnt all the modeling tools, the Style Manager and even the infamous Display Manager.

Then one day I saw it.

I still remember the venue outside Barcelona in the summer of 2005. Tatjana Dzambazova and John Adams were showing cross-disciplinary coordination using a software called Revit. After them, a tall man with a big ass afro – David Conant – strolled up on stage showing off some features in this apparently groundbreaking program. It soon became apparent that all the cool guys used Revit rather than ADT, and it din’t take long before I started playing around with it. I bought Paul Aubin’s Mastering Revit Building 9.1, and after some months learning I got a new job teaching Revit.

Almost 6 years later, in December 2012, I stood in a carpet room at Autodesk University Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, talking to the participants who had just attended my first ever presentation off Norwegian soil. I had talked, stuttered and fumbled about concrete reinforcement modeling in Revit for 90 minutes, and was ready to find a bar with some Aaron Maller in it. At that exact moment I realized that I had just found the core of my passions: teaching others about the tools I wish I had nine year ago. Showing young architects and engineers that there are more things to a working life than offsetting lines – that we can build, coordinate and analyze digital 3-dimensional prototypes before they are built, and do so with building blocks that are connected in a database that allows you to revise your design instantly. Anywhere. Any time.

Last year, in 2013, I read Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. I have developed a firm belief that one of the biggest potentials for innovation in the building design industry is helping young people find their passions. I know this from my own experience. In order to do great work you need to be passionate about what you do; In order to do great creative work you need to absolutely fucking love it.

Robinson says that there are two main features and two conditions that need to be in place in order for an individual to discover her Element. The features are aptitude and passion, and the conditions are attitude and opportunity. The sequence goes like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it?

I really like the way Sir Ken Robinson finishes his book:

To make the best of our time together on this small and crowded planet, we have to develop – consciously and rigorously – our powers of imagination and creativity within a different framework of human purpose. Michelangelo once said, ” The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” For all our futures, we need to aim high and be determined to succeed.

To do that each of us individually and all of us together need to discover the Element.

Have you found your passion? Do you know your Element? Does time fly when you concentrate on the fun parts? Does your work include fun parts at all? Do you know anyone who definitely know their Element? Do you know anyone who definitely don’t? Ask yourself these questions, and in case you have found yours: help someone else find theirs.

It was damn warm in Las Vegas in December. I looked back at the sea of change and wondered where my (ex) girlfriend’s mother’s bike was.


11 thoughts on “The Passion of You

  1. Adam Munoz

    evolving, learning & sharing with passion… i love it… AutoCAD/LISP, 3DSMax & Revit Structure have been my favorite toys since legos & lincoln logs, with a old school, video game like twist… Going to AU in Vegas surrounded by so many of my favorite software experts, its hard to express my excitement, respect & appreciation I have for the passionate synergy shared among the largest group of designers I know of…

  2. Alfredo

    I loved your story, Havard (sorry about missing that little hat on top of the first ‘a’, haha). We share the same passion. I love teaching and making complex topics look simple to understand. Hope to have the pleasure to meet you today at RTC AUS in Melbourne, before is over.

  3. Håvard Vasshaug Post author

    Thanks all. I really appreciate it. Especially since you are all people I know and respect. And Michael, luckily we now know that it is fully possible to be both passionate, playful and socially inept engineers 🙂

  4. davide

    Håvard,you are very addictive! I would love to attend your workshop! 🙂 Congratulations for the passion that you put in your work…in your life!!

  5. Michael W. Sullivan

    “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold Toynbee
    Thanks for the inspiration

  6. Oliver Langwich

    Hello Havard,
    first of all I would like to say Thank you for this inspiring story. You are completely right and I got through a Lot of equal steps during my Last 10 years.

    I also graduaded 2003 and nobody wanted me for a Long time. Also started with AutoCAD LT. Saw a Demo Video of Revit 2007 and since then got “infected” by Revit.

    A Lot of parallels. Hope to speak to you in the near future.

    Just keep on going 🙂


    1. Michael W. Sullivan

      “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold Toynbee
      thanks for inspiration


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