I’ve been asked a number of times why I want to be an architect. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that I want to make a difference and this is the best way I can do that, being who I am.

I know I haven’t started school yet and this may be self-indulgent or naive, but I sincerely believe that this is the talent God gave me to make my mark of improvement upon the world. I’ve felt this way about architecture intuitively since I was very young. I love math and art, and my mind is wired to remember things as spatial relationships. In fact, I remember directions and how spaces relate so well that when I was in France with a large group of art students, they all started calling me “map-head.” After a short walk through an old town, I knew my way around completely and could take us on shortcuts down roads none of us had seen. It wasn’t long until they all stopped paying attention to where we were entirely and simply relied upon me to get us home.

There are times when “making a difference” seems like such a hollow statement. I roll my eyes at those chefs on tv who proclaim they want to change the world with their cooking! Really? In 500 years, some historian is going to look back through the ages and pinpoint your cooking as a turning point for civilization? I don’t think so.

Likewise, I understand people’s polite reactions when I say that I want to help the world by being an architect.

Can I say now, on the record, that I doubt I’ll go down in the gilded history books as someone who change the course of the world? That would be awesome, but I don’t see it happening.

What I mean when I say that I want to make a difference, is that I want to be a positive force in this world, enriching as much as possible, wherever I’m called.

Have you heard the story about the starfish?

There was a man walking along a beach with thousands and thousands of starfish stranded on the sand, unable to get back into the water where they’d survive. A little way up, he saw a woman stooping, picking up starfish one by one, and flinging them back into the water. The man walked up to the woman and asked, “Why are you doing this? There are thousands of starfish on this beach, it won’t make any difference.” The woman replied, with starfish in hand, “It’ll make a difference to this starfish,” and flung it into the water.

So why do I think I’ll be able to make a difference as an architect? Because we’re all just starfish, and every time I design a building that is an improvement on what was there before, I’m making a difference.

With architecture, there are definitely big ways and small ways to make a difference. The big ways include post-disaster rebuilding, like what Architecture for Humanity is doing in Haiti, Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation is doing in New Orleans, and Habitat for Humanity and many others are doing worldwide. There are also hospitals, schools, libraries, and many other public-service buildings that need to be designed and built.

The small ways include everything from small renovations to houses for people that need them, period. Architects make a difference simply by designing better buildings than what’s required by code. Every building that has stood up through natural disasters, or even simply against time, has made a difference. Architects are also making a difference by designing buildings that use less resources, are carbon net-zero, and reuse materials from other sites.

So much of our lives as humans are spent in and around buildings, it’s inevitable that architects are making a difference even though we don’t notice.

Whenever I talk to my dad and I’m heading into work, he always encourages me with, “Go make the world a better place.” He has said that to me no matter what job I’m heading into: admin assistant at a school, Christian book publisher, retail customer service, etc. At first, it sounded like such a Dad thing to say–sentimental but not necessarily very useful. However, I’m beginning to understand what he means. Going into work each day with the attitude that I’m going to make a difference, opens up my eyes to each opportunity.

If we’re not trying to make the world a better place each day, then what’s the point?