Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Nathan Lee Colkitt

Architect,  Colkitt & Co,
Live: Little Italy
Work: Little Italy
How Long: 2006

Projects: Puma Outlets, Puma SoHo, Sushilicious, Dlush, 900 F Street, Candela’s, Challenged Athletes Foundation

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own architecture firm?
My life is a string of fortuitous chance encounters. My friends have been the greatest help, defining me as an architect and referring clients. As long as I can remember I’ve been designing for “clients.” I’ve always loved trying to understand what’s inside people’s heads. My best friend helped me start, and the first day we picked up the business cards, with ink on our fingerprints because they were still wet, the very first person we handed them to hired us on the spot.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business?
There is an old saying “architecture is a great profession and a lousy business.” It’s true. We always struggled with the balancing act of running a creative practice as a business. I stopped trying to design buildings and started designing experiences. Now we focus solely on innovations to impact the client’s life. Life and business then got a whole lot more exciting.

What was the riskiest move you ever made?
I try to listen to my heart and follow my instinct. I don’t like to gamble. I like having all the facts and I really am risk averse, and as an architect, I think that’s a good thing. That being said, the riskiest move I made was trying to get into manufacturing. That didn’t go well. It just reinforced what I already believe: Focus on your strengths, not your weakness. I am way better at listening to a client’s needs and bringing that to fruition than manufacturing steel.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?
Ask for help and listen more to the people around me.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?
This is not “normal”? We all work for someone else, and a job, or the gift of purpose, is the highest form of charity. We all exist at the bequest and benevolence of someone else. I truly believe this, and this is why I love working with clients. They are the reason for my existence, they are patrons. I love listening and trying to truly understand and bring their goals to fruition with the best possible outcome and the greatest good, given our constraints.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?
Empathy. It’s the single most important trait in design and the second most important trait in professional life. The first is timing.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?
Thank you, Mom.