Episode 17

Challenging Societal Norms with Felicia Specht

Published on: 1st September, 2021

At the age of 29, Felicia Specht not only founded her own company, an architectural office in Munich, but also established a network to support around 250 young women working in creative industries. Four years later, and with a newborn son, Felicia reveals what she has learned about:

  • being a young female leader and a mother in a male-dominated industry
  • the qualities of good leadership and how to nurture and develop it in others
  • accepting your vulnerabilities, voicing your fears and seeking peer support
  • recognising the limitations of our upbringings around societal norms and expectations
  • mindfully choosing your role models

Felicia’s company website is fv2architektur.com

The book Felicia mentioned is Untamed by Glennon Doyle

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Maribel:

Well, thank you very much, Felicia, that you agreed to participate in our podcast and have this conversation with you, I'm very glad. We had originally another date for recording this conversation, but yes, a baby got in the way. And right now, in the meantime you have become a mother. So we're very happy for you and your new small family. Tell us, Felicia, that would be my first question...

Felicia:

Thank you!

Maribel:

You're welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about what have been the audacious goals that you have decided to take in your life?

Felicia:

Well, thank you, first of all, back to you too, for giving me the chance to speak in this podcast. It's a great honor. Yeah, audacious goal, I guess it's the way we also met, Maribel, you were pretty much a big part of this. Founding my quite unconventional architectural office at the age of 29 years now, almost five years ago, felt at the time as a very bold move. Looking back to the past year, I think it's quite bold to have a child, but now you're gonna laugh because you're already a mom, too. And with every month passing, it becomes a little bit, that's not easier, that's definitely the wrong word, but kind of more known. Yeah, but it felt quite audacious in February when I became a mom. Yeah, but going back to the main goal, which this podcast I think should be about, is the founding of an office in the center of Munich at the age of 29 in a field that is very man-driven. And it's quite unconventional to be the head of an architectural office as a woman, especially at this age. And the other unconventional part of it is that it's not just about architecture, but also about art, and about networking amongst women - parallel to the founding of the office, I also founded a network in Munich of about 250 members of young, creative women, which is still growing, and a very rewarding and fundamental part of my past four years.

Maribel:

Yes, I just like how Felicia said, Yes, well, on the side, I founded this group of women, which is actually something that has become very, I find very big, would you mind telling us a little bit about Creative Ladies?

Felicia:

Oh, sure. It was an interesting move for myself, because at this time, I felt still quite awkward with founding a network which only invites women because that's also in its way a bit segregating. But the more evenings passed, the more rewarding it became, and the more women were interested in joining, the more I understood actually what move I'd made and how important it was to open up this group. I had some interesting experiences during my previous career before founding, and I felt if I had had interesting conversations before, or the ability to talk to more experienced women in my field beforehand, then maybe this or that conversation could have gone the other way, and I could have been more bold towards my employer or towards my project leader or whatever. So I felt quite motivated to give young women the chance to get inspired by a group of women in a professional way and a personal way. That was kind of the idea of founding Creative Ladies. And we meet up once a month. During Corona unfortunately kind of, as so many other things, didn't happen that often. But now we're picking up again, and it's a lot of fun. Especially because most of them don't know I turned a mom in the meantime. But, so we had very different evenings, also with Maribel coaching us quite at the beginning to see where this should all go towards. And I think the very good part of it was that we kept it very open. We were always open for new ideas, topics, inviting speakers, going to exhibitions, having tours around the city, always on the basis of finding inspiring role models in the history for example, in the presence and to learn from each other.

Helen:

Fantastic, I'd like to come in here, Felicia, with a few Congratulations! Congratulations for starting your architectural practice at the age of 29. And for founding this group Creative Ladies, and then, of course for becoming a mum as well, so congratulations threefold from me. My question to you is, what are the main things you would say that you've learned in starting the architectural office? And also in starting the Creative Ladies group? What have you learned from that?

Felicia:

Well, I don't know where to start from, there's so many ways. I think it's important to allow yourself to get help. Often, we're quite shy about showing our vulnerable moments, discussing worries and fears. And I think looking back, I learned that it's so much better to open up to discuss those weaker points and to face them, then work with them. Because that can be super rewarding. And I think from then on, you can develop your dream, whatever it might be, if it's the architectural office or creative place, in a very constructive way. I've also learned that, one of the main learnings was to phrase your fears to actually write them down to say, what is the worst that can happen? What can really happen? Once you're facing it, it often already weakens because you kind of, it's not just this overwhelming feeling inside you that kind of blocks you from doing what you really want to do. And it turns into something concrete that you can battle and work with. Not sure if I'm too happy with this answer, but we can talk about this later.

Helen:

Yeah, no, I mean, the two things that you've mentioned there, allowing yourself to get help, you know, facing your own vulnerability, so to speak, and then secondly, voicing your fears as asking yourself what's the worst that can happen? You're not the first person who’s said that. I think, Maribel, you'll agree with me, on these podcasts. I wonder if you could give me an example of when you asked for help.

Felicia:

Well, I guess when I was at the brink of founding my office, after having my group coaching sessions with Maribel, and my former employer. I also took private coaching sessions with another coach and it helped me a lot to focus and narrow down the pros and cons and to allow myself and yes, you can go to the coach, nothing will happen, no one can judge you for this. And I also realize the only person who can judge you for not doing this, what you really dream of is yourself. I guess another example would be to ask for help in the sense of really asking your peers, but also your closer friends and family members, to sit down with them not just amongst the dinner table during the normal chitchat, but really sit down and be like, Listen, what do you think of this idea? Do you think it can do this? What are your thoughts about this? You know me really well. And to listen to those answers can be supportive, but it can also be not very supportive. And what to do with this answer, I think is really interesting. Because it's not easy just to listen to the positive answers. Often the negative answers are the ones that we work with at night. But it's, I think also very important to face all of them beforehand, before you take an important decision.

Helen:

And we've also had, I would say, mixed responses in terms of, when we ask the question, What did your friends and family think of your audacious goal? So sometimes we had, you know, everybody was, all my friends and family were for it, or those who were against it, I just had to ignore them and, you know, accept that they had a different opinion to myself, how was it with you? How did your friends and family react? And if there were any negative thoughts, how did you deal with it?

Felicia:

Well, I think it could have not been more black and white on that front. And I think both reactions forced me to double-check all doubts I was confronted with, and realize I am the one who's taking this decision, and I'm the one who will need to deal with any negative or positive outcomes of it, no one else. So I think it was very useful to listen to both and take them serious, but also to analyze Okay, where does this person know me from? Am I a daughter? Am I a small sister? Am I a friend? An older friend, younger friend? It very much depends on what kind of role you play in those people's lives. Are they trying to protect you? Are they already inspired by you? I think those questions are important to ask and then to understand their answers better. And I think you can draw inspiration from so many great people out there. Don't expect your friends and family to be the best source for this.

Maribel:

I find very, very wise, I think that's the word I want to use, from you, Felicia, to name it that way. That if it's, for example, negative comments, or what you would consider negative comments, coming from mother or father, for example, that actually you translate that into caring, they are trying to protect you, they are trying to fulfill the role as parent, and that you did not take it by face value. I would like to know if there was a process that you went through to be able to see it that clearly. Because usually, we don't. I'm just surprised. And I wanted to understand what was going through your head. What were your thoughts there?

Felicia:

Absolutely. It was a huge process. And I think this process starts way before my thoughts of founding an office because it starts with your upbringing, right? It starts where you start getting the nose and the fears transported from generation to generation. And we must be aware that my parents' generation or grandparents' generation has faced a totally different level of self-reflection than what we're doing. And I think their answers to our questions are always in the sense of protecting us and trying to make sure that we're not going down a dangerous road, and that we stay safe, and so on. So yeah, going back to your question, the process has started way before realizing that I've been brought up in a surrounding where it's rather uncommon for the mother or the woman to follow up a job of her dreams, let alone maybe realize what your dream job may be. I think that's where it starts, once you can phrase that it's another thing to follow it. But if you're always, your main goal should have been to be a mom, then you stop thinking maybe of what your career options could be. And so it took me a few years, definitely inspiring other sources, as I've mentioned before, like books, or TED talks, and definitely a great deal of coaching sessions, to realize that most of my beliefs were fears, no-sayers which were limiting my dreams. And yes, also my potential. And it took some years to rephrase them into Yes, sentences. And into I can do this and to ask myself the question, what's the worst that can happen? And it would be too definitely not right, if I'd say, Oh, this doesn't move me anymore, if close members of my family weren't super supportive of me finding an office, or even now three years later, saying, Oh, you will have a son? When are you going to close your office? And now that the son is there, like what, you're still working? Why are you doing that? These questions continue and I would like, let's say, they don't touch me, of course, they touch me because these are people that I love. And I just wish that they would understand my path better, or would give me more positive sentences, let's say, and maybe more constructive solutions, because of course, they have lots more years of experience than I do. But what helped me as well as to kind of understand where do I draw my inspiration from for which areas in my life and I think it's important to draw inspiration from and listen to quotes or listen to advice from people whose path you would love to follow as well. And there is no help in me listening to advice that comes from a person that is looking or living a totally different life than what I am looking into right now.

Helen:

It's an excellent point. And I'm finding this very inspirational what you're saying here, Felicia. I'm wondering, so you focused on, you know, perhaps these obstacles of what other people were thinking about what you were doing. I’m wondering whether there were other obstacles in the way, you know, practical obstacles or financial obstacles or anything like this, and how you overcame those.

Felicia:

I guess I had a lucky chance, looking back, of founding my office with a rather large architectural project. But it took me a while to realize this could be the project I could start my office with, to turn around. But looking back now, without this project I probably would have not done the step at this time. So I guess the finances were fine for a year or two. But when I talk to people now when they ask me why I was so brave to found an office, I say, well, if you look at my finances this year, in Year 4, they're horrible. And often people think once you've found your office, and you're still alive, and everything has gone wonderfully, and that's just not the case. It's important to realize you might have a safe start, but the path it takes or the obstacles might just turn up on the way. And it's a question of tackling them down the road. So I guess they were more during the past four years than before founding the office. Because I always ask myself, what happens if the office doesn't run well? What would be the worst thing that happened to my career? Well, the worst is actually to face yourself in the mirror and say, it didn't work. And then to apply again to offices and be like, Hi, I'm here. Actually, I had a great deal of experiences in the last year. It didn't work out the way I thought and I'm back in the job pool. So I think that would have been the worst thing that can happen. So I looked at the obstacles in a quite small perspective.

Maribel:

So Felicia, you had before you started your own architectural office, you were an employee. And now you're the boss. I would like to know, what is, from what you learned being as an employee and, you know, having people telling you what to do or or being your bosses, what is the type of leader that you are? Or that you want to be?

Felicia:

Yeah, I really like this question. Because I think in architectural offices it’s so uncommon to meet talented leaders, and I was always frustrated to be faced with someone who not like to give you a feedback session, or who would not like to develop you in your best potential or is... you're just always, it's usually a very creative plot of people. But all these extra things to come up with a good leader, they just a little bit neglected, I think. So my goal was, and I really enjoy it to follow this goal, is to develop the people I'm working with, to develop young, talented girls to mature in short periods of time to self-assured young professionals. I'd love to explore their potential to see where they want to go to. And we even have, I just had a conversation last week with one of my employees saying, Listen, I really like you, I think you're a great member of the team. But I just feel that you're not working on what you really want to work on in your life. For the office, it will be a loss, but I don't think you're on the right track. And he was so thankful that we were having this conversation because of course, you already felt this, but maybe he wasn't able to phrase it. And now we're looking for options on how he can get on the track that isn't like in his life, the best track for him. And I think that's so great to really look into those people and to see what motivates them, where are their strengths, and how can we work on things that are not yet so strong. And also a lot comes with self-assurance. And of course, my team is super young. But it's absolutely, the age is no obstacle as I realize, because it really comes down to the self-assurance and that can be super weak, mid-30 that can be super strong at the beginning of your 20s. There's no matter what age and it just is a lot of fun for me to see them develop and it's incredible how they blossom.

Helen:

Wow, that was very generous of you to identify that and to, you know, come to the conclusion that perhaps this young person was better off without your business, you know, working for you and to develop him over developing the company. What was going on in you as you were thinking about this?

Felicia:

To be honest, I don't think it's so generous because I think if I realized someone is not working with his or her highest level of motivation, it's not the best for my business at the end of the day, so the best for my business, talking totally economically, to have super motivated people who want to spend their time, a huge part of their lifetime in this office. And if you realize someone is very into other things, but maybe just doesn't allow himself or herself to go another path and thinks you're fixed to this path and that's the only straight way you should go. And I'm a big fan of meeting at crossroads and re-deciding your route. I think it's the best for the office to realize this and to also stop relationships at certain points. And I'm always open to come back together if the path should cross again.

Helen:

That's a good point. That's a good point. I'd like to go back to your, the second thing that you did, which was to start the network Creative Ladies. What was your motivation? I mean, I imagine you're quite busy if you've started a new company, this architectural practice, but what was your motivation for then starting a network of young creative women as well as on the side?

Felicia:

Yes, I probably mentioned before that I wanted to give them a platform to young women, where you can meet, discuss, inspire each other, get inspired by people that are higher up in their career, and have a few years more experience, maybe a lot of years more experience. And we had interviews with ladies in our industry from 40 up to 75. It was super beautiful, actually, to listen to the elder ones, looking back on their career, allowing them to realize what they've achieved for the first time. It feels like they, seeing them being moved, and actually, for the first time really proud of themselves, like opening up in front of a young circle of architects and creatives and saying Yeah, actually, I did this. Yeah, you're right. This is actually quite an achievement. And I was like, wow, this is exactly what this is for, to yeah, giving each other support and inspiration. And I think, often we think, oh, we're already in such a setup society. And we're doing really well in Germany and in Europe in general. And of course, it's right there are countries that are a lot worse off. Definitely. And it's important to keep that in mind. But I think still there's so much to do, and girls are still limiting their dreams a lot. And I think that's what I'm working for. And that was my absolute goal to be part of the movement to help young women to follow their goals and dreams and not see obstacles, not to see barriers. Not to think even in genders, not to even come across the thought, Oh, maybe actually it’s not the right thing for me because I'm a girl. I think that thought should be no thought in the future.

Maribel:

So that's quite interesting Felicia. So from your experience with Creative Ladies and your own personal experience, what would you say is keeping young women with small dreams? And not, you know, trying bigger things, bolder goals, risking, taking risks? What is it?

Felicia:

Doesn't it already start in your childhood? Maybe you also came across this book Untamed, which is amongst the news in this year. Doesn't it start in childhood with the wrong sentences, the wrong beliefs, like girls should be more tamed or should be more this and that and boys can be rougher, can be stronger. It starts at school, when the sports teacher asks “Eight boys, please come over here to carry this and that” like, that's where it starts, I think. And it's super subconscious. And the only way to break those free, I think, are role models, examples, speakers in school, in university. But it already starts before university, so many jobs that are still lacking a lot of women because they just don't study the subject. And so they don't choose the subject in the first place. Why don't they choose it? Because they think it's not right for them. So it really starts at school. I think we should all be more present and give a perspective.

Maribel:

That reminds me, the word ‘role model’. Actually, Felicia, you were an inspiration for this podcast, because it was upon a conversation with Felicia and that was, must have been last year around May something like that, that I asked her if she had any role models or if she admired someone, and the answer was, Hmm. So her first answer was, I don't know, I don't think, something like that, I don't remember. And later we spoke about it again. And Felicia said, You know what, actually after thinking about it, I do have some people. But it was that first reaction that inspired me to speak to Helen and tell Helen, you know what Helen, we need to be bringing up people to a stage where we can look at what they're doing and learn from whatever goal that they are pursuing. So actually, Felicia is one of the inspirations for, at least for me, for our podcast. So, now to my question, Felicia, who do you admire? Who has inspired you?

Felicia:

Yeah, it's actually a very close person who unfortunately is not alive anymore. It's my grandmother Vivian. And she's a main inspiration for me, because she grew up far more unequal and challenging times than we do. And yet she managed to study, she managed to work, she did small jobs to finance her first bike to be able to travel across Germany. She was always such, looking back as a child, you don't realize you just love your grandmother, but looking back, she was such an independent woman. And I think that's really inspirational, influenced me maybe, also hopefully genetically. But I think, looking at what she had to face, also during World War Two, and every time getting back up on her feet with zero money, sewing her own clothes, like the problems they had, they were so far bigger than what we have to face and yet to stay strong, to stay positive, to still enjoy it. She had such an enjoyment for art, for music, for books, for flowers, to find those inspirations in life, to still see them, even though horrible things happened to you, to your family. I think that's very uplifting and I can only draw from this.

Helen:

That's beautiful.

Maribel:

Indeed.

Felicia:

I hope she can hear this podcast.

Maribel:

So Felicia, you know, our podcast is called AudaciousNess. The audacious part is clear, the bold, having that big, risky goal in the first place. And ‘ness’ is kind of like an archaic word that describes the land, the spit of land that juts out into the sea. And it's kind of like the solid ground around constant moving of water, and things that want to push you down. So our question to you is, while you were pursuing your goal, where did you get the solid grounding to continue while everything else was in motion around you?

Felicia:

Well, in the beginning you're shaken by fears and worries, and they can overwhelm you and stop you from thinking clearly. I think the more defined your dream is, the easier it is to set your obstacles aside and to follow up your dream. But thinking of what really kept me grounded was that I believed in myself. I just realized this by reading through this question, I was like, well actually I always came back to the fact that I did this and that in the past years, I will try and do this, what can happen, and I'll try my best. And I tried to stay myself, I think that's really important, not to try to be someone else. Stay yourself and trust yourself. So I think that it's also important that you're... the grounding is not dependent on so many other things, that you can actually let go everything else and all the other columns start shaking, but you know, you're still there, no matter how, you’re pregnant, or a mom, you're still there breathing. And as long as that's the case, I think you can still follow your dream.

Helen:

That's lovely. Keep it simple, it sounds like, then.

Maribel:

Beautiful.

Felicia:

Absolutely. And to overthink your fears, to overthink your plans, things come anyway differently. I guess you both know this already way better than I do. So sometimes we over-engineer our plans, and then we're even more shaken up because it goes a different path.

Helen:

Indeed.

Maribel:

Oh, wow. That was very nice. Thank you so much, Felicia, for sharing all those insights with us.

Helen:

Thank you, Felicia. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Felicia:

Thank you, too.

Helen:

Thank you.

Felicia:

It's a pleasure to be able to reflect so early on, on the last years, because of course I'm not that old yet. But then you realize, maybe I'm not that young anymore either.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.