I am an architect and I offer you this:
Being an architect is wonderful and dreadful at the same time and in many ways. Here are a few items to help explain:
1. I hate to wax snob here, but problem #1 is that American culture is in a sad state and the average person has little or no appreciation or understanding of what art and architecture are and usually form their opinions on such things based on what they hear. Our educational system usually lacks substantial art and culture related programs. Our children are not educated to think for themselves or live a rich life but instead to work and provide profit for the very wealthy and powerful. You don't need art to work in a factory or to become a scientist in a pharmaceutical company. Many Americans would say architects are needed and they can do useful things, but when asked to actually hire an architect, perception of true value seems to wane rather quickly.
2. The general consensus among most Americans across various walks of life is that architects are generally superfluous. (see #1) Ironically, people who become architects are aware of how incredibly needed we are in most building and planning situations. This paradigm is the cause of most of the stress and negative issues associated with being an architect.
3. It is very difficult to make good money in architecture. Although possible, it is not likely. This is a symptom of item #1. Lack of demand. If people do not think they need your services, the initial perceived value is limited and people are unwilling to pay you or hire you.
4. It is very difficult to do your best work when few people can even understand what it is you do. (see #1)
5. The breadth and scope of an architect's responsibility is HUGE, nay, incomprehensible. The knowledge and skill you must have to be a successful architect is breathtaking.
6. It is a profession which takes a minimum of eight years of education and training to enter at ENTRY LEVEL. Yet most people believe they are a drafting class or two away from becoming an architect or designing their own building.
7. You will pay on average $120k to earn and receive your professional degree. You will make, at most, $40k/yr out of school, maybe a bit more in the city. 10 Years later you might have risen through the ranks to become Project Manager, Project Architect, Principal Architect, etc. and make maybe $90k/yr. (after 10 yrs.)
8. Good design is relatively easy for architects. GREAT design is really really hard to do and usually necessary to make anything of yourself in this competitive field.
9. You either have to REALLY love architecture, or REALLY appreciate the rare bone that gets thrown at you occasionally.
10. Hours. You WILL devote much of your waking time to this profession.
1. That rare bone can be an amazing experience. That one project in ten that you are actually proud of, or get recognition for, and even get paid for. Or that one client who you really helped and is appreciative.
2. You CAN, albeit rarely, make a good living at this.
3. If you hate your personal life, at least you'll be at the office most of the time anyway.
What an architect actually is:
An architect is a........
Manager, facilitator, creative problem solver, manager, decision planner, decision maker, salesman/presenter, writer, draftsman, artist, designer, manager, analyst, organizer, scheduler, advisor, researcher, student, transcendent paradigm shifter, manager, prioritizer, manager, prioritizer, estimator, magician, pencil-pushing hardnose academic who has never worked a day in construction, arbitrator, explorer, manager, salesman/presenter, LISTENER, and manager.
What an architect actually does:
Tries to identify, analyze and solve 4 dimensional (space AND time) problems on the following levels and from simultaneously varying scales from microbes to planet:
1. UTILITY : what functions are needed and how and when will they be served. Aesthetics are a function too.
2. IMPACT : what will the initial and life-cycle impact be on economy, society, culture, physical environmental, human health, human mind, human spirit, and general resources and how and when will that be allocated and documented.
3. FEASIBILITY : can, how, when, and why will this endeavor take place and how will it meet the UTILITY and IMPACT parameters.
.....and does all this while managing clients, consultants, staff, communication, and information.