FILLING YOUR HAPPINESS BUCKET (it doesn’t have to come from one place)


I often get asked why I volunteer as much of my time as I do. Why do I care and what do I get out of it? My answer typically is that I do not do anything that I do not think is fun, but what I do not normally add is that those volunteer opportunities are what fills my personal happiness bucket. It keeps my heart full to allow myself to get through the draining tasks that I need to do but don’t necessarily want to.

Early in my career, I volunteered on initiatives with the Knight Foundation. I loved urban design theory and how its implementation affected people’s lives. I got involved in whatever I could from public art to community meetings. That exposure eventually led to being noticed and asked to serve as the Associate Director on the AIA Charlotte board, and eventually serving as President. Those years of board leadership (2009-2015) were vital to my professional and personal growth. They were during the recession that took many of my peers out of the industry. Thankfully, I remained employed but on reduced hours and pay. I spent most of my days, like anyone right out of school, creating construction documents on my computer and gaining technical skills. But after hours, my volunteer time grew soft skills (i.e., professional, and persuasive communication) and business acumen (i.e., budgets, profit/loss statements, lease negotiations, staffing, etc.).

Now as a firm owner, I am grateful for that foundation. It comes in handy often and something we encourage for all our staff.  We can’t teach everything to everyone, but we can allow for some bandwidth to find your passion.  Our firm, Neighboring Concepts, provides 16 hours of community service hours off to all staff each year.  We believe it’s important to be involved in the communities we serve, and that the interactions we have outside of the office inform better design outcomes.

As we are starting to feel the effects of the next recession (depending on your market), it is easy to get nervous and overwhelmed by project loads slowing down.  I encourage everyone to take the extra time that you may find yourself with to continuously improve yourself.  Finish the A.R.E. exams.  Volunteer (see potential opportunities below).  Pick up a new hobby.  The joy you find outside of the office will bring perspective that may find a way sneaking into your next design and help you get through the next toilet room elevation sheet.


Cathy Morrison

With 15+ years of experience, Cathy brings a passion for collaborative design and a broad range of experience from urban planning to education and healthcare architecture. She strongly believes in the power of the built environment to elevate everyday experiences and allow all members of our communities to thrive.

She is active in the profession and the community, currently serving on the NC Board of Architecture, NCARB Region 3 board of directors, and board of directors of Loaves & Fishes / Friendship Trays and Do Greater Charlotte.


Volunteer Opportunities

AIA American Institute of Architects

AIAS American Institute of Architecture Students

Habitat for Humanity

NCARB National Council of Architectural Registration Boards




Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.