Years ago, I had a client named Chris who worked for a large, very well known organisation. While he wore the title of Senior Graphic Designer, he had ultimately become their unofficial Studio Manager and, with that, inherited a lot of administrative work along with that. As a creative, this was perhaps one progression in his career that he wasn’t counting on.
When I spoke with him, I could often hear the frustration in his voice of having to go through yet another spreadsheet, focusing on numbers and reports, and feeling increasingly detached from the creative world that was his real passion.
Chris lasted little more than a year in that position before deciding to move on feeling frustrated and disengaged. This could be viewed as a bad outcome all round for both the company and Chris; losing experienced talent for any company is never great, and while Chris got the better end of that deal, it did mean that he was jumping out into the unknown and unsure about what opportunities existed next for him.
Yet this is a scenario that I hear about all too often. People are often promoted up through the ranks and before long, they’re often finding themselves doing things that are so far detached from the career they thought they were entering into. Most people don't question a promotion when it feels like 'up' is the direction they should be heading in, yet what happens when that direction is taking you away from the dreams that brought you into the industry in the first place? They dreamed of being designers who can change the world and end up being designers who change spreadsheet cells. That's a very different world.
In my experience, people frequently leave those positions only to return back to something creative and find that this is what made them happier. It isn’t always about the title and the position, but about what they’re doing during their day that is meaningful and relevant to who they identify as being. In the creative world, this is often an extremely important factor to the point where I know some creatives who refuse to go into corporate environments for the simple reason that they ‘don’t want to wear a tie’.
We’re often told by society that to be successful is to be promoted. The expectation is that you continue to climb up the ladder and, for many people at the start of their career, they’re often more than happy to put in lots of commitment and overtime in order to climb as far up as they can as soon as they can. This motivation is great for clients too who get this enthusiastic and focused energy often at a ‘discounted rate’.
Of course, the higher up they go, the greater the accolades and the awards, the sooner it means that the salary expectation can increase. This is understandable too; with more experience and capability (and responsibility) comes a higher price tag. In my experience though, as time goes on, very few people focus on salary expectations and position as being the key motivator for their career and, as ‘life happens’, they begin to find that achieving a balance between life and work becomes more of a priority. People have kids. They want to follow their heart into other careers. They have a yearning to just slow down and not spend so many hours in the office, especially those ‘after’ hours. You get older and you weigh up if this job is still giving you satisfaction - and these are great questions to ask because, as you get older and as your needs change, understanding how ALL elements of your life (including work) needs to be addressed with those changing needs.
So if you find yourself in the situation where you’ve been offered a promotion and you’re really not sure, then consider what it is about your work that keeps you doing it. If it is all about the money and nothing else, then you probably won’t care what you do as long as the price is right however I tend to find that very few people will work from a sole motivation like money. Understandably, what you do in a day has to resonate with your other values and desires too - so what are they and how are they being met? Is it about being creative and having the opportunity to continue developing your skills? Is it about being able to mentor and lead? Is it about having an environment that is ‘fun’ and that you can be ‘happy’ and ‘yourself in’? What gets you out of bed and into your workplace every day other than the promise of being paid each week?
When you’re clear around what you do what you do, you can align that to any opportunity and use those values to help guide your decision making process. We can never be sure if an opportunity will work out successfully for us when we’re offered something however if we are aware of our values around work when we consider it and know what it is that gives us meaning and purpose each day, then these will help us to determine if that is a risk worth taking. By all means, strive to be the best in your chosen field and to achieve the success you want to achieve however be sure as each step presents itself that you're stepping up for all the right reasons.
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