The Transition of Fulfillment

In the beginning you went to school to match a curriculum to your passions. You deconstructed, merged theory with approach, and created layout from nothingness. And you saw it was good.
And you said, “I’ll continue this journey professionally.” With a career and a company Mac you designed and problem solved visually, leveraging your studies, intellect, and natural ability. You had a deep-seeded need to create with your hands that had to be fulfilled. And it was so.
And you said, “I want to continue to grow.” Over time from role-to-role there was an evolution both within, and in organizational seniority: junior-to-mid, mid-to-senior, senior-to-management. Now with a team of your own, a responsibility toward the growth of others began to comprise the majority of your time and energy.
And it felt…strange. It felt different.

An Evolution

When a parent welcomes their first child, there’s a moment of crystal clear learning: it’s no longer all about you. Though your own needs still must be tended to and respected, reward was now also distinctly — vitally — obtained through the growth and development of another. As that notion applies to your vocation, this realization is a personal, and career, milestone.

How does a painter transition to gallery owner / curator and remain fulfilled?

When I was a fledgling manager I noticed I had developed a gradual sense of emptiness. I would come home from a day’s work feeling unfulfilled. My days had become less inclusive of hands-on design the more I built out the team. I tremendously enjoyed, and valued, working with them to strengthen their work and provide for a phenomenal creative culture in which to thrive. But my mind hadn’t yet made the switch on letting go (of hands-on design), and refocusing my sense of creative reward. Always one to have a personal design project (or three) going, I found my “creative thirst” was still primarily being satiated through those after-hours initiatives.

How does a lead guitarist transition to producer and remain fulfilled?

All of this is a natural reaction, following years of personal identity and fulfillment that had been directly associated with hands-on design work. The 5th stage of grief in the Kübler-Ross model is acceptance; effectively embracing and owning the future. While “grief” isn’t the exact relational concept for what we’re talking about here, the recognition and respect of your career’s evolution is a more apt thematic takeaway. It may ultimately be inclusive of a eureka moment, but is actually a gradual shift in practice.

A Commonality

This is a theme I’ve chatted about with numerous peers in various forms of media, and one that’s well-resonated. Industry-agnostic, a Gallup poll from 2014 cited that 55% of workers in the U.S. obtain their sense of identity through their job. That’s over half of the 6.5 million people employed in the tech industry¹ alone who would likely associate self-image with their role.

In a previous position of mine, a team member who had recently ascended to management level (of our front-end developers) and I would go out for regular coffee breaks to touch base. Topics varied across how supported they were feeling in their responsibilities (by me), how their team’s energy was doing, if they had any issues to cite, etc.

A brilliant and passionate developer themselves, this person noted one afternoon chat that they realized they were coding less and less. It was something they genuinely enjoyed doing, improving at, and valued the sense of reward obtained through programmatic problem solving. They were feeling a bit thrown off by losing that part of their day (and self).

I began to set their expectations moving forward:

“With each person you hire, anticipate your direct involvement in hands-on development to continue to decrease by at least 25%.”

In the moment, the percentage was fairly arbitrary; the notion that a transition was already in progress, and would continue toward an eventuality of totality, was more important to convey.

We talked through the transition of fulfillment; how a sense of career reward ultimately evolves from hands-on creator to facilitator and teacher, and via imparting guidance from experience. And it is immensely rewarding — and a equally massive responsibility — to help foster and grow the passions of others. Once you realize the gift your career has yielded you, your sense of fulfillment will in fact be amplified.

An Honor

Designer or developer, it’s important to never lose the part of yourself that craves hands-on creative problem solving. In the office, a leader who “isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty” in contributing is one that’s valued. If time and responsibilities sometimes afford doing good work in that capacity, seize it. And if that’s not realistic, personal creative outlets are always available a night on the couch away. Evolving to the role of mentor and having your hands in motion needn’t be mutually exclusive.

How does a painter transition to gallery owner / curator and remain fulfilled?
By discovering other talented artists, promoting their work, and supporting their journey. And by still painting.

How does a lead guitarist transition to producer and remain fulfilled? 
By leveraging a career’s experience in the studio to help other musicians achieve their vision. And by still playing.

In the end, at the office it’s about embracing a career’s evolution, and honor, to support your team’s passion toward their craft. And it’s about owning your responsibility to their successful output; leveraging your experience to their creative advantage and the betterment of the work you’re all producing.

¹ “United States Tech Industry Employs 6.5 Million in 2014”,