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Career Development

Why Where You Work Can Be More Important Than What You Do

General Assembly
February 9, 2019
Why Where You Work Can Be More Important Than What You Do

In my work as a creative career coach since 2008, I’ve seen this over and over again.

I’ve seen my clients think they’re in the wrong profession, only to realize it was where they were — not what they were doing — that was broken.

I’ve worked with my clients on clarifying and prioritizing their non-negotiable work qualities, and the type of work they were doing was less important than where they got to do it, and with who.

As long as they were working with insert-certain-type-of-people here on insert-bigger-mission-here, their own responsibilities mattered less and less.

At first, I was surprised at this finding. I was surprised hearing an affirmative response to the question, “Is where you work more important than what you do?” But then I kept hearing it. Again, and again, and again.

You can be a hugely successful Creative Director making almost seven figures, but if you don’t care about your accounts and/or you don’t respect the people you work with, you won’t be happy.

You can finally get the PR job of your dreams, but if you’re reprimanded for not working 80 hours a week and/or the benefits you’re given don’t align with your personal values and priorities, the “job of your dreams” is now the exact opposite.

I think there are a few reasons why this is the case:

1. We want to feel fulfilled in our work life, and proud of the work we do.

If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here at General Assembly, looking to learn the skills that’ll enable you to do the work you’ll enjoy. Sure, we all want well-paying work and job security, but it’s more important for us to feel personally satisfied with our careers than anything else.

2. We’re multi-passionate creative types.

Society has tried to make us feel bad about this – that’s there’s something wrong with us. But we’re not unfocused or flaky. We actually are quick and eager to learn, we’re enthusiastic to jump into something new that we’re fascinated by, we have a shorter learning curve than the average person, and we are quick to move on (and learn from!) “failure.” We’re natural creatives, entrepreneurs, and researchers. That all leads us to feel confident that we can get the what of our careers down pat as long as we’re in the right where that values and respects us.

3. Enjoying your work means you wake up every morning, think of the day ahead, and look forward to at least 70% of it.

This usually boils down to feeling that you’re living within your value set, you’re working in or towards you lifestyle goals (more on that here), and you get to be around people you like. That’s just as much (or more!) about where you are and who you spend the most time with as it is about what you’re contributing to.

[Tweet “Wait for the what and who that makes you feel authentic, valued and proud. @WhenIGroUpCoach”]

So how can you determine whether your current company is a good fit, or if you need a change of culture? Answer these questions for yourself:

1. Are you valued?

I have yet to talk to or work with anyone who liked their work and yet didn’t feel valued. It just can’t co-exist.

2. Do you have the time and energy for your personal goals?

If you’re constantly missing the things that are important to you – social events, exercising, your own creative work, time after school with your kids – then the company culture you’re in is probably not the best fit for you.

3. Does where you work contribute to your personal mission, passion(s) and/or interests?

If you don’t care about what you do at work, and the bigger purpose your company contributes to, then it might be time to leave. Try to clarify, though, whether you might like doing your current job in a new place, so that you don’t have to change careers entirely.

4. Are you sick?

I became psychosomatic when I was working for a verbally abusive boss (more on that here), but even though it was in my head, it caused me real stress, anxiety and illness. No job is worth compromising your health. Make a move as fast as you can, even if you know you’ll need to look for something better along the way.

5. Will your current company be receptive to a new job proposal?

I have a client who loved where she worked, but not what she did. After we worked together one-on-one, she was able to clarify the type of job she’d like to move into. Although that job description wasn’t something her company had available (or in existence!), she brought her proposal to her annual meeting and was forthcoming in what she’d like to transition into. It didn’t happen right away, but within a few months, she wrote up and carried out her own job title and responsibilities. Her company actually called it the “Joanna Job” until she came up with her real title. Talk about being valued and in a receptive, supporting environment!

Whether you decide to make a total career change or you just need a change of location, be honest with whether your next work opportunity is aligned with all that’s important to you: giving you what you need as a grown-up while making you feel that most work days are purposeful. I know personally how easy it is to just take the first new job offer that comes your way, but if you wait for the what and who that makes you feel authentic, valued and proud, then you’ll be in that dream career after all.


Michelle Ward, PCC, has been offering dream career guidance for creative women as The When I Grow Up Coach since 2008. Discover and achieve your dream career at


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