We choose a job that is popular at the moment because we think it will allow us to be in the spotlight, and therefore, to be more effective. I used to believe in (or hope for) both assumptions. But now I am doubting the latter. I now think the more attention you receive, the harder it becomes to be effective, or to get heard more.
Here is a bit of my own story. I am a technical writer. I sit in a cubicle for nine hours, barely talking with anyone, typing on the computer keyboard. My fingers and eyeballs are the only sense organs that are in use. This job can be defined as anything but fancy.
Yet it is the most creative work I have engaged in. Three months into being a technical writer, I was already having great fun organizing content, sorting out procedures, and filling in the missing information. My employer liked my documents and my ego was boosted.
So I became ambitious, sort of, and switched to a boutique computer accessories company under the equally fancy premise of being an "interaction designer." I thought it was a natural progression. Any technical writer will face a situation in which he or she is forced to write a 15-page section for a simple task such as downloading a software update…knowing that putting a red Download button on the screen will eliminate the need for the document (thus saving users in the true way). If I joined the design team, instead of being a firefighter, I could be the architect who can allocate fireproof materials or more sprinklers in the first place.
And in the new workplace, I couldn't do what I hoped to do: improve the usability of products. There were many reasons, but the biggest one was my inability to deliver results—as always the case. It wasn't simply about doing the best and not reaching the goal; it was also about not being able to getting into the 'zone,' where your work turns into your hobby. I didn't enjoy working as I hoped.
I switched my job back into technical writing, and my mojo has started to come back. The final verdict has yet to be served, but I have been having a great time creativity-wise, and I have a feeling that things will go fine with my colleagues.
I had to ask myself the hard question – why I couldn't express myself enough in a supposedly creativity-oriented company? , Yet here I am enjoying a burst of creativity in a traditional manufacturing company similar to where I first started? What is the difference?
The answer: fewer people care about what I do as a technical writer r than as a designer.
In documentation, except for the poor victims (users with broken devices), many stakeholders tend to be happy as long as there is a small booklet in the product package. Or they have been given bad manuals for the whole time and don't know anything else. It is a sad truth, but as a side effect, technical writers in general enjoy a great amount of autonomy in how they do their work. (I have yet to see career advice for technical writing highlighting this issue, so here I say it out loud.)
But I learned that in product design, EVERYBODY cares (and has an idea of what's a good piece of design regardless of his or her professional background). The more voices exist, the longer the design takes. It wasn't uncommon for my employer to spend a month designing a packaging box. Let's not mention the product itself. (Granted, the result looks stunning.)
I was asked to accomplish work without errors, without free experimentation, and under close scrutiny. On the contrary, the good works I had done in the past were results of small failures, lots of iterations and many experiments, and autonomy. I did not realize it; if I did, I would have tried to abandon my "business model" early on.
So here is the lesson: Attention > Freedom. The closer you inch toward the center of attention, the less creative space you automatically receive. You must be aware of this factor and make a conscious effort to break out of this wall, or decide what’s best for you.