March 20, 2014, 2:51 PM — Finding work you want to leap out of bed every morning to do is everyone's dream, right? But it's not easy to pull off. First you have to find the the work that inspires you. Then you have to find a way to make that work pay enough to keep shoes on your feet and bacon in the fridge. And even if you manage all of that, you have to keep your passion for that work alive in the face of the daily grind, toxic coworkers, and whatever work culture you happen to land in. We all fight this fight.
Rebecca Roth, Product Owner for Onstar, has been on her own quest for creative work that keeps her leaping out of bed since college when she melded her two seemingly disparate passions: painting and coding by creating an art form where code and paint play equally important roles. “I was creating installation pieces where the art interacted with the people who came to see it.” She explains. A career as an artist sounds fantastic but difficult to pull off, right?
But Roth managed to make it work. Not by finding an art patron or somehow managing to sell her art but by finding a work environment that gives her the freedom, resources, and encouragement to bring that passion and creativity to a product consumers want to buy. She develops in-car apps for OnStar’s connected cars. “Most of my pieces are still happening within the vehicle,” she says. “That passion didn't extinguish the moment I left college. I use it every day at work.”
Rebecca Roth, developer, in-car apps, OnStar
Bringing a high level of passion and creativity to her work is dependent, she says, on the work environment at OnStar. “When people come to me with a problem here, I am allowed to tackle it however is necessary.” She explains. “That might mean I get into a vehicle and see what is going on. Or I might reach out to different team members -- often people who are traditionally not related to the problem I’m trying to solve.” In some environments information, resources, and projects are siloed so that it’s difficult to get the cross-pollination that Roth finds necessary to her process. When teams don’t share information because they are afraid of other departments, don’t want to share resources because of the way they are allocated, or are just unavailable to anyone outside their department it creates an environment that makes approaching each problem the way an anthropologist would – by observing how people interact with the product and determining what they actually need rather than what they say they need – difficult. “For me,” says Roth. “The spark happens when I am able to tap into this anthropological approach, this cross pollinator, and discover a creative solution to a real problem.”
But here’s the thing. Roth didn’t land in this environment out of sheer luck. Like most of us, she has experienced her share of toxic work environments and professional disappointments. The key is, in the words of Don Schlitz (The Gambler) “You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.”
“When someone is in a situation where they can’t find the spark to work creatively,” says Roth. “He or she has to ask themselves, ‘Am I blocked because of the environment I'm in or the field I chose.’ I’d say that -- 90 percent of the time -- it is more likely the team they are in. If I wake up every morning thrilled to go to work and make something happen, I know I’m in the right place. But when I wake up dreading my office, I know it is time to fire that company from my life.”
And she has done it, with little hesitation. “I have given two-weeks notice with no other job lined up just to get away from a toxic environment,” she says.
Risky? Sure. But it has always worked out for her. And she has always improved her situation in the transition.
That job you already have may seem safe compared to a world of unknowns. But is it if it costs you your creative spark or your professional dignity? Roth attributes her bold attitude to some advice she got from a mentor when she first started out in her career. “Never fear change.”