It's common to conflate management with success. Everything about American professional culture supports this path, from our education system with teachers reporting into school administrators to how business is portrayed in movies and television. Cut to the high-powered marketing executive walking in and out of meetings approving campaigns, jetting off to oversee a photoshoot and attending boozy lunches with vendors.

In reality, the days are filled with back-to-back meetings, staff management, budget meetings, sifting through email and lastly, once the work day wraps up, a small window in which to focus on true creative work.

According to Cella’s 2023 In-House Marketing and Creative Industry Report, 38% of the senior-most creative leaders and 50% of front-line managers have four or more direct reports. Those leaders indicated that career pathing for themselves and their teams was their #1 challenge. The popular belief is that people quit because of their manager, and while that might be true if you have a horrible boss, the Harvard Business Review reports most people end up quitting a role because it did not align with their strengths and felt that they were not growing in their career.

Let's look past the traditional framework of moving "up" in your organization and instead focus on the universe of opportunities that can more closely align with your career goals and maybe more importantly, provide job satisfaction and ultimately career happiness.

Start with asking yourself WHY. A candid internal evaluation of what motivates you within your career is the key to designing a fulfilling role. How would you rank the following for your career?

  • Money

  • Organic creative creation

  • Professional Development

  • Maintain relevance and marketability

  • Responsibility

  • Prestige/Recognition

  • Influence

  • Opportunity to mentor others

  • Greater involvement in the business side of creative operations

Promotions Aren't For Everyone

A friend of mine is an exceptional package designer. He is highly sought after by companies who are looking for an innovative designer who can deliver a fresh perspective to revive legacy bonds. No simple task. At the time he was applying for an internal promotion to Art Director and before taking the role, his direct manager had him spend three months in the role in an unofficial capacity. After three weeks of what he called "wiping noses and catering to clients," it was over.

The satisfaction my friend used to find in solving a creative puzzle for his clients was gone, and had been replaced with the responsibility of creation through others and managing client relationships. Happily, he returned to his role and was also able to work remotely, allowing him to attain a better work-life balance while doing what he loved most.

A Manager Role Could Be Right For You

A few years ago, I worked with a recently-promoted creative manager who had spent the year since her promotion feeling anxious about her new role and believed that perhaps moving into a management position was a mistake. A moment of clarity arrived when the branding for a large product launch was behind schedule due to a last-minute change by the brand marketing team.

Over the next week, she and her team pushed everything aside and simply focused on creating the best work possible. It was late one night that she realized the hum of the team and camaraderie shared between the staff gave her energy and career satisfaction.

It's hard to see all of the pieces when focusing on team utilization, staff reviews, budget planning, etc. It was when the team was at their best that allowed her to look at her career in an entirely new way.

Determining what will align your strengths with the satisfaction that comes with prestige and compensation commensurate with that focus are the keys to designing your career. It could mean taking a step sideways instead of "up" the organizational chart.

Never Stand Still

As an expert in organizational design and staffing for large marketing, creative and digital departments, I can say with all confidence that no matter what you want to do next in your career, never stop learning.

Take a look at these in-demand jobs within the digital, marketing and creative industry: UX/UI Designer, Digital Marketing, Mobile Application Designer, Brand/Product Management and Content Marketing. All of the positions require a niche focus within the general digital, marketing and creative discipline. If you're currently in a role that doesn’t energize you and you’re feeling stuck, now is the time to invest in yourself by auditing your career and focusing on your future.

Auditing Your Career

Before deciding what job you would like next in your career, create a development plan for yourself:

  • Talk to your manager or a trusted colleague to explore opportunities and identify personal developmental areas. Let's face it, no one enjoys negative feedback regarding our areas of development. However, embracing and understanding your challenges is the key to mapping out a personal development plan for yourself. When you heed helpful, constructive criticism, it can be a springboard for personal development.

  • Look for upskilling and reskilling opportunities to address any skill gaps you have. Take advantage of any training programs within your current company. Many organizations have memberships to Udemy Business, LinkedIn Learning, etc. You'll be amazed what you can learn by setting aside one lunch hour per week to invest in yourself.

  • Align the goals in your annual performance review with your personal business plan goals. Annual reviews are a great opportunity to work with your manager to discuss your career goals, and turning milestones that align with your career growth strategy into your yearly developmental goals is a motivational and focused tactic to ensure you stay on course. Outline the steps you'll need to take to move from point A to B and then assign due dates to yourself throughout the year to stay on target.

  • Look for mentors who are already in positions you're interested in and form relationships. Generally, people with high job satisfaction are open and willing to share their success and challenges with others. Take advantage of this by looking for mentors either inside or outside of your organization who are passionate about their roles and form relationships to gain a clearer understanding of the career path and refine your personal developmental goals accordingly.


Ultimately, thinking about your career path as a jungle gym instead of a ladder will allow you to find the sweet spot between your skills and the needs of your organization. If your passion is centered around  managing and motivating others, then by all means focus your time and attention on sharping those skills.

If your passion is centered around your personal career growth outside of management, ensure you are having candid conversations with your leadership team regarding your interests and ensure you are investing time with your own career development to allow you to continually grow as the roles within the digital, marketing and creative space steadily evolve.

Ready for your next career move? Check out Cella’s hot jobs today!