Tina Essmaker’s Great Contentment

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“Build a Career and Life you Love” is the promise of career coach Tina Essmaker. She fulfilled that promise in her interactive workshops at Adobe’s 99U Conference by describing her own career and life journey and the steps she took, and then translating those steps into actions everyone can follow.

Tina Essmaker is a speaker and career coach for creatives.

Tina Essmaker is Leaving Discontent Behind

Essmaker opened each session by explaining that she was a second-career career coach. She’d been social worker at a nonprofit that ran an emergency shelter and a transitional living program in her hometown of Port Huron, Michigan.

She put up a slide that dramatized how she felt at the time:

Tina Essmaker is a speaker and career coach for creatives.

“The stress of the job came from working with a population that often came to me in crisis, so there were many moving parts to address. It was rewarding because I had a direct impact in the lives of my clients,” she told me later. “I worked with runaway and homeless youth. And I was always on call, so it was hard to turn it off. Working with vulnerable populations takes a lot of emotional energy, and I was neglecting myself because I had poor boundaries.”

She was ready for a change, for turning discontent into contentment. “I was burning myself out,” she explained. “I’d wanted to do creative work my whole life and I thought a career shift would alleviate the stress and burnout.”

Essmaker explained how she began to do the hard work for myself that she now walks her clients through—to be more intentional and less reactive. When she wrapped up her career in social work, she explained, she was energized by the new experience of doing work she considered creative. “I had freedom in social work, but I worked within an existing structure,” she said.

“Coaching is more flexible and I’m creating the system and flow based on what benefits my clients the most. I can be agile and make changes to be more effective. It’s rewarding to see my clients reach their goals while I’m working with them. Even deeper than that, it’s exciting to see clients challenge their limiting beliefs and transform their thinking, which changes how they talk about themselves and how they act.”

Guiding Principles

Then all of us in the room had the opportunity to experience the process with her. Tina’s first piece of advice was: “Find Your North Stars, your guiding principles.”

Essmaker was unafraid to open up and tell us, personally, what she had needed in her career and life:

Growth: Ongoing opportunities to learn, be uncomfortable, take risks, develop talent, practice skills.
Independence: The freedom to be self-directed and autonomous; if working for someone, I need to be trusted and empowered to do the work.
Creativity: Space to think, use my imagination, ideate and brainstorm; resources to execute ideas
Return: Tangible results of my work in the form of money, recognition and further opportunities.
Develop: The ability to invest in others and help cultivate their potential and teach, whether one-on-one or on a mass scale
Belief: My work must be meaningful to me, align with my values, and contribute to the world in some capacity that’s bigger than me.

Judging by the reactions in the room, those are needs that resonate with many people. She asked us audience members to name and call out our own North Stars. The answers included creative freedom, recognition, better pay, personal growth, fun, and the ability to explore new artistic directions and spaces.

Mission Statement

“Does the company you work for have a mission statement?” was the next question. Almost everyone raised their hands, Yes. But when she asked “What about you, personally? Do you have a mission statement?” Almost no hands went up.

“Know the value you contribute to the world!” Tina admonished. She asked us to fill in the blanks of the sentence above using words that describe an action, an outcome, and a result, such as: “I help customers feel good by filling them with delicious food.” Again, she asked people to share their statements—a great technique for building rapport and trust with an audience.

Identify Feelings.

“How do you feel?” is not the usual question you get asked about your workplace. But it is one that a former social worker would ask. We spent a moment or two considering how we usually feel during the work day. After a pause, people raised their hands and said things like:
Not Creative.

Wow. They were all designers, mostly UX designers from all over the world who work for companies large and small and who came to New York for three days of 99U-style inspiration. Bored, frustrated?

She then asked us to identify our actions that work against our own sense of contentment. That was an easy one for me. I stood up and said, “I sit down at the computer early in the morning, get sucked in, and before I know it, oops, it’s 2:00 pm and I’m still in my PJ’s, and starving.”

“How do you want to feel?” Tina then asked everyone. The answers:

Don’t we all? “There is hope!” she asserted.

Take Action

Now it was time to learn how to turn the North Stars and Mission Statements into action.

Tina Essmaker is a speaker and career coach for creatives.

“Ask yourself, What I need to do to get closer to my ideal day?” Tina shared that, for her, it meant addressing drains and incomplet
ions by doing things like putting her phone away, far away, and spending mornings doing deep, uninterrupted, focused work.

Tina Essmaker is a speaker and career coach for creatives.

These questions ultimately generated long lists of stuff that keep everyone from doing deep, focused work. Among the ‘drains’ identified in the room: Facebook, Instagram, answering robocalls, going through junk email….

If you get rid of all that stuff, Tina advised, there might even be time to get involved in your passion projects, like volunteering or gardening or even taking


The last step was “Say what you’re grateful for. What wins have I had this week? How can I be the ancestor of my own future happiness?”

Tina Essmaker is a speaker and career coach for creatives.

Tina Essmaker listed her own accomplishments since her career change:

I’m building a more sustainable career path.
I’m defining my own metrics for success.
I’m prioritizing time spent on deep, focused work that supports my goals.
My calendar reflects my priorities and values.
I’ve abandoned balance for fulfillment.
I’m taking small actions daily to create change over time.

Because of all that, she said, she’s speaking around the country and the world—even a session around a campfire under the stars — and has time to travel for pleasure, to write poetry. She now feels:
More connected to myself.
More fulfilled with my work.
More in sync with my purpose.
More in tune with my voice.
More aware of my value.

What do you want more of?

“What do you want more of? Are you feeling overwhelmed now? she asked everyone. “Take small actions daily to create change over time.”

When I got back to my desk, I unsubscribed to a bunch of sites and contacts that send way too many e-mail marketing messages. The next morning, I got dressed and ate breakfast before sitting down at my computer. These are two small actions that will create change. Except I’m wearing my PJs right now and haven’t had a cup of coffee. There is always tomorrow, right?

For more on Tina Essmaker, head right here.