Journey First, Destination Second – Satisfying the UX Researcher’s Hunger for Change

The first question I ask every candidate in the hiring process is: “What kind of challenge are you looking for next in your career?” I would say 99% say as part of their response, that they want to make an impact. This is no surprise as millennials favor jobs where they can contribute to a higher sense of purpose.

This response always really intrigues me. Don’t get me wrong. I love that more people are seeking purpose in their work. But I also think that we expect to reap the benefits of “achieving” impact before we have even settled into the sustained practice, and yes, “hard work” it takes to chip away at change. 

“What I worry about is that this hunger for impact actually decreases our endurance and patience to work towards change.”

Therefore I always dig into this response to learn more. Generally I am looking for two things: 

  1. What does purpose mean to you right now?
  2. Are you as hungry for the long journey as you are for the rewarding destination?

The UX Researcher’s Hunger for Change

You have to have an appetite for change as a UX Researcher. You must have a restless hunger for creating knowledge, and for being an insight journalist, broadcasting the stories you surface to influence decision makers. And if you hunger for purpose, yes, part of this is steering the research agenda to issues and opportunities you believe are valuable for customers and for business. 

Not every research project is going to change the roadmap, or result in manifested changes in the user experience. The difference between those who throw in the towel at the first signs of defeat and those who learn quickly and move forward, is something called grit. 

Grit is working towards a higher purpose with sustained dedicated practice and a growth-mindset and persevering despite setbacks. Skeptics of grit question whether the skill makes us inflexible to pivot from our purpose when we should. I don’t see grit and adaptability as mutually exclusive. Your purpose can (and probably should!) always be open to change. 

Whether a candidate joins my team or not, I really want them to find a role where they can work towards a purpose that is meaningful to them and where they lean into the challenge of the journey. Because it’s in the slow grind, the failures, set-backs, motivation dips, denials, that we get a harvest of opportunities to learn, evolve and strengthen our dedication to purpose. 

Therefore I want to provide you three tips to help you cultivate your grit.:

  1. Define what purpose means, uniquely to you.
  2. Embrace the journey of change
  3. Identify & own your recharge

Step 1: Write a Creative Direction

I’ve never written a career plan. And I’ve never known what I wanted to be when I grew up. That being said, I have many dreams and values when it comes to my career and the contribution I want to make. I therefore loved Jason Mayden’s concept of a Creative Direction, which he updates every 5 years to define what motivates him, what is fundamental to him, and what he envisions for himself in his career. I’ve adopted this approach (check out this template which you can use to create your own). It helped me to articulate the passions I wanted to put together and the movements I want to be a part of. The Creative Direction helped me to better articulate what purpose for me is, with a format that opens up possibilities.

Step 2: Select Your Focus Points

If you want to advance towards a higher purpose you are probably going to have to get better at something, and throw a lot of attempts at the wall to see what sticks. What I’ve learned as an endurance runner actually, is that you have to pick a few focus points in your practice if you want to see improvements more quickly.

As a runner if I am focusing on my arms, my hips, my foot placement and my breathing all at once, it’s likely I am not making any meaningful progress in one of those areas. Instead, I started choosing 1 focus point per training block (6 weeks) to focus on.

As a UX Researcher, I’m sure you love getting feedback. But be specific so that you can better train one focus area at a time, say for example your presentation skills, or your story-arc in your reports. Intensify your focus on one area at a time, and you will see improvement more quickly.

Step 3: Identify & Own Your Recharge

Finally, working towards a higher purpose is simply put, sometimes tiring. You won’t look at failures with curiosity, or take risks for that matter, if you are emotionally drained or fed up. Figure out how you recharge and build that into your work rituals. I am fairly introverted, a trait of mine I have masked for some time because I was actually told by others “But you love talking to people, Emma!”. Sure, I love one-on-one conversations that go deep, where I am learning with someone, but after hours and hours of that Monday-Thursday, I take “Focus Fridays” with ideally no meetings to reflect on those conversations, and prepare for them next week so I can be of the most help to my team.

Maybe your recharge is not alone time, but actually time with others, but whatever it is, own it. It makes you uniquely you, and your team and organization will benefit from you bringing your full drive to what you do.

Wrapping up: Journey first, Destination second

In endurance training we say “It’s about the journey not the destination”. I certainly don’t train hours per day just for race day. I don’t lose confidence in my ambitious sport goals because I focus on today’s training. I observe what there is to learn about and improve next. If you want to do meaningful work, if you want to change something in the world, focus first on embracing all that the journey has to offer you.

Always happy to meet people on their journey – feel free to connect on LinkedIn with a message on how I can help you!


Emma van Emmerik

Emma leads the User Experience Design team at Swapfiets, the first “bicycle as a service” membership. Previously, Emma led UX Research at, where she worked with her distributed team to improve and innovate the food ordering ecosystem, and she led design research within an innovation incubator for Nike’s European retail store digital transformations.

She’s been a founding researcher at two start-ups in the fit-tech industry, and began her research journey in public-health intervention studies. She is an avid endurance athlete, inhales books, and time in the woods.

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