I think about work all the time.
That’s not as boring (or neurotic) as it sounds.
I think about how we can work less, why our relationships to work are changing, and what conditions we need to do remarkable work. I’m curious about how social, economic, and political systems impact how work informs our identities.
I study business owners, independent workers, and emerging workplace trends to discover what we need from work—and what needs to change to make the future of work sustainable.
Hi, I’m Tara McMullin.
I’ve been investigating the future of work for over 14 years. From personal coaches to influencers, independent educators to marketing professionals, I’m interested in how today’s independent workers navigate the uncertainty and precarity of the 21st-century economy.
I draw on critical theory, media studies, sociology, and economics to shed light on how work has changed—and how it’s changing still.
What Works Podcast
What Works launched in 2015, and we’ve produced over 400 episodes. Today, the show features audio essays exploring leadership, media, personal growth, and independent work. Recent series include “Money and Time,” “Self-Help, LLC,” and “The Economics Of…”
Book, Essays, and Newsletter
What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting examines the social and economic systems that influence what we strive for. It guides the reader through turning an achievement-oriented life into a practice-oriented life, reshaping how they set goals, make plans, and execute daily work in the process.
I also publish a weekly newsletter that features essay versions of podcast episodes.
The Body at Work: How Self-Control Became the #1 Rule of the 21st-Century Economy
Our attitudes toward our bodies mimic our attitudes toward work. Self-control, discipline, willpower: culture teaches us to police our bodies the same way it teaches us to police our productivity.
“She Looks Like an Instagram:” How Empowerment Became a Brand
Self-help and personal growth brands influence our expectations of what “success” looks like. Social media doesn’t disrupt so much as it reinforces the idea that normative self-presentation and conspicuous wealth mean you’ve made it.
Why We Keep Squeezing Things In
We’re busy and overcommitted as it is. But it’s still a real challenge to say “no” to a new idea, request, or project. Why is enough never enough—no matter how overtaxed we are?
Why do people do the things they do? And why do they think the things they think?
These questions have driven me since I was a kid. They led me to pursue a degree in religious studies, where I first encountered some of the philosophical ideas I draw on today. After college, a bout with chronic depression and burnout forced me to drop out of graduate school before I even started.
I spent the next five years as a bookstore manager. My coworkers were highly educated, incredibly bright people—but here we were, working for just a bit more than minimum wage. This was not the story I was told about going to college. What happened? How had we gotten so far off the career paths we expected to be on?
In 2009, I started my first website—a blog about the maker movement in Pennsylvania—and, later that year, acquired another site. I learned everything I could about the businesses artists and makers were developing via platforms like Etsy and Shopify.
Over the next 10 years, I developed a reputation as both a critical thinker and a savvy business strategist. I spoke at SXSW in Austin, the Small is Beautiful Conference in Glasgow, the What If? Conference in Cancun, and Pioneer Nation in Portland. In 2017, I launched the What Works Network—a peer support network for small business owners and independent workers. Over 5 years, the What Works team and I developed a community platform that welcomed over 1500 members, produced 19 live online conferences, and hosted weekly support opportunities.
In the midst of another debilitating bout with depression and autistic burnout, I left the What Works Network (acquired by Mighty Networks) and wrote my first book, What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting. It was published in November 2022 by Wiley.
Today, I spend most of my working time writing, podcasting, and creating resources for the future of work. I speak on mental health, the evolving workplace, and the systems that make work-life harder than it needs to be.
I’m currently working on a coaching framework for managers and coaches based on my book, What Works. And I’m still trying to figure out why people do what they do and think what they think.
I’m a National Parks lover, an avid paddle boarder, and a long-distance runner. I love books: science fiction, history, memoir, cultural criticism, sociology, and philosophy. I listen to podcasts obsessively—including Maintenance Phase, RadioLab, The Ezra Klein Show, Ologies, and Tech Won’t Save Us. On the weekends, you can find me baking bread, crackers, and biscuits.
All of my work is guided by a deep belief in the power of context, curiosity, and care. I proudly identify as a feminist killjoy and anti-capitalist. I use my work to contribute to furthering the goals of the racial, gender, economic, and environment justice movements.
Autism & Mental Health
I navigate chronic clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. In 2021, at the age of 38, I learned the constellation of social challenges, sensory issues, and self-alienation I’ve dealt with for decades has a name: autism. Today, I’m one of many women recontextualizing our life experiences through the lens of autism spectrum condition.