You want to make a difference in your career, but you find yourself pushing papers and having conversations that don’t amount to much besides the bottom line for people who don’t truly need more money.
I had a conversation with a client recently where he worried about just this.
“I’m 44. I don’t want to spend the next 20 years doing what amounts to essentially nothing. I want to make a difference.”
“What does that mean to you?” I asked him.
He went on to explain that to him, making a difference meant taking people whose lives are bad and making them better, not taking lives that are good and making them really good – or not moving the needle at all.
He wanted to focus on the underprivileged. He would feel better about his life if he could improve lives that were rough to begin with.
He just didn’t know how to do it while supporting himself and his family.
Maybe you feel the same way.
Maybe making a difference is what’s important to you too, but figuring out how to make it happen is hard.
Careers That Make A Difference In The World – What Matters To You?
Making a difference doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For some people, like this client, making a difference was all about service to people who had difficult lives.
But you don’t have to be working in that space to be making a difference at all. In fact, you can be doing almost anything.
You might be working in a company whose mission you believe in – and that could mean anything.
It could mean you’re a nurse saving lives or a teacher. You could be a financial advisor, helping people manage their money better. You could be a marketer who helps a company whose mission and products you believe in. You could work for an airline, or in HR or really anything. . .
As long as you can see how your work impacts something you care about, it could be anything at all.
So don’t feel compelled to work for a non-profit unless that’s the kind of work you feel drawn to do. There are many companies out there doing good work. In particular, check out B-Corps and other companies working for good (I’ll write more about these in another post.)
Making a Difference and Money
It follows that if you don’t have to be working in a non-profit, you don’t have to be working for pennies to make a difference, either.
Careers that make a difference and pay well do exist.
We have a tendency to believe that we can’t make a difference unless we’re being completely selfless. If you’re making money, or working for a company that’s making money, we think we can’t still be making a difference.
But you don’t have to live like Mother Teresa to touch people’s lives.
Look at Oprah, Tony Robbins or Bill Gates.
In fact, when you believe that you can make a difference and prosper at the same time, you move out of that “scarcity mindset” and you can sometimes actually do more good for people than you could than if you were right there in pain with them.
I’m not saying that working for non-profits is bad – I was a social worker and worked for some myself – but I am saying that if the particular difference you want to make is in the for-profit world, or you don’t want to live on a non-profit salary, but you still want to make a difference, don’t feel that the two are incompatible.
Find A Career That Can Make A Difference
It’s not too late to find a career that makes a difference. First you have to figure out what feels meaningful to you.
Once you have some direction, being willing to move forward in the face of fear is key, and know you’ll mess up. It’s an important part of the process.
Be willing to answer unanswered questions that might come up, to sit with the anxiety of not knowing what might be next for you exactly, and be willing to enlist the help of the resources around you.
It’s easy to think career change is something you can manage on your own, but the truth is you’ll need the help of a supportive network to get you the meaningful new job you deserve.