If you’ve been in the world of work for any length of time, you know that after a while purpose becomes more important than the amount of money going into your bank account at the end of the month. You want to feel as if what you’re doing is making a difference to someone, somewhere. The last thing you want is to spend your days accumulating wealth but feeling as if you’re not doing anything of importance, or worse yet, harming people.
Finding work that allows you to “give back” can be a challenge. Given the nature of the economy and the demands of consumers, it’s not something that everyone can do. Somebody has to be there to operate the counter a McDonalds, and somebody has to be the person who trucks products across the country. But if you’re really committed to finding life-affirming work that helps the community in tangible ways, then it’s certainly possible.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the ways that you can find work that gives back to the rest of society. It’s not about making loads of money (though that can be a nice byproduct), but instead about finding an activity that is both fulfilling and rewarding.
Don’t Let Academic Credentials Dictate What You Do
You could do an MSW online, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go into social work to find meaning (although that is an option). Likewise, if you did a degree in economics but have changed your mind about working for a financial institution, then nothing is stopping you from applying the skills you learned to a different setting.
Finding work with meaning almost always means finding something you’re passionate about and then using your existing academic skills in that particular area. Oxfam, for instance, needs people with financial skills to manage its books and ensure that it remains a viable charity. It also requires people with experience in the hard sciences to evaluate whether it’s interventions in developing countries will make a difference in the lives of people.
Academic credentials shouldn’t box you in; they should be a tool that you can use to prove that you have specific skills that have value to purpose-driven organizations. People doing good deeds throughout the world still need experts to tell them what exactly they should be doing and what will work. It’s not just about “being good,” it’s about doing good things effectively.
Be A Visionary
Successful organizations that want to see social change have a vision of how they’d like the world to look in five, ten and twenty years from now. The Millennium Development Goals, for instance, was the vision of the United Nations. The goal was to eradicate severe poverty across the world by 2015, and in no small degree, the world managed to achieve these objectives (though hunger remains a serious issue in part of Africa).
Being a visionary helps you to slot into organizations with a future-focused mentality. The United Nations, Oxfam, and other leading change-based institutions want people who can get on board with their plan of action and believe in it just as much as they do. Being a visionary isn’t necessarily about coming up with new and original ideas for how to make the world a better place, but rather it’s about having an idea of what the future should look like, finding others with the same vision, and then working with them to make it happen.
Understand Why You Want A Social Purpose
The vast majority of people do work that provides private benefit, but that doesn’t explicitly focus on social change. Arguably, every product that comes out of the private sector enables social change, but the day-to-day reality of making those products makes it hard to see the connection. Doing something with an explicit social emphasis can help make your purpose clear.
There is no shortage of talented and intelligent people who want to find work that allows them to give something back, but many of them don’t know why they’re doing the work that they do. To have a purpose, a person needs to understand the motivation behind why they chose a particular path through academia or a job role. If they don’t, then they risk falling into the same trap as before, choosing work that fits their CV but doesn’t necessarily give them the fulfillment that they crave.
Say, for instance, you want to do something in the area of nutrition. Nutrition is a hot topic these days and an important one. The western diet is responsible for more deaths each year than anything else, and its impact is growing. The world needs people with the knowledge, skills and dedication to help transition people away from their destructive diets toward something more healthful. If that doesn’t happen, there will be more disease, shortened lives, and a bigger burden on the healthcare system. All of those reasons are a significant incentive for why you might want to get involved in the area.
Don’t Settle For Less
Your work takes up a big chunk of your life. It can be distressing, to say the least, to go to work every day and just run out the clock, rather than being engaged in what you’re doing because you know you’re making a difference. It can take a while to find work where you feel like you’re giving back, but it’s not worth settling. If you don’t love how you’re spending your time or think that it’s valuable, then you need to keep looking.
Look For Work That Facilitates Learning
It’s not true that people go to school and then emerge, fully equipped to take on a role. In fact, that practically never happens. It’s a myth. The usual course of events is something like this: you go to college, learn a few basics, prove to an organization that you’re intelligent, and then learn all the important stuff on the job.
Learning, however, is a crucial element of feeling fulfilled in one’s work. Constantly learning encourages growth and achievement, according to UC Berkeley psychologists, Dacher Keltner and Morten Hansen, and helps people discover who they are.
It’s not just about learning on the job either. Learning about yourself can teach you more about who you are, where your passions lie, and how you should best spend your time. You could discover, contrary to your initial beliefs, that your primary motivation isn’t to “give back” but to make as much money for yourself as possible.
The psychologists also make another point when it comes to learning: it’s not always best to be a high achiever in a narrow area. They point out that people who have broad experience in a range of different disciplines can often bring something unique to the table.
Create Something Yourself
So far, we’ve discussed how you can slot into an existing organization. But nothing is stopping you from trying to create the change you want to see in the world from your bedroom. Large organizations might seem like they have a lot of power and prestige, but often the real change in the world comes because individuals take the initiative, do something different, and capture a particular segment of the market, whether charitable or otherwise.
If there’s something that you’re passionate about, then stand up and make it happen. Create a new company with a product that will help people, start an online resource, or create a platform that brings people together. Being entrepreneurial is rewarding.