3 Steps to Having a Positive Impact through Your Career

The final year of college is tough. For every party you attend, assignment you ace, or new connection you make, you’re forced to answer the same question at least 10 times: What are you going to do after graduation?

For me, job-hunting was stressful for two reasons. First, having majored in Languages, there was no obvious way to narrow down a career that would be right for me, and second, I had no idea what I could do that would fulfill my desire to have a positive impact on the world.

While my peers battled for competitive internships in large corporations, I chose to head in a different direction: teaching fourth grade in an understaffed elementary school in a disadvantaged area.

Sure, my teeny salary couldn’t begin to compare with that of my corporate finance friends, but I had something much more valuable than that. I was one of the only consistent things in some of the kids’ lives — if I didn’t show up, it would have a ripple effect on everyone else in the classroom. Being valued in that way was so much more important to me than monetary compensation.

Teaching is one of the most obvious ways to make a difference with your work, but it is by no means the only option. If you’re looking for more from your career than a hefty bonus, here are three tried and tested ways to do it.

1. Work on a problem that’s neglected

When we think of creating a social impact, a handful of well-known charities spring to mind. The problem is that large charities are overwhelmed with donations and support, so in throwing yourself on the pile, your impact becomes relatively slim.

Choosing to devote your time where it’s most needed, such as caring for the elderly or working in a deprived area, ensures the valuable skills you’ve gained as a graduate will be utilized, plus you’ll be supporting causes that are more likely to be overlooked. As a teacher, I was able to make far more of a difference to children at my understaffed school than I ever would at a suburban school that attracted lots of great teachers.

Interested in working for a charity? Take the time to research which are doing work that really resonates with you, even if they’re not the most well-known. If you’re keen to become a doctor, consider offering your skills in crisis campaigns abroad, or specializing in less popular areas, to help meet demand where it’s needed most. If you’re looking for something a little less conventional, why not use your skills to research for a think tank that finds ways to improve health in less wealthy countries? The possibility of having a positive impact in any of these areas is huge.

Not sure where to start? 80,000 Hours is a not-for-profit dedicated to matching young people to a career with a social impact. You can find out which problems are most pressing here.

2. Advocate for a cause that matters

It’s tempting to feel that the more hands-on we are, the greater an impact we have, but this isn’t always the case. Ethically minded celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba have had a far greater impact using their status to advocate for causes they care about than they ever could by volunteering as an individual.

During my time at college, I volunteered in an nursing home and experienced firsthand the loneliness of some of the residents. Instead of just upping the amount of times I visited the home, I became an advocate for more involvement from my fellow students, encouraging more of my peers to make connections in their community. We can gradually chip away at some of society’s biggest problems if we can gather the manpower to do it.

Similarly, using your skills and network to represent a cause you value can be as worthwhile as direct service. As we move up the career ladder, opportunities to make a difference through advocacy increase. Think about your workplace. Who could you influence to donate money to charity or change a company policy that results in less environmental damage? If there’s something in your community that you want to change, don’t be afraid to write to local or national officials to express your views—as a concerned citizen informed with personal experience, you have more persuasive power than you might think.

3. Earn well, give well

If you’re well-suited to a high-paying career, you don’t need to leave it all to pursue something that doesn’t match your skills and interests. Consider donating a chunk of your salary to charity to make a difference in the lives of others.

If a career in law or finance appeals to you, why not give back by taking a serious look at your finances and how much you could afford to give each year? Over a lifetime, this could have a phenomenal impact on the lives of people around the world. Check out websites like Giving What We Can or Charity Navigator to see which charities will have the greatest impact with your cash.

Knowing that you don’t have to work directly with charitable organizations in order to make a difference makes it a little bit easier to find a career path that’s in harmony with your personal needs, while having a positive impact on the world around you.

Originally published on February 22, 2018.

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