Creating Your Own Social Impact Career Playbook

By Christina Meinberg, Social Impact Advisor, Berkeley-Haas Career Management Group (CMG)

Anyone who knows me knows how thrilled I am to have recently taken on the newly created position of Social Impact Advisor at Haas.

Prior to this role, I was a responsible business consultant, strategist, marketer and — most recently — a Director in Center for Responsible Business. These experiences have allowed me to work with leaders across a multitude of industries ranging from tech to food and agriculture to retail, oil and gas, and more.

If we flash back a decade, I was a graduate student who, like many of you reading this post, wanted to find meaningful work that would allow me to make a difference in the world. There was no ‘playbook’ that could have told me how and when I should start my own sustainable consulting business, work as a contractor or researcher within a start-up or Fortune 500 business, or direct programs for an academic Center — just as no playbook exists for incoming MBAs in social impact, today.

The beauty of stepping into a purpose-driven career is that your individual playbook unfolds when you listen to yourself and get clear on what contribution(s) you wish to make. In short, the “plays” flow from within you.

More specifically, if I could provide new MBAs a guide to creating their own playbook, it would include this advice:

FOCUS ON THE INTERNAL BEFORE THE EXTERNAL: Know yourself before you start searching for jobs. Invest in your own inner, foundational work; it will be the best investment you have ever made. Once you can come from a clear and true sense of self and sense of purpose, you will know where you are aiming, as opposed to coming from a place of fear. And you’re in luck; CMG is unveiling a new “self-exploration” series of workshops to help uncover your values and skills, to guide your job search.

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF: What are the absolute requirements or qualities that your career must have? Do you desire to work alongside like-minded colleagues, or are you prepared to thrive in a more traditional / functional role where you can apply your leadership skills as an intrapreneur (or to use Debra Meyerson’s term, a “tempered radical”)? If you’re keen on impacting the world through a career in international development, are you ready to embrace unfamiliar environments and cultures? Which trade-offs are you willing to make? Which are you not willing to make? (Need help here? Ask me about the “not in my life” list).

FIND YOUR CROWD AND START THINKING ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS NOW: 90% of the work you find will come from your network. You are geared for purposeful work because you know what you stand for (see bullet point #1, above), so don’t keep it all to yourself. Take initiative! Graduate school is a giant playground (inside a bigger one, in our case: the Bay Area): don’t just hope you’ll be noticed and invited in. I have Andrew Winston to thank for some of my early work as an independent sustainable business consultant; we connected briefly when he came to my graduate school to give a talk on his book, Green to Gold. When I was looking for work upon graduation, he connected me to a colleague of his who became my coworker and instant mentor. There are some very exciting event and networking opportunities available to Haasies this fall — including with leading B Corporation CEOs — so stay tuned!

BOLSTER YOUR “AUTHORITY THESIS”: I have never heard of an interesting job in the social impact realm that was not competitive. Decide to approach the process from a place of strength versus comparing yourself to others. While in school, take stock: what is the growing evidence of what you know? As Tanya Geisler asks in her TED talk, make a note of any victories, projects, evidence, credentials, experience, and social proof along your journey. If you come for an advising appointment with me, we will inventory it all — what you know and what you have launched, taught, written, created, inspired, sold, pulled off (social impact related or otherwise).

YOUR JOURNAL IS YOUR BEST FRIEND: You are about to make a huge developmental leap, which is exciting; but unfortunately your inner critic wants in on it, too. Your critic may tell you things should be moving faster, you should have it all figured out, you don’t have what it takes, you are not enough. But your critic is dead wrong. I recommend these tips on busting the inner critic, from Tara Mohr. Trust in the process and find ways to remain present and self aware as fears (fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the unknown) come up. Keep going. Your path will unfold exactly as it should, through reflection and experience. If you feel stuck, go back to your foundation; celebrate your values, your resilience, your drive to make your life and your work count.

CONSIDER WHO YOU LISTEN TO, AND KNOW WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP: Especially if you pivoting into the social impact space from a more traditional career path, this can be a vulnerable time. So while it’s important that you put yourself out there, ironically it’s not always a great idea to share your early thinking with your closest family members. Think of it this way: they want to protect you, so they may fear change. Another way of thinking about this is akin to what you will learn in marketing class: don’t market an iPod to a 3-year-old. Why? It’s waste of your time, not to mention energy. You know those people in your life who are in your addressable market — those who want you to succeed. Allow them to champion you, and to build upon your ideas, ignite your creativity, share in your enthusiasm. Get support through the CMG… come and find me, when you need me!

FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER: If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are at least thinking about taming some big nasty societal issues in your career, which means that you won’t be working on those challenges alone. Think of your search in a similar vein and consider practicing the buddy system with someone who can help you stay smart and stay accountable. In partnership with Net Impact we will launch a “buddies” program this year, which will help you find your tribe.

YOU ARE NOT YOUR CAREER: Don’t be a one trick pony; it’s the path to burnout. Your job won’t make you who you are; it is only a part of you. I struggle with this each and every year because I am passionate about my work. But if I allow that to be the only thing fulfilling me, then I have to ask myself, “Is this really all there is?”. (Hint: look for my radiant smile when I’m with my kids and you’ll know my answer.)

In the end, your playbook will include a lot of “If… then…” statements. For example:

  • If there is an issue area that really energizes me, then I should become aware of — and make a note of — what I love about it.
  • If I’m getting down on myself during my career transition, then I should give myself a break and go back to who I am and where I feel strong.
  • If I feel connected to others who are passionate about similar things, then I will have support and accountability when I ask for it.

What did I miss? What’s on your mind? Drop me a note, or leave a comment!

I can’t wait to meet you and to be there for you on this journey.

-Christina


Originally published at redefiningbusiness.org on August 22, 2016.

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