Finding a Career That Makes The World Better Without Making Your Poorer

For profit jobs aren’t always soulless.

For impact jobs don’t always pay poorly.

All too often, working professionals tend to get stuck in the belief that you can either make a lot of money and then donate some to charity OR you have to take a massive pay-cut if you want to work at a job that makes a positive impact. And while most professionals are in jobs that don’t make them come alive, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The rapid growth and sustained interest in Shared Value and Social Entrepreneurship over the years — with ample evidence that both can be sustainable — indicates the growing number of opportunities to make a positive impact with your profession.

Google Trends Data on Shared Value and Social Entrepreneurship Interest

Let me introduce you to Heather Watkins who gave up climbing the tech career ladder to to do good.

I had the chance to get to know Heather through the MovingWorlds Institute: a program that helps professionals transition to social impact careers. Like its sister program, Impact Teams, this cohort-based program guides professionals to explore that type of work that makes them come alive, how it can be positioned to make a positive impact on the world, and how to do it without breaking your bank.

Here are four lessons we can learn from Heather (and many more case studies) about finding a purposeful career:

1. Understand the Difference Between Purpose and Cause

A cause, as defined by dictionary.com, is

a principle, ideal, goal, or movement to which a person or group is dedicated.

People often dedicate their lives to causes, like curing cancer, eliminating homelessness, or feeding the hungry. But a cause is not your purpose. Nothing in the definition of cause does it explain a sense of belonging, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

As entrepreneur and author Aaron Hurst shares in his book, The Purpose Economy, what cause we contribute to is only part of our purpose pattern. HOW we do the work, WHAT we do, and WHY we do the work is even more important. This Fast Company article and this on Shareable, also by Mr. Hurst, nicely summarize the lessons of the Purpose Economy: working for a cause is not enough. To come alive in your work, you have to honor your HOW, WHAT, and WHY purpose drivers.

Many people falsely think that working for a cause will make them feel successful. In fact, people should work in a way that gives them purpose.

2. Actively Test and Learn What Makes You Come Alive

I’ve seen far too many people leave stable jobs in a rush of emotion to go work at a startup or nonprofit, only to find the work less than desirable. Certainly, many have found their calling this way, but the shockingly high rate of nonprofit and startup employment dissatisfaction clearly show that most made jump that wasn’t right.

In a popular webinar with Net Impact, a few leaders in the purposeful career field (this author included) had the chance to share more effective ways to better understand your purpose, and how to build your network to find your next opportunity.

The Purposeful Career validation board.

3. Incorporate Impact Initiatives Into Your Career

No matter your current job, you can find a way to contribute to social and environmental initiatives through your current work. Often times, this can not only help you find your purpose, but make a bigger impact than trying to switch jobs or donating on the side.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provide a clear framework with tangible recommendations to make a positive impact in the work place. The growing movement of social INTRApreneurship provides even more recommendations as to how you can use your current job and network to contribute to a better world.

4. Keep an Eye on Purpose-Orientated Career Opportunities

In an earlier post, we shared a complete guide on where to look for your next opportunity. The growth of shared value, social entrepreneurship, and sustainability mean that, regardless of your career path, there will be more opportunities to contribute to great. In the meantime, actively looking for places to volunteer your skills, expand network, and grow as a professional will help you stand out when you do see that dream job come across.


To Summarize:

  1. Understand the Difference Between Purpose and Cause
  2. Actively Test and Learn What Makes You Come Alive
  3. Actively Test and Learn What Makes You Come Alive
  4. Keep an Eye on Purpose-Orientated Career Opportunities