Do you want to have a positive impact on the world with your career? I do.
But what the hell does that even mean? What’s the right way to do it?
I am a wildlife biologist by training. I think many people in my profession—and others like it—are susceptible to wanting to have an “impact” on the world. Maybe we saw too many nature documentaries decrying deforestation when we were kids. You sure as hell don’t go into a line of work like this because you want make bank (true fact).
I’d always assumed I’d be a wildlife researcher someday, unraveling the mysteries of the wildlife world to give managers better access to conservation information. I wanted to protect wild animals.
So far that’s gone over about as well as a fart in church. I haven’t given up, though—maybe there’s still some other way to have an impact and be paid enough money to eat (and, if I play my cards right, even become financially independent someday)?
Shoot for the money?
I’m a smart person. Last night, I even made a pasta dish without burning the apartment complex down.
All joking aside, I think just about all of us have the ability to make a higher wage than we currently are doing, either by going into a different profession, getting a different job, or just ponying up the ‘nads to ask for a raise at your current job.
For people like me who chose “passion” careers, making anything more than a low wage often seems like travesty. Like you’re a sellout. One must deliberately live the life of a pasty-faced ascetic and devote all wordly means to your worthy career in order to truly make a difference.
I call BS.
Enter Exhibit A: Bill Gates.
Now, Bill Gates may not have started out with the intention of shaking the world’s foundations in more ways than one. For all I know, he was just some nerdy dude who loved tinkering with cahm-pyoot-ors. In the process, though, he spent the first half of his life making enough money to rival the GDP of small countries. Now, in the second half of his life, he’s giving it away again.
You may say you want to have an impact by being a biologist/teacher/kitty cat rescue lady. Indeed, that’s what I myself say. But, if you have the stuff of Bill Gates, is it better to be one biologist or independently fund 2,000 biologists? Which will have the bigger impact?
Shoot for what you’re passionate about?
That fickle seven-letter word that people who’ve never walked in your shoes love to tell you to follow.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of advantages to following your passion.
If you’re just in it for the money but your day job makes you want to poke your eye out, chances are you won’t be as successful as possible. If you love your job, chances are you will be successful (assuming, of course, you can get said job). It’ll be easier for you to work harder so that you do have more of an impact than the next dude.
But the “follow your passion” crowd are ignoring some realities. Life isn’t a kumbaya, crystal-healing, gluten-free drum circle, after all.
Passion isn’t something you start out with. Passion is something you develop and age over time like a fine wine. Sometimes this happens while at a career you’re not even sure you like right out of the college gate.
Sometimes, what you’re passionate about and what the damn economy will even fund are two different things. Case in point: me.
Related post: The Financial Reality Of Being A Broke Biologist
Moreover, what if what you’re passionate about and what you’re actually good at doing are two different things?
Shoot for what you’re good at?
I hate writing. It drains me more than my daily half-hour run. After a long bout of writing I feel like a zombie. It’s hard, and I never feel like I’m able to write well enough to give my topic justice.
But, I also love writing. I love making people stop to think. For just that brief little glimmer of time in someone’s seemingly-infinite bank of seconds in their life, I’m able to really touch them. And not in the creeper kind of way.
The biggest problem in wildlife today isn’t due to the wildlife—it’s the people. Yes, I want to be a wildlife researcher. I can elucidate the mysteries that might prevent a species from going extinct, if I have a successful career.
But, what if I instead went into science communications—science writing, to be specific—and was able to convince thousands or even millions of people to give a damn about wildlife? How many species would I help then?
A Custom-Tailored Plan To Make An Impact
Hopefully I’ve demonstrated to you that there are a lot of ways to have an impact in your career.
What’s the single best way, though? That all depends on you. Everyone has different abilities, tolerances, aptitudes, financial situations, and a million other variables.
You need to decide what’s the most important thing for you. Sure, having an “impact” with your career sounds nice, in the same way that having a fart-free Labrador Retriever and a million-dollar portfolio sound nice.
Is that really what you want though? Or do you just want a fun career, or to make a lot of money so you can retire early? Having the biggest impact possible might mean sacrificing your other goals.
Related: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less by Greg McKeown
Once you’re clear with what your career goals really are, you can then decide what’s the best way to go for you. If having the biggest impact possible with your career is what you want, you need to be prepared to stop chasing other goals. Don’t turn something down if it pops up, but stop using other goals as a distraction.
Chasing 10,000 different squirrels will get you nowhere. Just ask my lab.
What’s the best way for you to have an impact with your career? Is having a positive impact even important to you? Leave a comment below!