Key Ideas from “4 Steps to Choosing a Good Career (Part 3)” Post (Jan 3, 2011):
- To be able to choose a “do good” career that will suit us as different individuals, there is now more than ever a multitude of career options in areas including social entrepreneurship, impact investing and CSR or sustainability. At the same time, confusion for graduating students and mid-career professionals has equally grown since little has been done to explain how to choose between various options.
- I proposed a 4-step process that is meant to help both students and professionals navigate their decision-making for the right “social impact” job. The first step, which I dubbed “scale of impact”, is to decide how much impact really you want to have, whatever the change it is you hope to make. The second step I called “feeling of impact” and recognizes that although we may all have “doing good” in common as a general idea or intention, we still have distinct personalities and preferences that determine at what level we need to feel the impact we are making. In the third step, “need prioritization,” I suggested that there may be a general trade-off between being able to be maximize scale of impact at a given organization but not being able to feel our impact as meaningfully in our daily work in the same place.
- In this final post of the series, I would like to finish with the fourth step, which is how to think about incorporating our unique individual life circumstances in our career decisions.
Step 4: Reality Check
- The entire time we have been thinking about how to make the most well-informed career decisions once we decided we wanted to do more good in this next (or first) job. Throughout this time, we assumed that we could make decisions mostly based on our personal feelings and preferences. But as they like to say: “Get real!”
- Alas, as I keep pointing out, most of us do not exist by ourselves but come with obligations and ties to other people in the form or significant others, family, and communities. We may have mortgages and other debts to repay. Provided we are not all 22 years old with the freedom to take a year off after graduation to travel the world or do whatever we want, however long we want, we have to do some serious weighing to do here.
- While it is obviously not possible for me here to prescribe or recommend one single good method here for everyone to navigate their personal circumstances, I do think that it is necessary to deal with the real cards were were dealt and see how to reach our career aspirations at least in the intermediate to long term.
- Consider a hypothetical example. You are an ordinary office worker. You are smart and want to put your talents to better use after some thought. One day, you get the opportunity to work for a start-up social enterprise. You live in a neatly trimmed, safe, comfortable suburb of a major world city in a developed country. You are married with no kids.
- Problem is, that social enterprise is based in some city in East Africa. Your wife would have to leave her job. You know nobody from that town you would have to relocate to. The pay is certainly way below what you are making currently. What this opportunity has going for it, however, is that it allows you an extraordinary opportunity to work towards building a great organization that can truly affect the lives of people across Africa one day. Great impact that you can feel, so to speak. Thinking about it fills you with excitement for the adventure and life of service you have been dreaming of living. But you are torn if you can afford the risks.
- Question is: can you hold yourself accountable to exposing your wife (and yourself) to a city where kidnappings and hold-ups have known to happen to foreigners, who have to live in protected compounds to be on the “safe side”? Would you also have the guts to roam around the villages surrounding town by yourself to look for places to set up shop for the social enterprise?
- I could spend lots of time making the example come to more life, but you get the point. It’s not so easy when you have constraints, which would be – go figure – most of us! What to do?
- Assuming you are a moderate risk-taking personality, perhaps one way to think about it is if there are alternative ways to have the impact you wish in a less risky environment. In other words, some sort of compromise may in store. Remember my post on “Step 2″ in the process, where I discussed the idea of “Type 1″ and “Type 2″ jobs? I believe in this example, I may consider trading-off the Type 1 job in East Africa with a Type 2 job. For instance, even if you cannot be, say, the sales and distribution manager for that sexy new social enterprise in East Africa, you may want to consider a job where you can be indirectly involved with such firms and later have an option to change into other roles. Aside from the fact that there is serious scarcity in the supply of these jobs, what about a position as investment manager in some fund or foundation that invests in companies like that sexy social enterprise? What about finding a multinational company active in East Africa that would allow you to travel to the region occasionally and sell to the same market?
- As if risk were not your only concern, how about money? I previously addressed the issue of compensation being a problem in today’s social sector, and it may be yet another “reality” factor holding you back from engaging more openly in jobs where you could do some massive good with your talents. In this context of checking your reality circumstances, it may not only be about your reluctance to give up what you have today to settle somewhere else for a less lucrative job. It may also be about the uncertainty of when and how you can accumulate enough wealth through the do-good job to buy that nice house, car and send your unborn kids to good universities one day.
- These are very legitimate concerns and I would be very wise man indeed if I had the answers to solving this dilemma. Do we really have to make such sacrifices in our quest to “do-good” that we have to discard essentially our way of life as we know it? Does it imply we should be used to the “new norm” sooner rather than later to make the transition easier? Will we feel all the more nobler for our new modest living standards, or ask ourselves one day what the heck we thought doing this in the first place? Of course, this was just one example and the trade-offs you face today may not be anywhere as dramatic.
- In summary, contrary to other posts I do not pretend to have a satisfactory answer for how to address most people’s reality check once they have identified the scale and feeling of impact they need to be happy. Acknowledging that they exist and are legitimate despite your “do good” quest is a necessary first step in itself. Finding a satisfactory compromise remains unfortunately an art still with no formula for success. But heck if I’m not going to salute and admire each and every single one of you out there right now going for it, wherever you are!
- The way I observe career opportunities in certain social sector areas these days, it becomes a matter of either embracing continuous change, sometimes involving convincing your spouse to accept a different lifestyle than you have grown used to, and yes, making a sacrifice. Time will tell how each person looks back on his or her decision to do good full-time. Some may come to see that sacrifice only as “initial”, which then turns to simply a new, “normal” reality for them. In other cases, I worry, that new reality may also turn into a form of regret, as you get photos ten years later from your former colleagues and friends taken aboard their new private sailboat or neat condo overlooking the lake.