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The Meaningful Switch: Navigating the Impact Career Jungle Gym

by Alissa Stevens

What happens when your dream job wasn’t part of your plan? Careers rarely follow a linear path. In impact careers, it’s especially common to change roles, companies or even industries to achieve your goals—and your goals for society. The future is bright for those who seek to make a positive impact in the world, as new career opportunities emerge across sectors every day. The challenge just might be knowing which way to point your compass. Net Impact 2019 brought together cross-sector leaders whose career paths have taken unpredictable twists and turns through corporate, social enterprise, nonprofit and academia. Follow these four tips to successfully navigate the career jungle gym and find fulfillment while creating global impact.

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Should you make a pivot or go another path altogether? “Find your way based off a sense of purpose,” suggests Net Impact CEO Peter Lupoff. Discover what lights you up, and move in that direction. Better yet, he says, “push past transactional interactions to relationships” so you can create a sense of purpose for others. And find a mentor who is willing to be excited about your growth and give you a chance on things you may not be prepared to do.

Find empathy and resilience on a personal level.

True, lasting change can take months or years at global corporations and startup enterprises alike, which is not always easy given your personal goals and the urgency of many impact issues. Empathize with others, and be agile yet consistent in pursuit of your objectives. You’ll be a more effective and efficient provider for your teammates and stakeholders, and even grow as a leader.

“It can be frustrating at first because you see something so clearly and what should be done, but if you hang in there, it can be so rewarding,” says Kyle Cahill, director of sustainability for John Hancock/Manulife, who began his career at Oxfam America and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Effecting change in an organization or community often means collaborating with a diverse group of stakeholders. Corporate intrapreneur-turned-social entrepreneur Laura Clise says it takes harnessing resources and creating a dialogue to move things forward. Her experience at organizations such as the UN Global Impact, Weyerhaeuser/Plum Creek and her own company, Intentionalist, has taught her that it’s important to “be willing to hold the middle … and to bridge different parties.”

The most successful partnerships have complementary strengths. Clise notes: “What I can do to make things better isn’t about what I know. Foundationally, it’s about connecting with the people around you … and how you can unleash them.” You don’t have to know all the answers or have all the skills. Simply get outside yourself and join forces to unlock value.

“Be authentic in your values without alienating others.”

People’s commitments, concerns and convictions can be especially strong when the stakes are as high as human health or the future of our food system. One powerful tool we have as change agents is real human connection. Babson College Sustainability Director Asheen Phansey says: “Meet people where they’re at. Understand who people are as people … what they are hoping and caring about.” Get curious about others and ask questions. Soon your questions may become theirs and you could work toward a common goal.

Social innovation entails doing things differently and going down the road less traveled. There’s no set path to success in impact careers, but authenticity, emotional intelligence and cultivating personal relationships always pay big dividends. Implement these tools for success to create an inspired new chapter in your journey to do good.

 

 

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About the author Alissa Stevens

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