This is part one of a three-part blog series covering the following topics:
Neglecting financial motivation, what would I do with my life? How can I maximize the impact of my career? What problems do I want to solve? These are questions I pondered as my time in college began drawing to a close and I considered what would come next. I found myself torn between a desire to pursue a career in the private sector as a consultant working on complex problems that I found to be interesting and the desire to work for or start a nonprofit in an effort to drive positive change in the world. For some time, I saw these two options as conflicting desires—my desire to work in the private sector vs. my desire to maximize the impact of my career.
When it comes to determining a direction for career development, many young professionals are torn between the desire to make a positive impact in the community and the desire to succeed in the private sector. It is easy to feel as if two opposing desires are pulling you in opposite directions; however, success in the private sector and making an impact in the community don’t have to be mutually exclusive endeavors. They can, in fact, complement each other quite well.
While working for a nonprofit full time, working in the public sector, and working in academia are all outstanding manners by which you can have an impact in the community, pursing a dedicated vocation in the private sector can not only take place alongside, but actually bolster, your impact in the community in three ways:
Let’s explore those…
The fast-paced and competitive environment often found in the private sector can be stressful at times, but it does provide a good opportunity for developing and refining expertise in your chosen field. The use of these skills, naturally acquired over the course of a career, is not limited to the private sector or to your specific job. They can be leveraged to bring about positive change through serving on boards of nonprofits, through pro bono engagements, and through the impact that your work itself may have.
In addition to skills, the network that you develop throughout your career can also be a key resource to bring about positive change in the community. Due to the ever-present constraint of time, your own skillset is often limited to a few specialties. While taking advantage of this knowledge with good intent can bring about significant change, the impact multiplies when combined with the expertise of others.
A clear example of this can be seen through the boards of nonprofits. Most nonprofit boards seek to maintain members from diverse backgrounds so that problems can be approached from numerous angles and viewpoints. The diversity of experience can, however, easily go beyond the members of the board themselves. When profit is taken out of the equation and replaced with altruism alone, people shift their frame of mind from one which is based on market norms to one based on social norms—making them much more willing to help out a good cause solely for the sake of the cause itself. Thus, it is easy to reach out to your network and draw upon their base of knowledge in order to solve a particularly complex challenge that is facing the community.
Finally, the work that you do in the private sector can have a substantially positive impact in itself. Whether working to grow a company and provide more jobs to the community, bringing about positive change through technological advancements, or simply providing a positive work environment to improve the day-to-day lives of colleagues, it can not only improve the lives of those who work at the company but the lives of those in the local and global community as well.
A clear example of an organization within the Indianapolis community that does this well is Eli Lilly and Company. The organization has saved and improved countless lives with the medicines it has developed, has provided jobs for the community, and has continued giving back through the Lilly Endowment, which was formed through an initial gift from members of the Lilly family.
Personally, this realization has allowed me to pursue the career that I wanted without having to give up the desire to bring about positive change in the community. I am employed by a company whose work I believe makes a difference, and I stay engaged outside of work through a pro bono nonprofit consulting initiative as part of the Orr Fellowship. As I progress through my career, I plan to continue to develop my skills and network so that I can position myself well to make a positive impact on the lives of others – both inside and outside of work.
RELATED: Orr Fellowship Develops Young Nonprofit Professionals, also by Anderson Smith
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