Doing Well By Doing Good: On Career Paths and Creating a Life of Service

If you’re a purpose-driven professional, there can be ways to create a life of service that feels satisfying.

Many people want their work to have a positive impact in the world. In other words, they want their career not only to be an expression of their talent, but something that genuinely helps others and makes a difference in the world.

Yet, it can be challenging to do well (in terms of your own income and stability), and do good (in terms of improving the state of the world) at the same time.

Here are some distinctions about three different types of career paths that combine doing good with doing well (and their downsides!):

1. High earners using income for doing good: in this model, people have high-earning careers and choose to donate their income. This can appeal to individuals who work in finance or consulting, and are able to donate some income to high-impact causes. The downside? People don’t really feel like what they’re doing at work is meaningful enough to them.

2. Doing impactful work as a main job: in this model, doing meaningful work with an impact may be an individual’s highest value, so they choose jobs in NGOs, public policy, research, philanthropy or academia. These are very competitive fields, although they may pay less than mainstream commercial roles. The downside? People often feel like they’re not *really* having the impact they initially sought to have. Incidentally, the rates of burnout aren’t any lower than in other career paths.

3. Hybrid roles: these are roles across industries that are a mix of both lucrative and impactful work. For example, social impact investing, green finance, or diversity and inclusion (D&I) roles within large organisations. The downside? These roles can feel constraining for people who feel the commercial imperatives are diminishing the actual positive impact that they could have. Somehow there’s a feeling it’s not the “real deal”.

Across these different options, doing good and doing well seems like a matter of trade-off between aspects that are valuable to a person. This is why there is a looming dissatisfaction and sense of fatigue for purpose-driven professionals, no matter the choice.

So, is it even worth pursuing the aspiration of doing well by doing good at all?

It can be if we take a step back and redefine our relationship with what it means for us to make a difference in the world.

The need to leave a legacy is a human one, whether we embrace or suppress it. Yet, we often trip over our egos in seeking to do that, without realising it. We often rely on doing good to feel like our lives are worthwhile and meaningful.

Instead, when we put our focus on what the world needs from us, and how we can contribute to that in a big or small way, we take the focus off ourselves.

If you’re a purpose-driven professional, here are some gentler questions for a life of service that feels less dissatisfying:

1. In what ways do you want to leave the world a better place?
2. How can you contribute to that, in a small or big way?
3. How can you do that while protecting your own well-being?
4. How can you embrace the human limits of what you can do?

I hope these questions inspire you to create or upgrade your version of doing well by doing good.

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