How To Shift Into More Meaningful Work

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Want to do work that matters to you and makes a positive impact on the world? Not sure how? Career coach Rosie Walford shows you how to identify what kind of difference you want to make and how to get started. 

I once coached a banker. Disenchanted with the wealth and stealth of the City, he was ready 'to give something back'. He'd been flirting with working in charities for months: maybe investing in an eco-resort in Cambodia; perhaps building affordable housing in Guatemala. On the other hand, he liked the idea of helping a charity which fixed hare-lips. All were interesting, but none compelling enough for him to make a move. 

It was hard to start this career change for the classic reason that he wasn't clear about the difference he wanted to make.

Clarify your cause

If you’re in a similar situation, please give yourself a few months before you resign and do some soul-searching. It's time to find the field that will fulfill you because it meets the needs of the world (as you see it). You're looking for organisations and roles which will be most joyful, because they'll use your talents to fulfill important needs. 

The first navigating signs come (quite quickly) from within. You need to pinpoint which issues you care most about, which groups of people get your compassion, what changes in society you most deeply want to see. 

When you've identified your cause, you can exclusively research the charitable or non-profit workplaces which will fulfil you for years to come. You’ll be proud and motivated by the issue you’re championing; this'll carry you through the challenges of career shift. You’ll be able to speak about it with persuasive conviction.

Identify how you want to serve your cause

There's likely to be a huge diversity of potential work within your cause. For example, if it’s the conservation of endangered species which concerns you, you could monitor an animal population on the ground, help a local community battle logging companies who destroy their habitat, or draft new inter-governmental policy on land use. You could lobby UK furniture makers. You could raise funds for any of the previous activities or campaigns at home. You could document the problem and raise awareness through the media. You have to find the mechanism for making a difference.

Tempting though it is to start a new foundation, there'll certainly be organisations out there doing amazing, time-tested projects in whatever field you care about most. Charities, non-profits and public sector organisations aren’t necessarily waiting for their private sector CV's with open arms; these fields are professionalized, popular and technical, even if they are less well paid. 

Target your unique skills at the right organisations

Your past is relevant to your future. Never underestimate the transferability of your talents and skills. From a decade's experience of coaching in this area, I'm a firm believer that good people seldom have to start at the bottom of a new ladder. They can step move sideways, carrying their sackful of valuable experience.

Your chosen field may seem extremely far from the world you’re leaving, but you can find the intersection – the role which will benefit from your knowledge, networks or non-technical skills.

As you meet with a series of people in the field, you'll feel your way to the organisation whose culture and model of change  is right for you. In the process, you’ll clarify where your know-how fits.

You also need to face the finances of your chosen path and tackle the implications - emotional and practical - of your shift . When I left the board of an international advertising agency to consult on charity campaigns, I was nervous of leaving my ‘velvet rut’. Yet, commitment tends to bring unexpected abundance. It’s been the same for hundreds of career shifters before you. 

Like my ex-banking client (now on a research assignment in Latin America) you can look forward to a totally personal journey and, ultimately, a richly rewarding job. One that fits your heart as well as your mind. 

What does 'making a difference' mean to you? Which causes are important to you? Leave a comment below.