Some jobs just scream “saving the world!” As a culture, we tend to respect people and companies with a strong mission to bring greater justice, quality of life, and equality into the world over those that only care about their bottom line.
In fact, we’ve seen that Millennials in particular have cited that having a mission is one of the most important factors in their career satisfaction. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to tell people at cocktail parties that his or her job involves helping make the world a better place?
Unfortunately, not all jobs are about making an obvious impact on the world at large. We need accountants, administrators, customer service people, entrepreneurs, insurance adjusters, marketers—the list goes on. The reality is that most jobs don’t feel hugely important in the way that finding a cure for cancer or increasing education access in underserved areas do.
But unless you really only care about yourself and your paycheck, you probably wouldn’t mind feeling like you’re making some kind of difference in the world, no matter what your job title is. This doesn’t mean that you need to quit your banking job to start an NGO. This is about shifting your perspective and peeling back the layers to see how you are, in fact, making a difference, particularly if you’ve been feeling stuck as of late.
Can You Work Your Company’s Mission?
Maybe you sometimes, often, or always feel like a cog in the machine. This can feel especially true at bigger companies or in entry-level positions. If you’re unsatisfied and are convinced that you have little power when it comes to having an impact on the organization’s footprint, reflect on your company’s mission. How is it, as a whole, working to positively affect the community? The world? No matter how powerless you feel, your job most likely has you contributing to that mission.
Whether it’s through a task you already have, a professional development opportunity, or a new initiative that you’re angling to get approved, there are probably lots of ways you can increase your impact and raise your profile.
If it’s not obvious to you, ask your manager to clarify how you can help contribute to the goals of the company. He or she’s likely to be impressed that you’re thinking about the big picture and are considering your role within the organization for the long-term.
Can You Redefine Your Role?
When I worked as a retail sales manager, I sometimes felt like I should be doing more. There were days when it felt frivolous to sell people clothing when others were out there aiding refugees in war-torn countries. But the problem with that kind of thinking is that it demeans the importance of the work that you, and others like you, are doing.
Is selling a dress to someone going to put an end to bigger global issues? Of course not, but boosting someone’s confidence and helping him feel good in his own skin may have positive effects that you can’t see yet.
Whenever you start to feel like sitting at your desk and crunching numbers is a waste of time, try to think of the bigger picture. How is what you’re doing helping just one other person? There’s a butterfly effect in doing our jobs well, and pivoting our thinking to understand how small actions can make a big difference is essential to overall work satisfaction.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Maybe one day, you’ll feel your impact more keenly, but for now, do your best to be content with how your role is a part of something.
Can You Make a Local Impact?
Not all companies are experts at communicating their larger mission down the chain of command. And sometimes no amount of positive thinking is going to make you feel like you’re involved in making a difference. But world-saving (or community-enhancing) action doesn’t need to be directly related to your job description.
If you work in a small office or on a tiny team, you may be able to focus on how little tweaks can add up. Can you start a green initiative? Organize a volunteer day in your community? Show appreciation for the office admin? Your office environment is something that you can absolutely consider, no matter what job you do. Lead by example to make the working day better for your co-workers, and they’ll be more likely to join you in your more ambitious attempts to make the world a better place.
I’m definitely not telling you to stick it out and think positively if you work in a toxic or unethical environment. If that’s where you are, my advice is to start looking for jobs ASAP.
But if you just feel like you want a bigger impact, to make a difference in the world, and aren’t sure how you could possibly be doing that in your current role, it’s time to look deeper.
Growth in any job takes time, and it may be a while before you feel like you are making the change that you want—but that doesn’t mean that your job is pointless. Daydreaming about big change is great, but it’s also important to think about why you want to do this. No one wants to feel like a faceless cog in a corporate machine, but it’s hard to have a meaningful impact without knowing why you hold the values that you do.
Making a difference just to feel important shouldn’t be the point, so think about what’s so satisfying about serving the world. That kind of thinking will help put you on the path to finding meaning, no matter your job title.
Photo of person smiling at work courtesy of Tom Merton/Getty Images.
Erica works in Career Development at Brandeis University, specializing in helping graduate students find meaningful careers. She also coaches clients privately, focusing on career transitions and women in leadership. When she is not helping people find their mission, you can find her watching sci-fi, drinking rosé, and exploring the best restaurants in her neighborhood. Say hi onTwitter and Instagram or enlist her help at ericafoss.com.More from this Author