Loads of successful professionals have reached out to me over the years with the same problem. They’ve dedicated years to qualifying and building careers, but find themselves feeling unfulfilled. People want to feel like they are ‘making a difference’.
This is something I struggled with personally. Much psychological energy went into questioning the ‘why’ of my role as a corporate lawyer. Consistent hard work had secured a well-regarded career, with a clear pathway, but there was something huge missing. I wasn’t sure what it was, willing to admit defeat, or pursue any other career, because it would feel like a step down. Working too hard, with no mental space to gain perspective or try something else, I poured more and more energy into climbing the ladder of success, one milestone at a time, but it seemed my ladder was against the wrong wall…
I was so confused and unhappy that I eventually quit it all and moved overseas to travel and ‘find myself’. I cried buckets, asked many people for advice and obsessively researched other options, but just found myself back in a similar position, feeling more paralysed than ever.
It wasn’t until I acted on some great advice that anything changed. To stop searching for the answer ‘out there’, to quieten the external noise and, for once, properly listen to the voice in the back of my mind, to what really energised me and sparked my passion.
When I finally realised my answer lay in helping to educate and empower people, particularly young people, I was so cross that I hadn’t taken more time to build formal experience relevant to this along the way. I had always been an active member of the community and been involved in volunteering, etc., but there were plenty more opportunities I could have taken, even in my existing area, to start having an impact. I just needed to make space and time to take them.
If you’re in this boat, look around you, there are many opportunities to make a difference! As a first step, you could look into whether there are initiatives available to you at your current work, to get involved in and ‘give something back’. If not, you may be motivated to start something – a ‘green team’, or a volunteering opportunity perhaps. It takes hard work to build momentum, so I’d recommend sticking to something you’re really passionate about. If you want it to develop, try to get management buy-in in advance, and ideally a senior ambassador. Asking for budget can be a good way to confirm and cement their approval.
Employees have many things competing for their time, so make getting involved in any initiative as easy as possible. Don’t be disheartened if numbers are low initially, you have to start somewhere. If two people show up, don’t be tempted to reschedule. Rather ensure they leave feeling like the initiative was impactful and a good use of their time. Try to take pictures and communicate back the impact you’ve all had – you’ll get three people next time and it will grow from there. This will start to build your experience and CV in a new direction and give you more of a sense of purpose. Having the experience under your belt will help you determine the next step to take.
Instead of gradually exposing myself to fulfilling opportunities, I resigned, (for a second time in my life, with no savings or other role lined up). I made a drastic career change into corporate sustainability and it was one of the hardest but best things I could have done!