Making More of a Difference: Choosing Careers with Big Positive Impact

Having a heart for positive change can lead us to make unconventional career choices. Choosing generosity over making money seems contrary to the basic tenets of capitalism, and at times may feel like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. But there’s a generation of baby boomers that are transforming the landscape of business with their passion for giving back, and inspiring many of us to rethink why we work. In the past, a stable bee-line to a life of luxury was the American dream, but now more and more of us want to be part of seeing things change in big ways.

Big Picture Motivations

The four most common motives that compel us to seek careers that inspire extensive social betterment include:

  • Visionary Enthusiasm – Found in those who possess a grand plan for the potential of humanity, and seek followers to put it into action
  • Alarmist Angst – A heightened awareness to potential risks and terrible consequences, and the dire need to yell, “The house is on fire – we must do something immediately or everything will fall apart!”
  • Grassroots Generosity – A wide open caring for the plight of people, creatures and the planet, a passion for community, and the belief that change starts at home
  • Cool, Calm, and Collective – A quiet understanding of a larger, unified purpose and responsibility that inspires subtle but influential changes through innovation, mentorship, dialogue, and partnership

Career Path Options

Finding a career that makes a difference is pretty easy. But for those of us who want to see grand results in extraordinary ways, some career fields are more likely to give us what we need to succeed. Here are some examples:

  • Health care – Health care policy advisors, disease research scientists, physician and nurse educators, community health directors, patient advocates, administrators at care facilities who ensure high standards of safety and quality
  • Politics and government – Congressmen and women, state representatives, policy writers, lobbyists, political advisors, civic leaders, activists, ambassadors, ombudsmen, negotiators
  • Defense and safety – Military leaders, fire chiefs and police superintendents, engineers, disaster relief and recovery planners
  • Arts and communications – Journalists, motivational speakers, public relations directors, writers, performers, movie / television producers
  • Science, engineering and technology – Conservation and environmental scientists, geoscientists, economists, city planners, transportation engineers, planners of logistics and distribution, telecommunications and computer system engineers, computer scientists
  • Teaching – School district superintendents, pastors, college and university presidents, learning technology innovators, disaster relief and recovery program trainers
  • Business – Leaders in business, social entrepreneurs or traditional entrepreneurs, inventors and product developers, nonprofit organization leaders

The Role of Personal Potential

Just knowing that we want to be part of something big and setting out on the path to make that happen is not enough. That deep sense of reward we seek comes from measurable contributions and positive results, so before committing to a specific career, here are some things to consider:

  • Fulfill your potential – Choose a career path that allows you to shine in many ways by developing your natural abilities, strongest skills, and particular passions
  • Become a leader – As you choose what skills to master, be sure to dedicate some of your energies to developing leadership skills. Learn what attributes leaders share, and find mentors to model your own leadership style after.
  • Be clear on what success means to you – What will it take for you to feel like you’ve accomplished your life’s purpose?
  • It’s okay to start small – Minor successes build the momentum that ultimately generates major results
  • Track your progress – Remember where you started, and set short- and long-term goals that will benchmark how far you’ve come
  • Be an example – The simplest, most straight-forward way to bring lasting positive change is to first live the change yourself – and then share your story.

About the Guest Author:

Ellen Berry is an expert on a number of career topics and contributes to’s Career Planning Guide.