If you want a career with huge social impact, develop your interpersonal skills, take stock of your material life needs, and tune-up your self-awareness.
Social and economic justice work unquestionably is an enriching personal adventure, an elixir which gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Well and good, but a social change career is not a personal substitute for therapy.
“You don’t add value to the world by being… so miserable that the people who you purport to help would rather you were not in their lives,” cautions Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, executive director of Akili Dada, a girls’ leadership program in Kenya. Or, as Oscar Wilde taunted, “Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”
To successfully change the world, mastery of personal life skills are a critical, and non-negotiable, necessity. Repeating the pragmatic advice given airline passengers, Keely Stevenson, chief executive officer of Bamboo Finance USA, a global impact investment fund, coaches, “Fix your own oxygen mask first.”
Your road to social change competency comes from doing, action, movement, risk-taking and repeated practice. I love Meg Jay’s description in The Defining Decade of “…a burst of self-creation, a time when what we do determines who we will become.”
When the economy tanked in 2008, unemployment skyrocketed and unpaid social change internships became the matter-of-fact alternative for obtaining workplace experience and building resume. Before accepting an internship for yourself (or even an underpaid entry-level job), pay close attention to what you will be learning and how you will be growing as a person.
In addition to acquiring policy and program knowledge, focus the early days of your social change career on determining what you are good at and who you are as a person. As Chid Liberty, chief executive officer of Liberty and Justice, a community-based textile manufacturer in Liberia, shows us, “I spend a lot of time working to understand my place in the world.”
It’s not naïve to want to change the world. It’s not arrogant to believe you can do it. Someone has to. Only the badly informed think the status quo is acceptable.
Most of the social entrepreneurs I know are very ordinary people doing very extraordinary things. “Be prepared to transform yourself without attempting to transform others to be like you,” advises Tiffany Persons, executive director of Shine on Sierra Leone.
The secret sauce is that you may be it!
Follow Jonathan Lewis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@CafeImpact