Meaningful Careers Solve Problems


I recently attended the Net Impact Conference – an annual convening that celebrates and promotes business as a form of positive social and environmental change. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of professionals about building meaningful careers and I was struck, as I am every year, by how the career interests of most professionals revolve around solutions. Common career interests included, sustainability at a big company, social impact consulting, and impact investing.

Solutions are exciting and inspiring. But, I wonder if this focus on solutions is part of the reason why many professionals have trouble breaking into social enterprise and responsible business careers.

When launching a startup, one of the first things many entrepreneurs learn is to fall in love with the problem they're trying to solve, not the solution. The solution will change as their business evolves, but the problem will not. Entrepreneurs who fall in love with their solution inevitably fail when their solution needs to be changed to better address the problem.

I see the same phenomenon in the impact career space. Take impact investing for example. Imagine that your goal is to work in impact investing. You set up a couple informational interviews and learn that it’s quite difficult to find investment-ready entrepreneurs. You also learn that most impact investors only hire a couple times a year and receive 100’s of resumes for a single job posting. You think to yourself, impact investing is interesting, but maybe social impact consulting would be a better fit…

Now imagine instead that your goal is to help social entrepreneurs who lack the resources to scale. You start out by talking to Impact investors, but you learn that most impact investors work with social enterprises that are further developed than the entrepreneurs you’re interested in. You ask how else you might support social entrepreneurs and you get referred to an accelerator program. The accelerator is impressed by your commitment to supporting social entrepreneurs and brings you on as a program manager.  

What I hope to demonstrate in this comparison is how you can build forward toward your career goals when you’re focused on solving a problem. Jobs opportunities represent different solutions. If one doesn’t work out, you can still use it as a chance to explore other solutions while continuing to learn more about the problem your focused on. But, if you are committed to a specific solution and it doesn’t work out, you can find yourself feeling lost and disheartened. 

So, what problem are you focused on solving?