Ask Victoria | Exploring Options for a Career in Social Impact

Dear Victoria,

I would like to find a career path which gives me a full and filling feeling.

I have around 8 years of experience in hospitality industry. But I don’t want to do that for the rest of my life.

2 years ago I went to study Graphic Design and successfully finished. But then I found out that this is not what I want to do in my future. I would like to make more of an impact.

I like dealing with people and I love to talk. I have lots of energy and enthusiasm but I cannot find THE THING where to put all these things. I am considering to go back to school, which I wouldn’t mind at all. I love studying too. But again, the same problem: I don’t know what to choose.

I am 29 and I have been in this mystical circle for last 2 years. I would appreciate any kind of advice or help you could give me!

Thanks,

Helene

Hi Helene,

If you’re feeling like you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, rest assured, you’re not alone! Many professionals at varying stages of their careers revisit that very question- sometimes several times in their lifetimes.

It sounds to me like taking some time for reflection would be a great place to start and get some perspective. While I don’t have all the details of your career history, I’ll share some insights I see based on your note.

First, I’d encourage you to reflect on three aspects that you mention as having importance to you: making an impact, enjoying interaction with others, and liking to talk. I would imagine that in the hospitality industry, you may in fact touch upon all three of those. You may have a particular idea of what “making an impact” means, but what if you created change in ways that were closer to home?

Many people interested in social impact probably have lofty goals in mind: refugee reform, putting out forest fires, avoiding species extinction.

However there are many ways you can create change directly with those with whom you already interact. What if your work led to customer satisfaction, improved processes, and a positive workplace? What values would you assign to the impact you may have made in those areas? Think about ways a customer’s experience may have been improved based on your work, or a coworker’s job you made easier. Evaluate how those experiences might factor into your personal definition of what it means to create change.

If your answers to those questions don’t jive with you, then I’d move on to exploring other options. This article from Idealist Careers on gaining career clarity might be a good place to start. Leave the idea of going back to school out of the equation for now (you can come back to it later).

Once you get yourself out from deep within the mystical circle, you might have a better sense of what you need to do next to pursue your career dreams. There’s the chance that going back to school is not necessary and you already have the skills you need to make it in a new career. Thinking back to those skills you gained in the hospitality industry, write a list of the ones that would be transferable to other types of careers.

In regards to going back to school, I’d again spend some time in reflection, but this time on your true motivations. While having a passion for and enjoyment in learning is never something I’d suggest overlooking, remember that there are many ways to learn new skills and get back into the classroom without the hefty expense of enrolling in a new degree program.

Get really clear on what outcomes you expect if you were to go back to school. If you were to do a cost-benefit analysis, would your expected outcomes be worth the cost of the program? For example, would you be studying under a world-renowned professor with great connections in your field of choice, who has helped propel former students to great success and interesting work?

As you may have already discovered, earning a degree is not a magic bullet to career success. Be sure to outline realistic outcomes; in other words, this might be a good time to focus on creating SMART goals and how your new schooling will match them. Ensure that grad school is a strategic step towards a career path you are clear about and feel confident in. Know what else you’ll need to do in order to gain entry into that field- who to connect with, skills to enhance, projects to work on, volunteer opportunities to pursue. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions such as, “am I going to grad school to avoid making a decision about work?”

The Idealist Grad Fairs are a great way to explore programs that focus on social impact and public interest and can help you evaluate whether more schooling is the best choice for you at this time.

Meanwhile, since you already completed a graphic design program, why not see how that might help you get closer to your desire to make an impact? What organizations that do great work might have need for a graphic designer? Remember that you don’t have to work on the front lines or in direct service to make an impact. Don’t underestimate your ability to make a difference in a supportive role at an organization- that work counts, too!

Finding greater satisfaction in our work can sometimes simply require a shift in perspective. Before taking the plunge to a new career see if you may have something of value already growing in your own backyard. It may not be the career itself that needs changing but how you That shift can be just the thing you need to regain an appreciation for the work you already do!

To your success,

Victoria

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I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.


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