How to Translate Raw Emotion into Fuel for Social Impact

woman in the woods

While analyses and pros-and-cons lists offer useful and practical insight into career selection, there’s another avenue that you may want to explore. Consider where you have strong emotion at both ends of the spectrum: from anger to joy. Reflecting on what stirs your emotions can offer you insight on your potential professional direction.

Once you identify what spikes your anger, makes you glow, or makes you take a stand even when it’s a risk, what can you do with that fuel?

Here are a few useful things to consider as your explore what stokes your fire.

Capture the essence of your emotion

That magic spot where passion and purpose intersect can offer you motivation and energy to propel you forward, so revel in it and find ways to express that passion.

  • If you’re a writer, journal or blog about your experience. If you heard a powerful TED talk or speech, witnessed an injustice that sparked ire, or met someone who needed a service that was inaccessible to them, get typing and record what happened.
  • Use collage to visually represent what you’ve experienced. Gather magazine images or search online to grab some memes that represent your fierce devotion to a cause, your outrage at injustice, or your awe at the way someone made a difference.
  • Find something that represents the emotion that you want to recognize. Perhaps there’s a pebble from a hike you took that reminds you of the peace you feel in the natural world and your commitment to preserving the environment. Is there a playbill from a stirring performance? A poster from a political demonstration?

Your resume and personal portfolio are vital to your career advancement, so keep current with your updates. At the same time though, be sure to consider whether it would be useful for you to find a creative or visual reminder that allows you to quickly access your reasons for starting on this career path in the first place.

Go on a quest for a mentor

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, who wrote a great book about career exploration called Designing Your Life, encourage people to have “Life Design Interviews” rather than informational interviews with people they admire or with people who are walking a path similar to one they covet.

A Life Design Interview asks people to recount their personal stories. In these stories, a listener can find guidance, inspiration, and advice.

Conversations, either in-person, on the phone, via email, or even through reading a memoir, may help you to articulate and map how your emotions can point to a particular professional direction. Through these Life Design Interviews, you can begin to shape your “why,” the driving energy behind major career decisions.

Prototype your mission

Now it’s time to look for small ways to test whether there’s traction in the direction you’re considering.

“Prototypes” or trial periods can include:

  • A volunteer stint with an organization that addresses an area of interest.
  • A course (in-person or online) that allows you to explore a skillset that you may need in order to make a difference that is meaningful to you.
  • A freelance or pro-bono project that gives you the chance to develop a track record in your area of interest.

Keep exploration time limited so you can continue to assess whether you’re honoring the original emotion that inspired you to move in this new direction.

As you move through your prototype or trial period, collect data about whether your experiment is intensifying your original commitment to this direction, or if you’re losing steam. If it’s the latter, a short probe can help you move on and find a better fit. If you find that your interest and energy intensifies as a result of your prototype, it’s easy to extend it or take it to the next level.

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What emotions and methods do you employ when you’re making career decisions? Share your experiences in the comments.

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A "triple i" (introvert, intuitive, idealist), Maggie Graham helps support individuals seeking their optimal career choices. She’s savvy when it comes to self-promotion, particularly with resumes, bios, cover letters, website copy, and other “look at me!” tools.
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