If meaningless work is making us feel unfulfilled, how do we find work that is meaningful? Research indicates that highly meaningful jobs are those which make an important difference in the lives of others. Are you searching to make a positive impact in the world through your occupation?
Motivation to Be a Do-Gooder
The psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl developed a form of psychotherapy, known as logotherapy, which maintains that the motivation for living is our search for meaning in life. This is in contrast to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea that the main driving force in humans is the will to power; namely, achievement, ambition, and the highest possible position in life. Logotherapy also challenges Sigmund Freud’s notion that the will to pleasure – the seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain – is what motivates people.
According to a survey published by Investors in People in 2019, one-third of the UK workforce are not happy in their jobs. For many workers, their job feels meaningless: repetitive, mundane, uninspiring, and without real substance. Indeed, a poll conducted by YouGov found that 37 percent of British workers think their work is meaningless.
If you fall into that barrel but would like to climb out, here are three careers that can make a positive impact in the world.
1. Quantitative Analyst
A quantitative analyst (or a “quant” in financial jargon) is someone who applies mathematical and statistical methods to financial and risk-management problems. A quant develops and implements complex models that are used by firms to make business decisions about investments, pricing, etc. It is a highly lucrative career, with the potential to earn $1M+ per year.
For an “effective altruist” – someone who believes we should maximize the good that we can do – opting for a career with high earning potential is attractive because it translates into the ability to make significant regular donations to effective charities. This approach is known as “earning to give.”
Other careers with high earning potential (and low negative impact) include founding a tech start-up, quantitative hedge fund trading, software engineering, data science, management consulting, law, and medicine. Not only are they earning great money for themselves, but these occupations are also making a positive impact in the world.
2. Political and Policy Positions
According to 80,000 Hours – an organization that advises how to choose a high-impact career – becoming a politician can enable you to make a big difference in improving how government operates, as well as promoting important ideas. But, of course, you need to have a passion for politics, be suitable for the work involved, and understand that you may have to compromise your values in the face of pressure to conform to your party.
If becoming a politician isn’t for you, advising on policy is another high-impact career path. This may involve working as a researcher for a highly-influential think tank. It is worth noting, however, that politicians and policy advisors can (and do) promote ideas and policies which create more harm than good, so careful attention should be paid to the influence you would have in such positions.
Whether you’re a journalist who makes an overall positive or negative impact depends largely on what you write about, how it’s covered, and the website or newspaper in which your work is published. For example, stories that fearmonger, stereotype sections of people, or peddle harmful ideas will not have a positive social impact, clearly. Also, going into yellow journalism (which presents poorly researched news and uses exaggeration, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism) may not be the best way to make a positive impact in the world with your writing.
On the other hand, journalists can provide reliable and useful information to the public so that institutions and individuals can make better-informed decisions. Someone may read an article on global poverty, environmental destruction, factory farming, human rights abuses, political corruption, etc., and then decide to take action.
Other high-impact careers with a public platform include being a public intellectual or having positions in the media (e.g. documentary maker).
There are many other possible career paths you can take which have the potential to make important differences to the lives and well-being of others, such as biomedical research and jobs that involve advocacy. But as these three examples show, how much difference you can make with your career can vary widely. For example, if you work as a quantitative analyst, the impact you have – such as how many lives you can save – depends on how much you’re willing to donate and to which charities.
If you find that the work you’re doing is meaningless and “soul-destroying,” consider whether a change in your responsibilities or role – or the company or industry you work for – will allow you to make a noticeable difference to the lives of others.