How to Energize Your Work by Making a Difference

You no longer have to separate your volunteer spirit from your workday drive.

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Curt Rosengren
Here’s a question to ponder: Aside from ensuring a paycheck, what difference does it make that you show up to work every day? I'm not asking that from a snarky “what’s the point?” perspective. I mean it as a prompt for you to start thinking about an opportunity to bring more of what you care about into your work.

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Today, there are more ways than ever to incorporate difference-making into your work. It used to be that if you wanted to make a difference and you weren’t employed by a nonprofit or on a career path like social work, you had to make a choice: Either change careers, or suck it up and make the world a better place off-hours. Fortunately, the times they are a-changin'.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tim Sanders (author of the best-selling Love is the Killer App and former chief solutions officer at Yahoo) about his newest book, Saving the World at Work. “For the first time maybe in history,” he enthuses, “good business is great business.” Why? Because these days people want to do business with companies they see having a positive impact on the world around them. “So when you help your company improve its contribution, whether it’s environmental issues, helping local communities, or making it a great place to work, you boost the bottom line,” Sanders says. That means making a difference just got a whole lot more interesting to profit-driven companies.

[See 5 habits for creating a career you can love.]

Maybe a better question to ask is: What difference do you want your work to make? As I mentioned in this recent post, the ability to make a difference with your work has the potential to be a source of energy. When your work is contributing to something that has a positive charge for you, it’s energizing. Inspiring, even.

Opportunities to have a positive impact come in all shapes and sizes. If you want to turn the difference you make into an energy source, first you need to figure out what kind of difference holds a charge for you. For example:

  • Is it related to the environment? In what way?
    • Conservation?
    • Connection to nature?
    • Sustainability?
    • Is it focused on people? How?
      • Empowerment?
      • Helping those less fortunate?
      • Making lives easier? Making work easier?
      • Creating community?
      • Diversity?
      • Connection?
      • Is it about process?
        • Increasing efficiency?
        • Doing more with less?
        • While most of the buzz right now is focused on sustainability and social responsibility, remember, there is no “right” way to make a difference. What feels completely energizing for me might do little or nothing for you. And vice-versa. It’s all about asking, “Where’s the juice?” and incorporating the answer into your picture.

          Once you identify where the charge is (it could be multiple areas), brainstorm ways to incorporate that into your work, whether formally or informally. For example, here is a wide-ranging sampling of ways you might make a difference:

          • Organize or participate in sustainability-focused programs (e.g., recycling) at your company.
          • Organize or participate in a volunteer program at your company.
          • Mentor another employee.
          • Be the informal “welcome wagon” and help new employees find their footing.
          • Get a group of your co workers together and purchase Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions.
          • Facilitate community by organizing lunches, gatherings for events, and other reasons for people to connect people-to-people (rather than employee-to-employee).
          • Help people tap into the benefit of plants at work by being the resident green thumb.
          • Keep a “lending library” of books you find highly impactful. Or even take it a step further and facilitate group discussions around the key topics.
          • Be an informal “coach.” Offer an ear for people to process challenges and explore solutions.
          • The list could go on ad infinitum, but you get the idea. The point is, if you look, you are likely to find a way—or multiple ways—you can make a meaningful difference at your work. It may not be a formal program. It may not even be anything that anyone acknowledges as your official role. But if you incorporate it into your days, and it’s something you care about, both you and the world around you will benefit.

            After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.