Let’s face it. We all have those days or periods in life when it becomes that much harder to haul yourself out of bed each morning and face another day at work.
Even the prospect of semi-flirty, IM-ing with the guy in the next cubicle who kind of looks like Bradley Cooper, doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
What’s the alternative ?
We’re constantly exhorted by talk show hosts, motivational speakers and other gurus to pursue a career path that truly engages us and taps into our passions and innermost drive. The reality however, is that many of us spend our days in a job which doesn’t necessarily tick these boxes or which may have lost its initial luster, but we earnestly dedicate our heart and soul to it because it quite simply pays the bills.
Don’t get me wrong: there is something quite noble in that.
The risk of giving it all up to pursue a dream may just not be feasible at this stage in your life.
Yet, what if there is a way of parlaying the skills, expertise and networks gained through your career into something you’re passionate about or where you can truly make a difference – without quitting your job. This could be pro bono work or setting up a nonprofit or even volunteering for a charitable organization with synergistic values to your own company.
Why ? Because it could make you happy – even provide a sense of fulfillment and potentially add value back to your own career.
'It gives me joy', says Jason Hirsch, a New Yorker whose networks and sales skills gained through managing an investment fund benefits his non profit work – specifically brokering connections for organizations such as Innovation: Africa and SoHo Synagogue, who are constantly in need of funding sources.
'When someone like Ira Rennert says to you, ‘What you’re doing is unbelievable work. Your grandfather(Henry Hirsch, founder of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue) would be proud’ – it’s a good feeling. You have a sense of achievement – but it’s different to when you’ve done a business transaction. It’s a philanthropic deal and it makes me happy and very proud. And it makes you very confident at the same time'.
There’s scientific evidence for the feeling Jason is describing. Research indicates that doing good deeds, volunteering or being altruistic actually floods your system with serotonin - the feel good hormone.
'You experience a potent euphoria known as ‘helper’s high.’ This sense of usefulness, optimism and meaning can banish your brooding thoughts and clear out the cobwebs in your minds', says Susan Skog, author of The Give-Back Solution: Create a Better World with Your Time, Talents and Travel.
She says that giving back helps us stop fixating on our troubles and instills in us a sense of empowerment and confidence that we really can make a difference.
For Stacey Asher, another New Yorker, it was expertise in relationship building, developed in her career managing marketing and investor relations for hedge funds, which proved invaluable in starting up a non-profit alongside her day job.
'I was working in a food kitchen that provides one meal per day to 250 children, five days per week. For many of the children, this is their only opportunity to eat. The cost to feed all 250 children was just $500 per month'.
It doesn’t take much, she thought. The proverbial light bulb went off inside her.
She knew that this was pocket change to her colleagues in the hedge fund world and that if she could set up the kind of platform that resonated, they could make an impact on causes that mattered to them.
Traders, by nature, are highly competitive individuals – and any initiative that triggered that spirit in them, but allowed them to do good at the same time – seemed ‘on the money’.
But while she had a fairly solid corporate background, she had no experience in setting up a nonprofit and decided to reach out to industry veteran, Joel Greenblatt.
'I did not know Joel but I was aware of his amazing work with Success Academy. I emailed him in December 2011 and asked for a few minutes of his time. I explained my vision, and at the end of our meeting, Joel offered me financial support to get my nonprofit off the ground. I was blown away. I left his office with the confidence that I now had proof of concept as well as the financial resources to realize my dream'.
And so she created Portfolios with Purpose (PwP) – an annual online stock selection competition in which participants (in different categories from novice to master level) have the opportunity to win tens of thousands of dollars for their favorite charitable causes.
Additionally, players’ causes get the attention of some of the world’s most respected investors.
After a one year trial, Portfolios with Purpose will be launching in January 2013 and is now open for registration to everyone – not just star traders.
As for Stacey’s own career trajectory – how many other mid career professionals in Wall Street can say they have hedge fund honchos (and Forbes Billionaire list members) such as David Einhorn (Greenlight Capital), Dan Loeb (Third Point), Joel Greenblatt (Gotham Capital), Leon Cooperman (Omega) and James Dinan (York Capital) not just batting on their team, but on speed-dial as well.
Not too shabby, eh ?
But rest assured – you don’t need to go all out and start an industry-specific nonprofit to find a sense of fulfillment or make a difference.
'I think it’s probably easier than people think,” Chris Noth assures me. “It takes a conscious choice. I think business instinctually can be of a greedy, profiteering nature, but at this point in culture, society and our earth, we have to make conscious choices – so that they could become second nature to us'.
Well, when Mr. Big puts it like that…
I should add that Chris Noth is that Chris Noth - the actor (SATC, The Good Wife, Law and Order) whose star status enables him to shine a light on causes that matter to him during his off-screen time. 'I’m a fan of any group or any organization [such as the Rainforest Alliance] that is devoting their lives to try and be the solution. I want do anything I can in my small way to help them to achieve their agenda', he tells me.
So can you still ‘give back’ and ‘do good’ in a low-key, less time-intensive way ?
Susan Skog suggests asking your company’s philanthropic leaders to rally around your cause and match employee donations. 'Leverage the collective power of your co-workers, friends, and family. Spark awareness and let everyone know what you’re passionate about, through lunch conversations, social media, family gatherings. Ask colleagues, family and friends to skip gifts for your birthday, anniversary or holidays but instead make donations to your cause'.
Whichever way you decide to take your career to the next level in 2013 – here’s my one tip from you, borne out of my own experience. Whenever I help others, I do it from a place of purity – I expect nothing in return and I do it for no other motivation than to see someone else succeed or get a break. But here’s the thing – it comes back to me tenfold. I have the most fortuitous things happen to me time and time again – things you couldn’t make up. Are they related ? Possibly. But I try not to think about it. I will keep giving back, doing good and helping others while still having the purest of intentions. After all, like Jason said, “it brings me joy.”
I’m sure you’ll find the same.
In the words of Oprah, 'You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world'.
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If you do have the time and inclination for pro bono work there are organizations that match people’s skills with pro bono work needed.
The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation 'relieves the burden on social entrepreneurs trying to navigate the murky waters of their legal issues alone by matching them with lawyers at top law firms'.
Catchafire matches professionally-skilled volunteers with nonprofits and social enterprises
A Billion + Change is a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based service by 2013 to address core issues communities face across the country and around the world.
This article originally appeared in Forbes magazine:
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