A Civilian’s Guide To Making A Meaningful Impact

Nearly 70% of Americans are disengaged with their jobs. That’s a whopping 226 million people. And on average, these people will spend 80,000 hours in a passive, unsatisfied state, slowly drifting towards the finish line. That is simply not okay. It’s a tried-and-true recipe for depression. These aren’t just people in mindless assembly line like positions either, we’re talking about those in careers to aspire to. Somehow, so many talented professionals have made cynicism and burnout a badge of honor. How do we change this? I believe there are real, practical and relatively low effort steps to be made towards turning just about any job into a platform for more meaningful living.

First, some personal backstory. I grew up one of three kids, children of Protestant missionaries in Taiwan. When I was just one year old, my parents dedicated their lives to a purpose much larger than themselves. They left their country, family and loved ones to travel to the opposite side of the world, where they still live today. My formative years were spent observing as my parents committed to a difficult mission, serving community and with little financial reward. The catch? For better or worse, it set the bar and my personal standards for what work should be sky high. Today, I often see my work, while intellectually stimulating, as just not that meaningful.

The universal truth is that people just want to do something that matters. We want to feel valued. But all too often, we look to those on the frontline — military, diplomats, non-profit workers, doctors — and remind ourselves that the rest of us just don’t add up to much. We’re just civilians. Our first goal is to pay the rent, which is, unfortunately, difficult for many. If we pull that off, the next step is to get rich and live in leisure. Here’s the thing, not only is this idea disempowering, it’s untrue. We civilians are just as integral as the courageous few. In fact, if there weren’t people back home, there wouldn’t be a frontline to begin with. What would there be to fight for? Those with the ambition to make a positive impact should and can step up.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

— Arthur Ashe, American Tennis Player

Challenging ourselves to look at our careers as a service to the whole, rather than simply a means of survival or fulfillment of ego, reframes the situation in a more proactive, meaningful and inspiring way. It doesn’t matter how much you make or what you do, what does is the intention and effort you put in. When it’s looked at in this way, those just scraping by can contribute just as much as those making millions. Many who think they are just scraping by are actually several levels up on the hedonic treadmill. But just to be clear… this isn’t about redemption, it’s about an empowering and inspiring perspective that makes your own life more rewarding.

So where do we start? I’ve categorized real and tangible next steps into three parts, which will each be explored in more detail in the future.

Part One expands on this foundational mindset and provides insight into the power of framing and perspective related to your career. While this section will be more philosophical, it will prepare you for part two and three, which dive into more tangible, actionable ways to make a difference in the world.

Part Two discusses the positive potential of the for-profit companies we work for, often greater than non-profit, and how to invest your 80,000 hours supporting better businesses. This section will introduce you to topics like Conscious Capitalism and the B Corp movement, which can make you more mindful about the companies you work for. Or it can even help you change the ones you’re already at.

Part Three transitions from the idea of investing time to investing your money. While a sensitive subject, giving financially benefits you as an individual just as much as it benefits the receiver. Here we’ll discuss how to be more diligent in deciding who to give money to, which will be informed by ideas like Effective Altruism and Impact Investing.

If you have wisdom, pointers or perspective in any of these areas, please reach out!


  1. http://news.gallup.com/poll/188144/employee-engagement-stagnant-2015.aspx
  2. https://80000hours.org/
  3. https://www.consciouscapitalism.org/
  4. https://www.bcorporation.net/
  5. https://www.effectivealtruism.org/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socially_responsible_investing