Doing Good Work: How to Make a Difference

One of the key ways for enjoying your work is by making a difference in other people's lives.

An organizational psychology doctor student at the University of Michigan, Adam Grant, found in his field studies that when your work has a positive impact on others, it makes a difference to your job satisfaction and productivity.

People want to help.  As social beings, you are hardwired to be and do with others.

What does making a difference look like?  In some way, however you help, you will enhance another person's life, impacting in ways that ease suffering, extend a helping hand or bring joy to their lives.

Easing suffering

the shoebox project - gifts for women-in-need

the shoebox project - gifts for women-in-need

Making a difference for you might mean working directly to helping with suffering.  From paramedics to counsellors to relief aid workers, direct service work has immediate feedback on how others are impacted.

Perhaps how you want to contribute is in subtler ways. For example, for those who experience anxiety filling out forms, another person's help in filling out a vital application can shift the experience from fear to calm.

As you can see, helping others who are suffering can be about your occupation or through a volunteer position or by just being who you are.

Extending a hand

I have always been intrigued with Habit for Humanity, the organization who makes affordable housing accessible to low-income families who would otherwise never own a home.  Volunteer time and donated materials are the backbone of how this initiative works.  The organization is all about extending a hand.

Making a difference by helping others in this way is also in work such as providing advocacy, working in a second-hand clothing store or any non-profit social service agency, or giving information at a tourist centre.

Extending a hand means offering kindness to others.

I read an article recently about how to help the homeless.  One of the basic ways is to acknowledge that they exist. Say hello. Street people are frequently treated as if they are "less than," and experience anything from avoidance to abuse.  Say hello and smile.

Daily life offers many opportunities to lend a hand.

Bring joy and meaning to others

A lot of jobs can bring a sense of meaning to other people's lives.  I remember being in an art store with an elderly shop keeper; he moved quite slow. When he offered to put my pencils in a bag, it made sense to not have them loose in my purse. Almost immediately, I was rethinking my decision.

He took so long to find the right size bag and then place the pencil in the right way. When he reached for the stapler, I surrendered. What I noticed was how careful he was packaging my pencils. I was honoured by his consideration.

He made an impact on my day.

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Making a difference by bringing joy can happen, too, in many types of work. A barista who makes spectacular coffee art, a helpful librarian, a mechanic who assures a stranded motorist, or a bagger at the grocery store - all of these people bring smiles to others. 

Occupations like artists, writers and teachers make difference in people's lives through thought-provoking ideas and creations, where the audience gains a new perspective or understanding. 

Some of the biggest differences you can make in another person's life is in ordinary ways.  Encouraging others, telling people what you appreciate about them and being considerate are some of the best offerings.

Generosity, both through giving to others and through extending good will, plants deep seeds and makes profound difference in other lives.

Is it important to you that making a difference is a part of your work?

When thinking of a career, how do you choose one that makes a difference?  As you can see above, there are many ways this can happen.  The difference you make will have a combination of 3 factors:

Know what making a difference means to you

  • What is your own personal definition of making a difference? 
  • Each one of us has a special way of helping others. What is your vision of how you can improve some part of the world?

Identify your strengths and move in that direction

  • Where you will feel the most effective has everything to do with your strengths.  What do you do that makes you feel strong?
  • You will offer the most when you are working in your strengths; you will also experience the most satisfaction and the recipients of your gifts and talents will be most impacted when you are in your element.
  • For an exploration of strengths, check out this article. 

Take a stand.  Do what’s important to you.

  • What makes you angry? 
  • Where does injustice tug at you? 
  • By answering these questions, you will get a sense of what is important to you. 
  • Our values are central to where we want to make a difference. 
  • Explore your values here.

How do you want to make a difference?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Check out this article on making a difference in daily ways:

Here's an inspirational video on making a difference:

You are welcome to leave comments below - what makes a difference to you?