The world we will be exploring today, and in the coming months, is the world of impact. From non-profits to B-Corps to social entrepreneurship, the number of people who are adding to the greater good of our world is growing. To learn more about how the world is changing, check out Gap Minder, a non-profit that presents data on how the UN and other international projects have been working to alleviate global suffering. This organization is changing the negative beliefs people hold about the state of the world, just as Radiance Around the World is investigating the beliefs individuals hold that make up their radiant qualities, life philosophies, and interpersonal relationships.
In summary, this blog explores how beliefs influence us and our perceptions. Beliefs have several sources of origin, from cultural heritage to education to family ties and religious upbringing, and this all plays a central role in shaping how we act in the world and interact with ourselves.
The power of belief does not stop here—it also affects how we behave within the larger economic, political, and welfare spheres that shape our communities. How our beliefs act out on these stages affects the lives of those around us, before us, and after us, be that the life of a person or a plant. Our belief-inspired actions affect the health of our very planet by impacting the daily decisions we make that add up to or detract from climate change, in addition to shaping how we vote, act, and speak out against the policies and systems that shape larger-scale impact efforts. In this sense, we open and close doors to igniting change every day in both micro and macro ways.
To raise awareness about our individual impact potential, I am introducing a new segment to this blog called Executing on Impact. In this segment, I will interview career and research professions who do not just dream of creating a lasting impact but are acting on these aspirations. I hope to inspire you, the reader, to investigate what beliefs are holding you back from having a greater impact in the world and to give you the tools to change a world, one belief at a time.
On this note, I am happy to introduce our first interviewee for Executing on Impact, Kevin Jordan. Kevin is a career consultant who helps individuals navigate career pivots, develop themselves professionally, and refine their leadership skills.
A West Coast native, Kevin possesses a natural cadence to his tone. As we introduce ourselves, I take note of his ability to navigate through the conversation. Genuinely, his way of speaking puts me at ease. Yet this is no easy feat; to convey tranquility and presence over the phone, you must possess an attunement to your emotional state and a high degree of self-awareness. As we talk, I come to infer that Kevin would label this ability an expression of influence. Influence, as he aptly points out, is one of the markers of a successful career. A leader must be an influencer, as it is the foundation for spurring change and making a difference. The ability to self-manage, therefore, is a critical step in accessing larger spheres of influence—how can you influence others if you cannot first influence yourself?
Influence, or rather the influence we humans hold within our social world, is inevitable. Our mere presence shifts the state of a room, conversation, or place. With this in mind, we should be cognizant of our presence rather than naive or dismissive of our sway, especially keeping in mind that influence can take many forms, positive and negative. Therefore, it is within the hands of the beholder to wield this fact with care and purpose.
To accomplish this grand task of external influence, Kevin and I delve into the impressions we make upon ourselves. Most crucially, we talk about the mental roadblocks that prevent people from making career pivots or progressions. Such mental roadblocks I claim as negative examples of influence, as they reveal the fact that we are oftentimes our own worst enemies. Yet, one’s mental game can also have a deeply positive effect, and it is this concept that motivates me to ask Kevin: “What is the ‘secret sauce’ to a good mental game?”
Kevin’s answer: Be open to change.
Oftentimes, fear encroaches on our ability to be open to change. Fear of failure, of the unknown, or of negative feedback holds us back from new opportunities, career paths, and self-exploration. Upon examination, we find that our inner-world is made up of a mixed bag of both these engineered fears and genuine concerns. What is genuine should be explored with curiosity, while what is ill-founded should be examined, as it is likely preventing us from embracing change.
Kevin cites an example from his work to illustrate how fear can derail this openness. Individuals sometimes come to Kevin with a belief that they lack a certain skill set to enter into a new career space. As a career coach, he invites clients to examine these beliefs, a process that helps separate fact from fiction. Upon revelation, we can see that the fictitious ideas of what we believe that we need or do not need to know are examples of the lies we feed to ourselves; such illusions are not based on genuine feedback and likely stem from self-generated anxieties and false conceptions.
Ask yourself: ‘Who have I talked to in order to confirm these ideas I have about the work I want to do?’. While some fears are ill-founded, it can also be the case that you do lack the skills necessary to make a career pivot. For these legitimate concerns, Kevin still asks his clients to gather solid feedback from working professionals to understand the level of training and knowledge needed to land their chosen position. For this latter problem, the perception is correct, but the evidence is still necessary to ensure that the belief is as accurate as possible.
This process of re-examining your self-talk is essential for cutting through the misinformation and noise, and it can be a key to understanding what prevents you from pursuing greater change, more broadly. Tackling your inner dialogue is an exercise in tackling the inherent turbulence of the world, a mini-exercise in unlocking your ability to confront larger anxieties and eventually enabling you to confidently take on positions of real influence. Self-engagement, therefore, can evolve into world-engagement, and it is this co-creation between self-and-world that ignites ripple effects of transformation.
While there is a difference between personal growth and professional development, a point Kevin is quick to acknowledge, he does provide tools that allow clients to examine the state of their inner dialog, something I would observe as a fusion between self and professional growth. To provide an example of this is the self-talk assessment, Kevin tells me how he breaks down self-talk into a sliding scale, with 10 being the most negative and 1 being the least.
“I want people to walk down their self-talk so we can hear what’s going on.”
Self-Talk: What Is Real?
Because clients bring in a mixed bag of fears and facts, especially when exploring career pivots, this assessment helps both the career coach and the client understand what is of actual concern to one’s career and what is noise from one’s mindset. The noise represents a misplaced belief, while the facts of the matter are the correct beliefs.
Both inputs are worthy of attention, but they require a different mechanism to tackle them. The fact that you lack a necessary skill may require that you take a credentials course, while a noisy signal of negative self-talk requires mental training and self-exploration. Recall that negative self-talk has various underlying beliefs that motivate it, from beliefs about our own abilities, available professional opportunities, and even the state of the world and capitalism. Therefore, it is important to remember that while we tend to paint the world with a single brush-stroke, it is never that simple. Specifically, within the workforce, Kevin reminds me that not all non-profit positions pay poorly and not all corporate jobs crush one’s soul. The fact is that the job market is rich in opportunity, business models, and company missions, and to believe that you cannot find a good fit and a well-paying, impactful job is simply untrue and unproductive.
Young Academics + Professionals
This is a point I find salient for myself, as I am a grad student deep in the weeds of a theology master’s degree. Specifically within the humanities graduate programs, panic has arisen for students like myself who dream of professorships or further studies as Ph.D. admissions and professorship positions decline each year. I and my highly educated, motivated, and sensitive colleagues are now left disoriented about our prospects and, oftentimes, we are void of industry experience—not the mention the undercurrent of anti-capitalism sentiments that stem from disillusionment and genuine anger at our economic system. Such beliefs and lack of professional experience compound upon each other, leading to a paralysis-by-analysis as us young academics often believe we are not able to make career leaps and would be miserable doing so.
Due to these reasons, I ask Kevin to focus particularly on how humanities graduate students can find a place within the professional world. For individuals in these areas, issues like social justice and economic reform are often top priorities, and as the public demand rises for more ethical business leadership, community engagement, and conscientious product development, the professional world is becoming ripe with social-impact opportunities. Humanities students, and particularly graduate students, are uniquely situated to be creative minds during this time of social change and to help companies navigate the tricky politics of change, reorganize profit structures, and manage social-mission projects.
This all feeds into the larger goal of reimaging how capitalism operates; what corporations, governments, and nonprofits are responsible for; and how humans are treated within the economic system.
Skills for Change
Beyond adding to this evolution within business and social entrepreneurship, Kevin helps illuminate why humanities studies have a natural place within the professional world. The classic response to this question is to point out the “soft skills” that humanities students are trained in, but Kevin rejects this response. For Kevin, the sheer wording of “soft skills” promotes the idea that verbal communication, effective writing, and emotional intelligence are secondary to quantitative or domain-specific knowledge. In Kevin’s experience, this is far from the truth. As you progress within your career, these communication-based skills become essential for effective leadership, influence, and transformation, both for the individual and the company. Without these skills, building an impactful career is nearly impossible.
The abilities of communication and human-understanding are what enable your ideas to take hold. The implementation of these ideas leads to a transformation within the organization and the totality of this process sums up to the level of influence you have. Therefore, valuing these skills within employees, and likewise within ourselves, is the key to recognizing their importance and acting accordingly. Luckily, there a shift occurring within the recruiting world as employers move their attention back onto these skills of communication, writing, and emotional intelligence. Soft skills are back-in-vogue.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
All this is great news for those of us looking to make a career pivot and to increase our impact on the world—and it highlights an irony for me, as well. Those of us who have focused on soft skill development have been undervalued in the entry-level job market for the last few decades. Speaking personally, this internal pursuit for refined communication skills and humanities training is sometimes met with derogatory remarks from individuals who do not value this training. I consistently find myself defending my education choices to others, which in turn has led to internalized debates on the merits of what I am learning and how I can apply it.
Such internal struggles make it challenging to sell my story to an employer, as I loop myself into negative self-talk. When an employer asks, “How do you see your philosophy degree preparing you to work here?”, I think, ‘Great question!’ and stumble over my words. But this is me projecting my insecurities onto a situation and therefore failing the test, because, as Kevin tells me, landing a great job involves telling a great story about why you are the right fit. The challenge for those of us without these hard skills is that we must narrow our searches and define our stories by ourselves; we must become the creative leaders of our stories.
So I continue to ask myself, ‘What is the value of a philosophy degree? What do I see as my best skills? Why can I offer this company/non-profit/senator/professor something valuable, and what is that something?’ This process involves digging deep to genuinely locate and thoughtfully articulate why I want a certain position—the challenge is: How can I know when I’ve gotten there!? Answer: Read on.
Kevin illuminates some key points that you should keep in mind when looking to make this pivot.
- First, ‘What is my headspace?’. Are you excited about this change or lamenting the process? Remaining open and curious will be crucial when stepping into a new world and instrumental to your success in pitching your story, landing the right role, and excelling in your domain.
- Second, ‘What do I value?’. Ask yourself how important value-alignment is for you, then investigate what those values are. It is only through this step that you can come to locate industries and specific companies, non-profits, and occupations that line up with your beliefs.
- Third, ‘What are my biases?’. Biases block you from keeping your options open by prematurely closing off opportunities. Furthermore, preconceived notions are often not accurate, and the beliefs you hold could be preventing you from entering spaces where you would be an excellent fit. Instead, keep as many doors open as possible and narrow your options only through research, exploration, and conscientious decision-making.
- Fourth, ‘What is my story?’. Understand how your story reveals your goals, defines your vision, and drives your ethos. It is through honest story-telling, both to yourself and to employers, that you can come to find the right opportunities for you. Celebrating the diversity of your thought, experiences, and background are not only what will get you the right job, but they provide key guidance in illustrating how and where you can make the most impact.
Linear is a Lie
Kevin ends the interview with a piece of wisdom for us all: Careers are rarely a straight track and growth is likewise never linear. Professional development most commonly looks like an S-track as you weave in and out of different sectors, retracting into the old, exploring the unknowns, and skyrocketing to new highs. The curiosity of your spirit will determine the shape and twists of your path, but there is no right answer and no one way.
Conclusion: What matters is your way—and your why. So examine your biases and drop your skewed beliefs at the door to tell me: What can you do to impact the world?