Why we all need to be focusing on positive social impact

For our species to survive and thrive this century, we have to adopt a different attitude about why we are here, and the meaning of success.

We need to stop celebrating wealth for wealth’s sake, and fame for fake’s sake.

What good is money if it sits behind a vault? What good is fame if someone’s good fortune is not used to support and sustain someone else who is suffering through a hard time?

There is not a whole lot of time left to change the trajectory of our planet from one of mass disaster and potential species extinction, to something more positive.

And in particular, those of us who found some measure of professional success and accomplishment need to think harder about how to use that success in a way that meaningfully contributes to a greater good.

Here are three things we can all do to start thinking more about incorporating positive social impact as part of our careers and life goals:

(1) Try to dedicate some portion of the week to social impact. Think about a social issue you care about, and maybe reserve a few hours on a Friday or a Sunday afternoon to think about how you can get involved in addressing that issue in some way.

When I started my law firm several years back, I made the effort to spend a few hours every week thinking about my passion for international human rights.

Years later, what started out just as a thought experiment is now a fledgling non-profit, Just Atonement Inc., with an important case related to the Iraq War under my belt

If you are really passionate about something, those few hours a week easily become the seeds for something more powerful and intimate. You will be surprised to see how far a few hours a week will go.

(2) Think about your monetary goals, and whether you are sacrificing other things in order to accomplish those goals. If we let our lives run on autopilot, we will spend all of it accumulating wealth, but never considering the opportunity cost for that wealth accumulation. Life is incredibly short: in amassing money at all costs, what does a person actually sacrifice for that?

Think about the other things sacrificed, and where that time could have gone — travel, new experiences, relationships.

In a hyper capitalist society, we all need money. But at some point, and after basic needs have been met, there is a real diminishing return on the amount of money you have, and what you are sacrificing to obtain that money

Take time to reflect on how much money you really need, and what you are giving up in order to get more money. Is it worth it?

Another way to think about this would be to make a list of the non-monetary things you want to have experienced or accomplished before you die.

Once you’ve made that list, really study it.

How much of that list is realistic for you to get done? Are you giving yourself time to complete these things? If not, why not?

(3) Think about the impact you want to leave behind on this world. If you could fix one problem, what would it be? What are your special talents that you possess that might make you the perfect candidate to solve an issue that no one else can solve?

Reflect on the fact that by not cultivating those talents, or by not giving yourself the room to express those skills, you are withholding a positive force from the Earth. Think about whether that’s worth it. Think about what you might do to give space to that positive force, and to let it flower. 

The world needs such things.