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Your Career Path Might Be Wrong: Here’s Why (And How to Fix It)

Your Career Path Might Be Wrong: Here’s Why (And How to Fix It)


I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you know that dream job you think you want? You might be wrong. It turns out that people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy, and a career is a big part of happiness. If you don’t believe me, watch a great TED talk from Dan Gilbert on this topic.

There is also some data to back this up. One of the shocking stats – especially for those of us working to make a positive impact – is the alarmingly high attrition rate for people working in the nonprofit sector. In fact, according to a recent study from Opportunity Knocks, 45% of people working in the nonprofit sector are looking to leave their jobs.

That’s a lot… and is much higher than the for-profit world. As one shocking example, only 50% of people working at Gates Foundation would recommend their friends work there, whereas Monsanto has an approval rating of 79%. That’s hard to believe, right?

Once you break it down, though, it becomes easy to understand. Research shows that employees consistently emphasize three drivers of satisfaction:

  • Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters

So why are so many people working in the impact space dissatisfied with their career? It’s because they put purpose over everything else, and they sacrifice autonomy and mastery for the sake of mission.

I’m not saying don’t pursue a job in the impact space. In fact, I work in the impact space and love what I do. I think everyone should work to make a positive impact in their job. However, I see so many people make mistakes in identifying their dream job and then work tirelessly to get it, only to find that it’s not what they thought it would be.

If you are interested in finding a “dream job” that also makes the world a better place, it’s vital that you consider your ability to work autonomously in that position, and to make sure it uses your real strengths while allowing you to develop new skills, too.

Ask yourself the right questions 

At the Net Impact conference this November in Seattle, I’ll build on last year’s Using Lean Startup Principles to Validate Your Career Choice session. We’ll expose our own assumptions, and then explore ways to use simple tests to validate them.

1. Autonomy

  • Do you prefer working as an individual contributor or as part of a team?
  • Do you want to work at a big company or a small company?

2. Mastery

  • What skills really make you come alive?
  • What skills – soft and technical – do you want to learn ... and how do you know?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Do you need another degree to succeed?

3. Purpose

  • Do you have to work at a nonprofit, startup, educational institution, governmental group, or social enterprise to really make an impact?
  • Can you make a positive impact and find purpose at a for-profit company?

Put the questions in motion 

So how can you test these important assumptions before you commit to a direction? It takes some creativity, but I recommend following this 4-step process:

  1. Research

    Spend time on Glassdoor and LinkedIn to see buzz about different companies, sectors, and company sizes. Use Quora to ask questions related to your career path.

  2. Interview

    Talk to people working at the company you think is your “dream employer.” Ask them smart questions that expose if you will find purpose, mastery, and autonomy. You can use tools like LinkedIn to easily find people working in the industry, role, and/or company you want to find. As an example, don’t ask, “Do you love your job?” Instead, ask a series of questions like...

    ...Do you tend to work alone or on teams?

    ...Does your manager invest time and resources in helping you learn new skills?

    ...What drives you to work longer hours?

  3. Experience

    Arrange a job shadow, offer to volunteer, and/or attend networking events with organizations in the sector that you want to be in. If you want to work at a startup, first try volunteering at one. If you want to work in global development overseas, go experteering there first.

  4. Reflect 

    This is one of the most critical steps, and the one of the most often forgotten. Use a coach, mentor, and friends and family to help you distill all the information in steps 1-3. They can help you uncover more about your real self than you can do alone.

We make assumptions about our future all the time. Unfortunately, we’re often wrong. According to Peter Drucker, famed management consultant and author, “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. People know what they are not good at more often - and even then people are most often wrong than right.” 

By breaking apart your assumptions into smaller tests, you can bring a lot of clarity to your quest for a dream job that makes a positive impact – and, chances are, you’ll meet some amazing people in the process.

About Mark 

Mark Horoszowski is co-founder and CEO of, a global platform that helps people find the best place to volunteer their skills around the world, on their own or through corporate-sponsored programs. Mark holds a Master's in Accounting and a BA in Business from the University of Washington and sits on the American Cancer Society’s Nationwide Leadership Training Team.

He's leading a session about how you can find your right career at this year's Net Impact Conference. This year's theme is Game On! Want to find out more?