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How to use the Venn Diagram of Purpose in a sustainability career

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Finding your passion can also help you make impact for the long term. Image via Shutterstock/stockphotofan1.

Everyone has different ideas about what can create the greatest change for positive environmental impact. Some people view policy as the ultimate career for change; some see working in carbon capture or reforestation their dream profession; and for some, family planning is the pinnacle of vocation pursuits for positive planetary impact. We can set our sights on that one mission and can feel downtrodden if we aren’t in that field.

Personally, I recognize that policy is an extremely important lever for change, and an area where I could likely make an outsized positive difference for energy systems or animal welfare. However, I didn’t go to law school, and am so out of my element in that field. The time it would take me to get trained enough to influence policy as a profession is time that the world does not have. Besides, I don’t know if practicing law would bring me joy, or if I’d be any good at it.

As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says in "The Joyful Vegan" (highly recommend), "You’re going to be most effective if the work or advocacy you do is coming from a truthful, authentic, joyful place." My personal journey has been a process of understanding and acting on my "Venn Diagram of Purpose" to find that place. I’ve found the Venn Diagram of Purpose exercise, commonly found online in self-help articles, to actually be extremely useful in planning my career.

The Venn Diagram of Purpose consists of four concentric circles: What I love; what my strengths are; what the world needs; and what I can get paid for. The theory (that I buy) is that finding the confluence of these circles is where you personally can be most effective.

Venn template

The Venn Diagram of Purpose can help you figure out your career impact. Image courtesy of humanbusiness.com.

Here is what my Venn Diagram looks like:

Venn Diagaram

With this diagram in mind, I was able to propose a new program at Microsoft that was a convergence of these aspects. The program involves working directly with local groups in the communities where Microsoft hosts datacenters and supporting locally relevant sustainability projects across carbon, water, waste and ecosystems focus areas. Working directly with people in communities across Microsoft’s global datacenter footprint, I bring organizations together to develop locally relevant sustainability programs and support strong community leadership. From urban forest programs to community solar installations to plastic recovery infrastructure, these varied programs aim to support building partnerships, developing the sustainability workforce, supporting volunteering, enabling grassroots engagement, addressing equity and environmental justice, incorporating education, and contributing to Microsoft’s corporate and datacenter sustainability focus areas.

In this role, I’m able to spend my time doing what I love, what I’m going at and what the world needs — and get paid for it. Like everyone, I sometimes think "What if?" and wonder about other impacts I could be making or other focus areas where I could be making more of a difference. But when I go back to my Venn Diagram, I’m comforted in knowing that the best way to avoid burnout and be my most effective and influential self is coming from a place of authenticity.

It’s not realistic to think everyone can be in exactly the center of their Venn Diagram. But understanding the different components and doing the exercise can certainly help with the paralysis of choice, as well as ameliorate feelings of discouragement from not being in the role you’ve deemed to have the maximum positive impact — because it’s personal based on your individual traits! And for action at any point in the journey, folks can also always contribute to those established areas through volunteerism, activism or financial contributions.

The Hire Learning column highlights knowledge from those inside the sustainability office to make sense of the career in this decisive decade. Have an idea you want to write? Email [email protected]. ]

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