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Café Impact: How-To Use Ambiguity to Pioneer Change

Jan 30th, 2014Photos & Videos
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Café Impact is democratizing access to careers of conscience. Jonathan Lewis brings together nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs to give you the career-building skills you need to change the world.

Despite crushing student loans and a miserable job market, this Millennial Generation is the most socially conscious, most globally aware and most actively committed to careers of conscience to come along in decades. College students and young professionals are eager to confront some of the world’s most intractable problems — a deteriorating environment, implacable poverty, persistent gender discrimination, institutional racism and more.

What are the non-negotiable social change skill sets that a newly-minted young professional — and I’m specifically thinking of you — needs to learn on his or her first job?

The key skills you need to learn on your first job — the same skills all of us need to keep re-learning throughout our lifetimes — are flexibility of approach, nimbleness of mind and comfortableness with ambiguity. These are the hallmarks of every effective change agent, whether a social entrepreneur or political leader.

“The field of [social entrepreneurship] is so nascent, you absolutely need to be comfortable with ambiguity,” advises Jessamyn Lau, interim CEO of the Peery Foundation. “You’re rarely going to have [your boss] be able to tell you this is exactly what I want you to do and this is how I want the results to come out and this is how you will know if you have achieved success. That just doesn’t happen… Essentially, we’re all making it up as we go along. Hopefully, we’re all smart enough and self-aware enough, to learn from our mistakes as we go along.”

Make your first job a learning job. “Be really, really open to learning,” advises Ashwini Narayanan, former CEO of MicroPlace. “Be open — not here’s what I know and here’s what I’d been taught — [have] the willingness to push the boundaries, to ask questions — not an arrogant way, not in a complacent way, not in an entitled way.”

An absolutely critical and realistic career move is taking a first job out of college that offers skills development, pays down student loan balances and covers the rent. Sure, working on hot social or economic justice issue at a cool social enterprise would be terrific, but social sector jobs just are not as plentiful as they should be and — more to the point — your skills may not yet be as plentiful as they should be.

As Kristin Walters, one of the founders of campus-based Feel Good (“ending world hunger, one grilled cheese sandwich at a time”), pragmatically concludes: Your first job may not be the perfect job, but that doesn’t make it a bad job. A job that pays the bills and includes the opportunity to develop your talents is a damn smart move.

Your commitment to social change is not a function of where you work, but of what you believe in. With a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of heart, you can make a difference wherever you are and whatever you’re doing — and simultaneously prepare yourself for your next, and even more impactful, change agent job.

This blog was originally published at Huffington Post.

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