How Will You Lead the Way to Make a Difference?

By Peggy Curchack

We hear from so many of you that it’s really important to you to “make a difference” or “have influence.”  But what does this really mean?  And how do you get there?

Some of us get our greatest satisfaction from having very immediate impact on people:  doctors, lawyers, counselors, financial advisers, nurses, teachers, and all manner of artists – get to be there for the “that was spectacular” or the “aha” moment, or the “thank you, that makes me feel better.” We often see the result of our work quickly – in the reactions of our students, audiences, or clients.

Others want to have more influence on the “big picture” – we make our mark by being in positions to cause change to happen.  CEOs, Executive Directors of non-profits (like Penn), the Chairman of Walt Disney Studios (Penn alum Rich Ross!) – people in charge of departments or functions – get satisfaction from being in a position to steer an organization or influence outcomes.  Rather than working directly with a client (or audience or student), the work generally involves overseeing the work of others, planning, making key decisions.

The point is to play to your talents, and figure out what provides you with the most satisfaction.  This may change over the course of your career.  You may start out as a teacher, and end up as a Superintendent of Schools, or you may start out as a doctor, and end up as a medical administrator.  Or, you can go the other way:  at some point in your life you may find that managing is less gratifying than providing direct service.  Lots of academics, for example, start out in and ultimately return to the classroom, after serving in Congress, in the Foreign Service, as Provosts or even Presidents.

For those of you who are in the process of trying to decide how you want to make a different, visit our Career Exploration page for advice and resources for assessing your values, strengths, and skills and figuring out which careers might be a good fit for you. And visit our Networking and Mentoring page to connect with alumni who can guide and inspire you.

Author: Peggy

Peggy Curchack was a long time career counselor at Penn Career Services, notably serving a long term as Senior Associate Director for College of Arts & Sciences advising.

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