Doing your best work
So far, we’ve identified the major factors that contribute to a role’s impact, but you may have felt that something is missing: What about my personal interests or motivation? What if I find an impactful job that isn’t right for me? Where exactly do I fit into the picture?
At the end of the day, we’re not just looking for theoretically impactful jobs; we’re looking for roles in which you, personally, could make a major impact.
When we set out to find a job or decide on a career path, we tend to look for opportunities that motivate us, fit with our circumstances, and align with our strengths. All these factors play into something we call your “personal fit” — or, how likely you are to excel in a particular role. Having a good fit for a job seems intuitively important; we all want to enjoy and feel good at our work in some capacity. But along with personal satisfaction, finding the right personal fit can also help you make a much bigger impact.
Imagine, for instance, that two people are doing the same job. One is extremely skilled and motivated, and the position aligns with their experience. The second person is competent at the job, but isn’t too excited by the nature of the work and lacks the exact skills needed to thrive. Since the first person might do the job extremely well, they could plausibly have twice or even ten times the impact as the second person in the same position.
When we find a job we are especially good at, we can probably do a lot more good in the world. And when we feel healthy and good about our work, we’re more likely to avoid quick burnout and sustain our impact over the long term. All this means that the right personal fit is both good for you and for the world you’re trying to improve.
Now that we’ve reached the last factor in the SELF framework, we can see how it all fits together.
Problem Significance X Solution Efficacy X Role Leverage X Personal Fit
= your potential impact
The other factors (problem significance, solution efficacy, and role leverage) helped us assess the potential impact of a role. With personal fit, we are trying to figure out how your particular contributions and aptitudes can act as a multiplier. If your personal fit is especially low, it’s likely that your overall impact will be too— no matter how impactful the role may be. As a result, finding something that suits you well could make a major difference.
Assessing your personal fit for a job
So how do you know if you have a good personal fit for a role? Is it a gut feeling? Like in the previous chapters, we need to dive a little deeper beyond intuition. In the next sections, we’ll look at some helpful questions for assessing your personal fit:
- What motivates me?
- What are my needs and boundaries?
- What am I good at / what could I become good at?
What motivates me?
At some point, we’ve probably all heard the cliché that the key to enjoying your work is to “find your passion.” But such advice often leads to a misguided implication: if only you could find the one thing you’re passionate about, everything else would fall into place.
It’s great to care about what you do, but a vague notion of passion may not be the most reliable indicator of a fulfilling career. For one thing, passion can come in many forms, from general subjects to skill sets to problem areas. It’s also likely that your passions and interests will evolve over time, or that you could develop them intentionally.
Instead of asking the ambiguous and often overwhelming question, what is my passion? It helps to distinguish between the different factors that influence your motivation. For example, you may be especially interested in a particular cause area – like animal welfare or global development – but there’s a range of jobs you could pursue within each area. What kind of problems are you especially excited to work on? Is it important to see the direct impact of your efforts? Could you imagine yourself feeling motivated by any part of the problem, so long as it improved the world?
Another influential factor in our motivation is the day-to-day nature of the work. Often when we imagine a job before doing it, we vastly underestimate the importance of the minutiae and particulars. Every job has its ups and downs, but if you aren’t motivated by the daily tasks, it might not be the best option for you. Do you excel at long-term thought work or discrete accomplishable tasks? Do you prefer to focus on theoretical and abstract questions or solve more practical problems? How much time would be spent on different tasks? What might some of the frustrations and challenges look like?
Finally, there are more environmental factors. Even enjoyable tasks could turn out to be unmotivating if the setting or team doesn’t fit with your personality. Do you like to be around people who are intellectual and ambitious people, serious and focused, creative and social? Do you prefer an independent and autonomous environment or a more collaborative and communicative one? Is there a particular structure you need to succeed– like close management and direction or personal initiative and exploration?
Of course, having actual experience to draw on is more helpful than hypothetical scenarios. If you don’t have much experience, there are some relatively easy ways to gain it (like volunteering, participating in clubs, joining research projects or campaigns, etc.) that we’ll discuss later in the guide. If you do have experience, take the time to take an inventory: What did your past environments look like? What sorts of tasks have given your energy? What sort of day-to-day work do you excel at?
What are my needs and boundaries?
Sometimes when we talk about “doing good,” we imagine it entails an immense sacrifice. Do I need to give up all my possessions since there are people so much poorer than me? Should I move somewhere I could have an even larger impact? These are tough questions, but generally, we need to find how we can do the most good within our context — both what we can do and what we are willing to do.
There may be some things you could be flexible on to increase your impact. There may be other things you may be unwilling or unable to give up. You may also just care about more than one thing, and that’s fine. Having boundaries surrounding your needs and circumstances is healthy, and in some cases, it’s critical to our ability to continue making an impact over the long term. Some questions to reflect on might be:
- Do you have a minimum salary requirement? Are there other people in your life you need to support? What sort of safety net do you require? What standard of living do you need to do your job well?
- How do you feel about changing your life circumstances to pursue an impactful opportunity? Could you move across the country, live in an unfamiliar culture, or change your standard of living?
- Is there a certain work-life balance that you need? Do you need a part-time or flexible schedule to accommodate other life circumstances? Could you commit more than 40 hours/week to your career? How do you feel about working outside normal hours? How willing are you to commute?
Making an impact doesn’t need to come at the expense of your well-being— and taking a job you don’t feel comfortable in will likely affect your ability to do it well. As you think about your circumstances and assess your needs, try figuring out what’s flexible, what’s impossible, and what you’re willing to explore.
What am I good at? What might I become good at?
We all have some idea of our strengths and weaknesses— even if it’s difficult to accurately assess ourselves. Sometimes, we vastly overestimate our abilities. Oftentimes, negative bias and familiarity prevent us from recognizing our own strengths. To gain a better sense of whether or not we might be good at a role, we need to try to verify the skills we already have and identify the aptitudes we could build.
First, there are more concrete skills. These are measurable abilities directly related to the work you would do – things like quantitative analysis, programming, high-level math, social science research, clear writing, etc. They are generally easier to determine than other aptitudes, and often easier to improve on as well.
Then, there’s more personal strengths. Sometimes referred to as “soft skills,” these traits relate to how you interact and communicate with others. Can you persuade and educate? Do you excel when coaching or guiding? Can you mediate between different groups or communicate complex ideas? Are you able to have difficult conversations and provide helpful feedback?
When it comes to skills and strengths, personal reflection is only helpful to an extent. Receiving helpful external opinions can also be a challenge, as people tend to say kind (and maybe not always true) things when we ask for feedback. Sometimes, you know someone who is willing to give honest feedback, especially if you explain how it could significantly help you. Other times, you can look back on specific achievements to provide information about your skills. If you have consistent success in some areas (like fundraising, interviewing, negotiating), it’s a pretty good indicator that you have some relevant skills.
Summing it up
Having loose ideas of what you like and dislike won’t necessarily help you get a sense of your personal fit. Lots of people want to “work with people,” but what kinds of people and in what capacity? The more specific we can be in our assessment, the better we’ll understand our potential fit for a role.
It’s also important to keep in mind that personal fit can’t be added up into a perfect personal fit score. If you’re incredible at one thing but just okay at others, your sheer incredibleness could dominate the other factors. It could be, for instance, that you are so good at coding that this strength outweighs the fact that you aren’t so good at oral communication. Or, if one aspect is especially low, you can ask yourself how necessary it is to be successful. Could you easily improve on or gain this skill/strength? Would lacking this significantly impact your ability to do the job?
When considering whether or not you might have a good personal fit for a role, we want to gather any information and insight that helps us understand:
- Does it motivate you?
- Does it align with your boundaries around needs/circumstances?
- Does it seem like something you could be especially good at?
If you find that a role checks all three boxes, you can be pretty confident that it is a good fit for you— and thus, even more confident that you can make a meaningful impact in this role. But if you’re still vastly unsure about some of these questions, that’s okay too! Later in the guide, we’ll look at some ways to test your fit and find opportunities that align with your strengths and circumstances.
Next up, we’ll look at a few extra considerations to keep in mind alongside the SELF assessment.