Clarify Narratives Values Interests Dreams Strengths Impact Align: Experimentation


“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is : What are you going to do for others?” MLK Jr

What do you think is the world’s greatest need?
Which needs are you most suited to address?
What unique mark do you hope to leave on the world after you’re gone?
What cause(s) should you devote your life to?
What will be your legacy?

“If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” –Anita Roddick, Founder, The Body Shop

The woman in this short five minute TEDx talk explains that she became a teacher because she wants to inspire more people to care about and understand the value of science.

This 5 minute video interviews three people with different roles at a wind turbine organization. Each person is passionate about the impact they’re making on the world.

Each of the young adults in this video are cancer researchers. They explain that they enjoy what they do because it can make even small differences for people who are suffering.

Impact is an essential ingredient in purpose- in fact it’s one of the main three ingredients!

Impact is the self-transcendent element of purpose, meaning it is what you do that is consequential for the world beyond yourself. That could mean your personally meaningful, goal-oriented actions affect one person, multiple people, a specific group, a cause, the environment, or other living beings. The breadth, depth, and morality of the impact are not captured by its association with purpose. These elements happen along a spectrum, which we’ll get further into in a little bit (except for the morality concept- you can read about that here).

80,000 Hours

A well-known organization in the effective altruism movement, 80,000 Hours is dedicated to helping people do impactful work. Their definition of impact is roughly that which promotes total expected well-being over the long term. While criticism (2) (3) (4) (5) of effective altruism itself abounds, 80,000 Hours’ definition is a decent stab at qualifying impact generally. Something they leave out that is relevant within the context of purpose is that impact doesn’t have to be solely directed towards people. One can strive to create positive change for the environment and for other living beings.

In so far as purpose is catered to you as an individual, each of the three purpose components are ideally tailored to your unique combination of traits, interests, and values when in pursuit of optimal purpose (purpose that is also sustainable, joyful, you’re good at, and passionate about). Impact is obviously no exception. The impact you choose to apply yourself towards can be specially suited to your particular values, strengths, and interests. In fact, the more aligned with these aspects the impact you’re pursuing is, you’ll probably be more effective in creating the impact you desire.

But we’ll dive into that in a bit.

The following impact subsection will walk you through the nuances of impact and how to craft impacts that suit you best. We’ll touch on the following topics (which you can click to jump to, arrive at naturally through the page progression, or access through the floating navigation):

  • Self-Transcendent Aims vs. Self-Oriented Aims: Explore the value of being in service to something larger than yourself.
  • Determining the Impact You Want to Have: Learn about the role of subjectivity in impact, the difference between what you want and what the world needs, and browse a list of potential fields of impact.
  • Assessing Impact: Explore the various factors one must consider when determining the size and quality of an impact and learn about how to choose an impact that is most suitable for you. Learn about two visual tools to help you understand impact better.
  • Impact Exercises: Thoughtful exercises to help you build an arsenal of ways you could potentially impact the world beyond yourself.


“A purpose greater than yourself is essential to a successful life. If you’re not living a purpose greater than yourself, it’s only a matter of time before you give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do.” –Darrin Donnelly, Old School Grit

Before you move on, take a moment to go through the reflection questions in this exercise to help you generate ideas about the kinds of impacts you’d like to make on the world. Having these in mind as you go through the section will help you apply the concepts against some potentialities for yourself and deepen your understanding.

Also available in the Purpose Workbook

Self Transcendent Aims vs. Self-Oriented Aims

“In 1932, weighed down by the sorrows and agonies of his self-absorbed and aimless clients, an Australian psychiatrist named W. Béran Wolfe summed up his philosophy like this: ‘If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.’ He was right. People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.” –Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness

One thing that sets scientifically validated purpose apart from more colloquial ideas of purpose is that it focuses outside the self. More casual conversations of purpose might conclude that any “project,” like Sonja Lyumbomirsky refers to in the above quote, could qualify as purpose. Or maybe they consider seeking awe or cultivating joy itself as constituting a life purpose. But, according to the research, those types of self-oriented “purposes” don’t seem to have the same punch as self-transcendent life aims.

Perhaps this notion comes from how much we elevate the idea of our own happiness above other life goals. Novelist John Gardner challenges the pervasive phenomenon of thinking we deserve to focus entirely on ourselves at some point in our lives in a speech he delivered to McKinsey & Company in 1990:

“As you get a little older, you’re told you’ve earned the right to think about yourself. But that’s a deadly prescription! People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.” –John Gardner

While fairly fatalist in his indictment of self-concern, he definitely makes a compelling point about the value of commiting to something beyond the self.

There are significant benefits to being in service to something larger than yourself.

“Even if you struggle to see who benefits, because the people you touch with your work are very far away or your work touches them indirectly, try looking a little closer—maybe even in the next cubicle. You can always enjoy the effects of service by helping your colleagues, and there is clear evidence that supporting co-workers can help ease negative emotions at work.” – Arthur Brooks

It can help to increase self-esteem and even decrease one’s sense of loneliness. The rewards are endless, from personal happiness to community connection. And this barely scratches the surface of benefits associated with being in service to something outside the self that is also personally meaningful and goal-oriented (*cough* AKA purpose).

Do What The 99% Are Not Doing

This video by author Simon Sinek dives into the power of doing good for others. Through a handful of stories and studies, Sinek illustrates how doing things for others not only feels good, but inspires others to pay it forward. He extrapolates that the meaningfulness in our relationships is what motivates us deep down. The video is 40 minutes long, but his talk formally ends after 20 minutes, followed by Q&A.

Doing things for others is intrinsically meaningful and thus it makes sense that the most meaningful jobs tend to be the most service-oriented jobs. Consider the following top 5 most meaningful jobs in America versus the 5 least meaningful according to Payscale:

Top 5 Most Meaningful Jobs

  1. Clergy
  2. Post Secondary English Literature Teachers
  3. Surgeons
  4. Directors of Religious Activities and Education
  5. Education Admins in elementary and secondary education

5 Least Meaningful Jobs

  1. Parking Lot Attendants
  2. Gaming Supervisors at Casinos
  3. Prepress Technicians in Print Factories
  4. Title Examiners
  5. Fabric and Apparel Pattern Designers

The jobs in the first column are clear examples of impact-oriented endeavors. It’s easy for us to think of ways these positions are in service to others. But studying these lists is also interesting because folks can find meaning and impact that isn’t immediately obvious in what they do. For example, the fabric pattern designer could argue they’re bringing more beauty into people’s lives and the title examiner could potentially argue they are upholding the law and protecting people or companies from being taken advantage of. If you are genuinely connected to the impact you can find in your work then it can contribute to purposefulness.

Certainly some endeavors will be more purposeful to you as an individual than they might be for someone else on the merit of how aligned they are with your unique assortment of values, strengths, interests, and desires. It’s also clear that some jobs could be more purposeful than others based on the quality or quantity of impact- which does not exactly mean they are better**.  While something that is more impactful has benefits that are superior to something that is less impactful, it doesn’t make the former moralistically or characteristically superior. One must account for what one personally wants from their life according to their own value system.

**Remember that your job doesn’t have to be meaningful or purposeful to be satisfactory. That’s not what is being argued here. However, it is important to note that meaningful impact in your goal-oriented endeavors can increase satisfaction, motivation, joy, and even longevity. So it’s probably worth shooting for!

Super prioritizing the self can cost you impact

Many folks use passion as their guiding star to a satisfying, happy life. In the context of our jobs, author Cal Newport distinguishes this passion approach from an impact-oriented approach in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You:

“To summarize, I’ve presented two different ways people think about their working life. The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you. The craftsman mindset offers clarity, while the passion mindset offers a swamp of ambiguous and unanswerable questions… there’s something liberating about the craftsman mindset: It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is ‘just right,’ and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.” – Cal Newport

Passion Mindset:

Focusing on what the world can offer YOU

Getting value

Seeking pleasure and flow first

Craftsman Mindset:

Focusing on what you can offer the WORLD

Creating Value

Seeking impact first

**It’s worth noting that believing ourselves (or anyone else for that matter) to fall solely into only one of these mindsets would likely be an oversimplification of reality. You probably have a mix of both going on as you weigh your choices. Don’t limit yourself to one or the other, it’s not a condemnation to be a complex being with many layers. 🙂

To shore this up, you could have a decently happy and meaningful life (or job or other endeavor) without worrying about making an impact. However, when you bring impact (which is highly likely to come with purpose, too) into the picture, you significantly up the ante and enjoy far greater meaning, joy, connection, motivation, and beyond. 

“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people-first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.” –Albert Einstein

Determining the Impact You Want to Have

What you care about and what the world needs

Author and psychotherapist Stephen Cope explores the concept of dharma in his book, The Great Work of Your Life. Dharma, the idea of a higher calling or duty, has many similarities with purpose. Cope offers that your dharma lies at the intersection of your gifts and the current times, or in other words, it is a response to what is needed in the moment.

There is a delicate balance to strike between what is needed by the world and what we personally think is important. We want to engage in causes that align with and exercise our dearest values while actually addressing critical issues that will make a significant positive change in people’s lives. How awful would it feel to dedicate your life to something, only to find out it didn’t matter very much (or worse, was detrimental) to those you were trying to help?

The subjectivity involved in what’s worth doing can be confusing to navigate. What is important to one person may be seen as entirely useless or damaging to another. Ethical philosophy around what we ought to focus on is murky, murky territory.

Good Intentions

Negative Interpreted Impact

Pro-Life activists in the US succeeded in dismantling Roe v. Wade, a landmark case in the Supreme Court that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. This cause was incredibly meaningful to all those involved and likely contributed deeply to a sense of purpose. Roe v. Wade being overturned likely felt like a monumental impact for them.

There are huge swaths of people who disagree that this was a positive impact. Pro-Choice advocates believe this change is wildly harmful to women.

Bryan Johnson is a 45-yo centimillionaire obsessed with becoming biologically young again. He is subjecting himself to treatments,  experiments, and practices designed by a team of cutting-edge scientists that have cost him $2 million within a four month period. He believes he is making an invaluable impact on humanity by making himself the guinea pig in this process of reversing aging.

One could argue that Bryan Johnson’s impact is disingenuous and that his primary motivation is narcissism rather than impact. Many criticize the fact that his treatments and process are only accessible to the wildly rich.

Temu is an online marketplace offering cheap goods to consumers. Their website states that Temu “connects consumers with millions of sellers, manufacturers and brands around the world with the mission to empower them to live their best lives. Temu is committed to offering the most affordable quality products to enable consumers and sellers to fulfill their dreams in an inclusive environment.”

Many are concerned that with prices as cheap as they are on Temu, it’s likely that forced labor is involved somewhere in the production line.

Researchers creating vaccines for COVID-19 were compelled to preserve the health and freedom of the entire population of the earth. In order to protect everyone, various organizations enforced vaccine mandates, aiming ultimately to impact societies at large through keeping infection frequencies low and intensities low.

Large groups of people felt the vaccines were dangerous and mandates to take them were an infringement on their personal rights.

Additional Sources

Below are a few extra resources to explore if you’re interested in what moral philosophy has to say about possible ways to define and do good in the world.

Also, check out the section of dedicated to questions or spirituality, religion, and transcendent meaning (all topics which have an inherent bearing on moral concerns).

Try This: Sort The Impact

Perhaps the causes you’re invested in aren’t as controversial as the above. But even if they aren’t, there are likely people who would disagree with you about the breadth, depth, and morality of their impact. Consider the following list of purpose-related pursuits. How would you imagine someone from each of the following categories might rank them? How would you rank them? Figure out what each person might consider as high, medium, and low impact.

The People

An Academic

An AI enthusiast who believes technology can solve most of the worlds problems

Someone who is living in poverty

Someone politically conservative

Someone politically liberal


These lists are understandably conjecture and probably won’t be accurately representative. That’s okay. The intention of the exercise is to explore differences.

The Roles/Endeavors

  • Parent
  • Home appliance technician
  • Science author
  • Librarian
  • Fiction author
  • ESL teacher
  • Cartoonist for kids
  • Producer at a news station
  • Comedian
  • Grant writer
  • Funeral director
  • Editor of a fashion magazine
  • HR manager
  • Museum security
  • Hotel desk clerk
  • Real estate broker
  • Waitress/er
  • Personal financial advisor
  • College professor
  • Athlete agent
  • Call center associate
  • College football player
  • Warehouse worker at amazon
  • Sound engineering technician
  • Special equipment certifier- chain saws, fork lifts, etc.
  • Landscape architect
  • Quality control specialist
  • Wind energy engineer
  • Love researcher
  • Probation officer
  • Cancer researcher
  • Dog-sitter
  • Travel blogger
  • Manager at a retail store
  • Manager at a nonprofit
  • Waste mgmt plant worker
  • Glass artist
  • Marketing analyst
  • Product manager for big tech
  • YouTube influencer focusing on relationships and beauty advice
  • Therapist
  • Supportive best friend
  • Priest
  • Volunteer at a food-bank
  • Mailman
  • Truck driver for a grocery store
  • Lobbyist
  • Philanthropist
  • Political philosopher

Alright, so the differences exist. What are we supposed to do about it?

There are a few things to consider:

  • First of all, one can exclude possible ignoble pursuits from their impact list: those that achieve their ends by causing harm to others.
  • Seek the intersection between what is important to the group you are trying to serve and your own value system.
  • Turn to established experts to better understand what needs are most pressing in the world.
  • Try to use objective measures of impact when you can.
  • Accept that there are going to be differences in how people interpret and prioritize moral action. With this acceptance, practice empathy and listening to understand others more deeply.
  • Be gentle with yourself; there are a lot of factors to contend with when choosing what needs you want to focus on, and that decision isn’t always easy or clear. You can do your best to honor the needs you see in the world and how they intersect with your personal constellation of values, interests, and strengths.

“At a tender age I discovered that it isn’t doing spectacular things that makes you remarkable in the eyes of God, but instead, it is when you light just one candle to dispel a little bit of darkness that you are doing something tremendous. And if, as a global people, we put all the little bits of good together, we will overwhelm the world.” –Desmond Tutu

Is Bigger Better?

The short answer is not necessarily.

The longer answer is that it depends. ‘Bigger’ and ‘better’ can be difficult to measure and are often subjective, so it’s tough to make an entirely objective assessment of impact for one particular person. Even so, many can agree that some endeavors are more impactful on the world than others in terms of quality, quantity, or both. Think about it:

  • More people getting out of poverty
  • Increased access to quality education for a greater number of people
  • Increased access to quality, affordable healthcare for a greater number people
  • More effective climate initiatives that can preserve the world for future generations

The value of the above endeavors increases in proportion to scale. With a nod to evidence-backed humanitarian efforts (1)(2)(3) like the above, we still have to acknowledge that things can get tricky when you’re dealing with initiatives that are less objective. Considering this, aiming solely for “bigger” and “better” might not always be the best way to direct our efforts. (You can read more about quantifying impact in Assessing Impact, upcoming.)

The fogginess of “bigger” and “better” certainly doesn’t help us with the pressure we feel to do something epic with our lives. It’s a common myth that one’s purpose ought to be grand– that it ought to impact massive numbers of people or fundamentally change people’s lives in crucial ways.

Leadership Coach Barbara Waxman discusses the inclination towards grand purpose on her website:

“Don’t get me wrong. I know that a sense of meaning and purpose is foundational. It’s central to my work as a leadership coach. A recent global survey of over 26,000 LinkedIn members in 40 different countries found that having a sense of purpose at work is a tremendous motivator and predictor of things like higher job satisfaction and feelings of fulfillment. But obsessing over the importance of “Big P” Purpose—the grandiose, “save the world” kind—can miss the target. Few of us will change the world, much less save it, but we can do our small part as Mother Teresa suggests. It’s just as important to have ‘little p’ purpose as it is to find your “Big P” purpose. —Barbara Waxman

Doing our small part is no small matter. You absolutely can pursue an epic purpose if you feel called to do so. And,  rather than pitching for extraordinary (in the event that it doesn’t make much sense for you), one can aim for something effective and self-concordant (aligned with their own unique values, interests, and strengths) in order to create satisfying purpose in their lives.

Let’s explore the idea by taking an imaginary person through a handful of roles.

Meet Gemma. She’s skilled in critical thinking and writing. She loves nature because it helps her access deeper values of peace and awe. Personality-wise, she’s more of an introvert and can be drained or stressed by too much social interaction.

**It’s important to note that these attributes are a wild oversimplification of Gemma as a person. She’s a complex individual with many interests, desires, fears, and needs influenced by all manner of experiences and circumstances just like anybody else. For the sake of this exercise we’re going to only look at a handful of features of Gemma that could factor into her alignment with purpose.

When looking at possible impacts Gemma could focus on in her career (we’re using career because it’s an easy way to conceptualize purpose, but keep in mind that purpose doesn’t have to manifest solely through your job) she might consider a handful of metrics:

  • How many people she impacts
  • How significantly she impacts them
  • How well aligned the impact is with what she finds personally meaningful and valuable, which can influence the following factors:
    • How motivated she is
    • How effective she is at making the impact
    • How much she enjoys what she is doing

So consider Gemma pursuing any of the following four options: A medical malpractice lawyer, a grant-writer for a conservation non-profit, an environmental PR specialist, and a natural resource engineer.

While this job suits her skill set and is impactful, it misses the mark on a few essentials. Because it pressures her on her introverted tendencies and doesn’t speak to what she personally cares about most, she might not be as effective in this role as she would be in others. So while she is making a meaningful impact, someone else who is more passionate and less put off by confrontation might be able to make a more significant impact in this role than Gemma.

Gemma is an effective grant-writer. It suits her skill set and interests while allowing her to support causes she believes in.

Even though it’s meaningful to her, Gemma’s work in PR might not be the best fit. While the work is meaningful and impactful because she is able to educate the public, it clashes with her desire to have less social interaction. The parts of her job that require her to interface with the public and communicate her messages directly don’t tap into her best abilities, and therefore she is less effective in this role.

As a natural resource engineer, Gemma is able to do significantly impactful work in areas she deeply cares about and in ways where she can apply her strongest skills.

Of Gemma’s four potential roles, which one would be the most impactful path for her?

It’s tough to say. And, it’s easy to see how her being in a role she doesn’t care very much about or isn’t particularly skilled in is probably going to be a less impactful and less enjoyable path for her than one in which she is deeply invested in the outcomes and able to practice her best skills.

Now, one must acknowledge that Gemma, like all of us, is likely contending with a wide range of other factors when it comes to choosing what to do with her work life. Who knows what her personal needs and limitations are (like health, family, passion projects, etc) and how those are influencing her priorities.

The following chart is a conjecture of Gemma’s general impact across these roles considering her potential effectiveness in each one and the nature of impact in each position.

Of all her options, the natural resource engineer seems to offer the best of all worlds, including impacting a huge number of people in significant ways. Contrast this with her work in public relations, where her unmatched skill set damages a potentially high impact role. Gemma could probably educate hordes of people about the ills of pollution, but since it doesn’t suit other aspects of who she is, she’s less effective.

But don’t take all this as an admonition that you have to find something that checks every box in order for it to be worth pursuing. It may be better for you personally to pursue something that impacts fewer people but absolutely utilizes your skills, applies to your interests and values and is deeply enjoyable rather than prioritizing the greatest number of people you can affect.

Do I Need to Be Good At It?

It feels obligatory to note that you do not need to be good at something for it to be purposeful. And, your competency in a particular endeavor can moderate the quality and scale of your impact. You could be a mediocre philanthropist, teacher, or doctor and still have a sense of purpose. Despite the depth and breadth of your impact possibly not satisfying its full potential in such a scenario (it could even be detrimental depending on the circumstances- such as being a subpar doctor) you can still be ticking the boxes of personally meaningful, goal-oriented, and impactful beyond the self. Not being excellent at your chosen purpose(s) is by no means a death knell, and ultimately, becoming good at what you choose is relevant to exercising an effective purpose. 

Remember that growth and change is possible; you have the option of improving your skills. An alternative approach could be to outsource responsibilities that you are less suited for if you have the resources to do so.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” — Frederick Buechner, Author

Impact Categories

“Each of us has a unique part to play in the healing of the world.” – Marianne Williamson

Not really sure where to start? Not sure what your options are for impact?

Lucky for you we’ve compiled some inspiration to get you started. There are two dimensions to the type of impact you want to make:  what the cause or issue is and how you will contribute to it.

The following is offered as an inspirational resource rather than as definitive lists. There are an endless number of ways to make a positive impact on the world that would be difficult to enumerate in sufficient detail on one webpage (let alone in two short lists). What follows is collected from a handful of different sources.

Keep in mind the following as you browse:

  • There are a multitude of angles and approaches to impacting any given issue listed.
  • The items below were pulled from a few different sources and are generally un-edited for the sake of integrity, so you may notice duplicates.
  • The issues below are framed in a global context. Focusing on local concerns may elicit some different results, and likely many of the concerns in the following list will be relevant in some form on a local scale as well.
  • These issues may seem massive and epic, which can be intimidating. And, you do not personally have to solve these issues all on your own. You can choose to contribute and collaborate in these realms in many different ways and amounts. Or, perhaps they will simply provide inspiration as to a direction for you to orient yourself towards.

A preview of what’s in store here:

  • What – Lists of causes or issues to contribute to, or “Impact Fields”
    • Global issues according to the UN
    • Catastrophic Risks according to Wikipedia
    • World Issue Areas according to UPenn
    • Most Pressing World Issues compiled by Chat GPT
    • Most Meaningful and Impactful Jobs according to a few sources
  • How – Approaches to contribute to various causes, or “Impact Roles”
    • Societal, Economic, and Metaphorical Models for thinking about angles of contribution
    • Examples of using the models
    • Additional Considerations for choosing how one applies themselves towards an impactful endeavor

“There are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi

What: Impact Fields

Global Issues Focused on by the United Nations

The following issues are areas the UN focuses on. Each topic is like an umbrella, containing a wide range of ways to make an impact within it. 

  • Africa- Establishing peace, supporting economic and social development, promotion of human rights
  • Aging – Worldwide populations are aging at a rapid rate. There will be high demand for policy and support as the proportion of older people expands.
  • AIDS – Continued efforts to reduce infection and death worldwide.
  • Atomic Energy – Promoting the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies internationally
  • Big Data for Sustainable Development – Finding ways to manage big data in ways that are inclusive and fair
  • Children – Insuring health, education, and protection for children world-wide
  • Climate Change – Working to unite countries on policy to mitigate climate and change and it’s impact
  • Decolonization – Supporting countries in becoming independent
  • Democracy – Supporting countries in democratic empowerment to promote human rights
  • Disarmament – Limiting arms to maintain international peace and security
  • Ending Poverty – Decreasing poverty globally
  • Food – Working with food systems to create sustainability and insure food security
  • Gender Equality – Supporting the rights and potential of women and children
  • Health – Promote and protect health and health services globally
  • Human Rights – Promoting respect for human rights
  • International Law and Justice – Promoting law and justice through international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Migration – Working in policy to maintain peace and support for migrants.
  • Oceans and Law of the Sea – Management of this global resource and international relations regarding it
  • Peace and Security – Preventing war and conflict
  • Population – Working on policy and efforts related to meeting the effects of a rapidly growing population. This includes the areas of urbanization, migration, and development.
  • Refugees – Supporting those forcibly displaced and seeking asylum.
  • Water – Ensuring fresh water is available globally.
  • Youth – Focusing on issues that young people contend with, such as access to education, health, employment, and gender equality

World Issue Areas According to the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at University of Pennsylvania

Visit the above link for guidance on each of these issues. 

  • Education and Youth
  • COVID Response
  • Global Health
  • Women and Girls
  • Democracy and Society
  • Mental Health and Addiction
  • Poverty and Hunger
  • Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Aid

Top Ten Issues Sourced by Chat GPT (Personal Communication, March 24, 2023)

  1. Climate Change: The rise in global temperatures due to increased emissions of greenhouse gasses is causing severe environmental damage and is a significant threat to humanity.
  2. Income Inequality: The gap between the rich and poor is growing, causing social unrest, and increasing poverty levels.
  3. Global Health Pandemics: The outbreak of global pandemics such as COVID-19, Ebola, and Zika poses a significant threat to public health, global economies, and social stability.
  4. Nuclear Weapons: The potential for nuclear war or terrorist attack remains a significant threat to global peace and security.
  5. Cybersecurity: The increasing use of digital technology and the internet has created new opportunities for cybercriminals to steal personal and financial data and to cause disruption to critical infrastructure.
  6. Terrorism: The ongoing threat of terrorism, both domestic and international, poses a significant risk to public safety and global security.
  7. Political Instability: Political instability and conflict in various regions of the world, including the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, threaten global stability and economic prosperity.
  8. Access to Education: A lack of access to quality education for children in many parts of the world limits social mobility and economic growth.
  9. Discrimination: Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion remains a significant issue around the world, leading to social unrest and inequality.
  10. Sustainable Development: Balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability remains a critical challenge for many countries as they seek to improve the quality of life for their citizens while protecting the planet.

Most Meaningful Impact-Oriented Jobs

According to the 2016 Global Purpose Index Report produced by LinkedIn and Imperative that focuses on purpose at work, the following are the top five most purpose-oriented job functions:

Top 5 Most Purpose-Oriented Job Functions (in descending order)

  1. Community
  2. Entrepreneurship
  3. Education
  4. Healthcare Services
  5. Research

The University of San Diego compiled a list of impactful humanitarian careers in this helpful article. They organize humanitarian careers across the domains of In-Country/Field Work Professionals, Headquarters-Based Professionals, and Semi-Permanent In-Country/Field Work Professionals.

Most Impactful Careers According to 80,000 Hours

80,000 Hours is an organization that focuses on impactful careers (as defined by the effective altruism movement- you’ll notice their cause is featured in their lists and they admit is biased). They believe that the following areas represent the greatest need and that the following careers have the potential to be the most impactful.

  • Greatest Need Areas/ Top Problems
    • Risks from artificial intelligence
    • Catastrophic pandemics
    • Building effective altruism
    • Global priorities research
    • Nuclear war
    • Epistemic and institutional decision-making
    • Climate Change
    • Great power conflict
  • Most Impactful Careers
    • Government and policy in an area relevant to a top problem
    • Organization building at effective nonprofits
    • Research in relevant areas
    • Applying unusual skills to a needed niche
    • Communication
    • Earning to give
  • Top recommended career paths
    • AI safety technical research
    • Shaping future governance of AI
    • Biorisk research, strategy, and policy
    • Helping build the effective altruism community
    • China-related AI safety and governance paths
    • Grantmaker focused on pressing world problems
    • Operations management in high-impact organizations
    • Research into global priorities
    • Forecasting and related research and implementation

There is a great deal of expansion on the above lists, including more possibly impactful paths and guidance on developing a career in the areas they’ve listed. Check out this page to learn more.

Most Impactful Careers Compiled by Chat GPT (Personal communication. March 23, 2023)

“There are several careers that can have a significant impact on society and the world. Here are ten examples:

  1. Healthcare worker: Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, help to save lives and improve the health of individuals and communities.
  2. Social worker: Social workers help individuals, families, and communities to cope with and overcome social and economic challenges, such as poverty, homelessness, and addiction.
  3. Educator: Educators help to shape the future by providing children and young adults with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life.
  4. Environmental scientist: Environmental scientists work to protect the environment and promote sustainable development by researching and implementing solutions to environmental problems, such as climate change and pollution.
  5. Human rights lawyer: Human rights lawyers work to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups, such as refugees, prisoners, and victims of discrimination and violence.
  6. Renewable energy engineer: Renewable energy engineers design and develop new technologies to harness and use clean, sustainable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
  7. Nonprofit organization leader: Nonprofit leaders work to address social and environmental issues, such as poverty, hunger, and homelessness, by running and managing organizations that provide aid and support to those in need.
  8. Social entrepreneur: Social entrepreneurs create and run businesses that have a social or environmental mission, such as providing clean water or affordable healthcare to under-served communities.
  9. Public policy analyst: Public policy analysts work to develop and evaluate policies and programs that address social, economic, and environmental issues, such as education, healthcare, and climate change.
  10. Journalist: Journalists play a critical role in informing the public about important social and political issues, promoting transparency and accountability, and holding those in power accountable for their actions.”

The Service Cornerstone

Service is one of The Four Cornerstones of Meaning in the model presented on this website. There is a section dedicated to the nature of service that explores virtues of service, how service develops throughout a lifetime, methods for being in service, and more. Visit the following link for another curated collection of impactful opportunities featured in the service section.

More Resources For Determining What the World Needs

The Following Compiled by Chat GPT March 2023

  • The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: This is a global framework that identifies and addresses the most pressing issues facing the world, including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, economic growth, infrastructure, and peace and justice.
  • The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report: This report outlines the most significant risks facing the global economy and society, including environmental, economic, geopolitical, technological, and societal risks.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): This is a scientific body that provides regular assessments of the state of knowledge on climate change, including its causes, impacts, and future risks.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO): This is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for international public health, including the management of global health crises and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
  • The Global Peace Index (GPI): This index measures the level of peace and security in countries around the world, taking into account factors such as political instability, crime rates, terrorism, and military spending.
  • The World Bank: This is an international financial institution that provides loans and grants to developing countries to support economic development and poverty reduction.
  • The Human Development Report: This report is published annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and provides a comprehensive analysis of human development around the world, including issues such as education, health, gender equality, and poverty.
  • The Global Education Monitoring Report: This report is published annually by UNESCO and provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of education around the world, including issues such as access, quality, and equity.
  • The Global Gender Gap Report: This report is published annually by the World Economic Forum and provides a comprehensive analysis of the gender gap in various countries around the world, including issues such as economic participation, political empowerment, health, and education.
  • The Global Food Security Index: This index measures the level of food security in countries around the world, taking into account factors such as access to food, availability of food, and affordability of food.

Print out this sheet of potential impact roles and fields from the Purpose Workbook. These lists are by no means definitive. Feel free to add more items to each list as they occur to you.

How- Impact Roles

Perhaps you have some causes populating your list now- but how do you want to contribute to them?

There are a few different ways to approach this question. But before you jump into answering, it’s important to recognize that there are a wide variety of ways to contribute to any given impact. You are not limited to volunteering in a soup kitchen if you want to support impoverished people. You do not have to become a doctor or a nurse to help people with their health. You do not need to run for office to profoundly affect your community.

How you contribute to a need in the world can be guided by your strengths, values, interests, and desires. Consider how these elements of yourself overlap with the causes that inspire you (there is an exercise in the impact exercises section to help you do this).

There are more exercises that focus deliberately on the practice of creating new combinations and generating possible purposes in the Alignment section (which you’re welcome to jump to). For now, the following content can help you look at the multiple dimensions of a given issue in order to expand your sense of possibility.

Multi-dimensional Issues

We’re rarely aware of all the mechanics at play behind the ordinary aspects of our daily lives. When opening a door we don’t consider how many people’s energy went into its design, construction, or  installation. We certainly don’t think about the investors who enabled the production company to exist, or the HR department that helped everyone there work together peaceably, or the accountant that helped the company manage an audit. We don’t imagine the marketing team that made the door appealing to the buyer, or the person operating the machine that processed the wood that became the door. Nor the family-owned property that has tended to the land on which the trees grew for half a century.

Obviously any given door doesn’t constitute a purposeful impact. And, one can look at any impactful operation in a similar way when contemplating how they can contribute to the efforts that kindle their heart. How can YOU contribute to the creation of a “door”?

The world is complex and thus the potential avenues for contribution are manifold. To help you conceive of ways you might be able to contribute to a given concern you can use some of the following models that break down the roles, sectors, and areas of society and business. These models are offered purely as inspiration to help you conceptualize ways you might participate in the causes that call to you.

Below you’ll find a handful of models introduced. They aren’t explained in depth nor offered as each model was originally intended; the point of including them is to present varied lenses / means  you could cultivate purpose through. After the models you’ll find a few causes broken down using fodder from the models. You can think of some of the following models as metaphors for ways to contribute.

Questions to ask yourself as you look at the models:
  • How do the various areas of these models interact with the cause/issue I’m interested in?
  • What are three specific roles for the intersections that are drawing my attention?
  1. Government – Systems, institutions, law, regulation, public services
  2. Business – Production of goods and services, economy
  3. Community – Family, Children, Relationships, faith
  4. Environment – Quality, access to, and conservation of resources and environment

The Peace Pentagon

  1. Learning & Education
  2. Communications & Media
  3. Art & Culture
  4. Peacebuilding & Relations
  5. Justice & Governance
  6. Health & Wellness
  7. Food, Water & Environment
  8. Infrastructure & Resources
  9. Science & Technology
  10. Spirituality & Religion
  11. Indigenous Cultures & Micro-Communities
  1. Action-oriented roles – Executing tasks
  2. Social-oriented roles – Tending to people and relationships
  3. Cerebrally-oriented roles – Tending to thoughts, ideas, and structures
  1. Air and Water – Tending to air and water quality and access
  2. Food and Shelter – Tending to food and shelter quality and access
  3. Pollination – Tending to interconnectivity in systems, such as diplomacy
  4. Seed Dispersal – Distribution of resources
  5. Nutrient Cycle – Energy management, resource repurposing
  6. Pest Control – Tending to competition
  7. Waste Disposal – Tending to health and safety
  8. Balance – Tending to equilibrium
  1. Weavers- Connecting people, places, ideas, movements, organizations
  2. Experimenters – Risk taking innovators
  3. Visionaries – Imagining what’s possible
  4. Builders – Developing, organizing, and implementing ideas
  5. Caregivers – Nurturing people and community
  6. Disruptors – Shaking up the status quo to build awareness
  7. Healers – Tending to generational and current traumes caused by systems, institutions, policies, practices
  8. Storytellers- Sharing stories of community, culture, history through art, music, media, etc.
  9. Guides- Teaching, counseling, advising

According to San Diego University regarding Humanitarian Aid 

  • Administrative
  • Research
  • Fundraising
  • Consulting
  • Advocacy
  • Relief/Response Work
  • Medicine
  • Leadership/Management
  • Communication and Outreach

Contribify is a website based on the book, “Life’s Great Question,” by Tom Rath. Their team scoured 1000s of job descriptions to come up with 12 human-centered titles of ways to contribute. You can visit their site to learn more and even take a quiz and get a personalized profile. Note: Quiz is not free.

  • Achieving
  • Adapting
  • Challenging
  • Connecting
  • Energizing
  • Influencing
  • Initiating
  • Organizing
  • Perceiving
  • Scaling
  • Teaching
  • Visioning

Examples of Applying These Models

These models are meant to help you see more options. The following examples are based on someone considering how different models might apply to an area of interest for them. Each shows a series of options within the field of their interest.

Print out this sheet of potential impact roles and fields from the Purpose Workbook. These lists are by no means definitive. Feel free to add more items to each list as they occur to you.

Model Your Own Possibilities

To try this yourself grab a blank sheet of paper and choose two of the models that resonate with you. Draw them out on your paper and fill in the areas with options that apply to the impact field of your choice (such as “Mental Health” or “Women & Children” in the examples above).

Only use one impact field per model. Don’t worry about listing things you believe you would or would not like- include everything. The point is to get as many ideas down as possible and see multiple options. It may be helpful to do some online searches to supplement your knowledge if you’re struggling to come up with roles that apply to the area you’re filling in.

Once you’ve finished filling it out, look over the model and note if anything surprises you. Is there anything in there that speaks to you more than other options? Is there anything in there that makes you cringe to consider doing it yourself?

Eschewing Limitations

We’ve concluded that impact doesn’t have to be epic to be worthwhile and that determining what is worth doing can be largely subjective. The bigger point to drive home is that impact doesn’t have to look any one specific way in terms of what it is or how you come to it.

  • It doesn’t have to be something you do through your job. You can make an impact through parenting. Through organizations or groups you’re a part of. Through how you show up in your relationships.
  • You don’t have to be wholly responsible for the results. You can contribute to the impact of a group or organization. You can collaborate on a project with others. You can contribute to many parts of a process, be it as a policy maker, a manager, a designer, or the boots on the ground. Being a part of a team can increase what you’re capable of accomplishing. Many hands will make pushing a giant boulder up a hill not only easier, but in many cases feasible at all.
  • Having an impact that is unique to you is valuable but not wholly requisite. If your contribution to an impact is not something only you can provide, you may become more or less expendable. This is great if you want a project to live on strongly when you’re gone (versus being totally dependent on you). If your work is more unique to you, however, your impact will likely be more effective and you may be more fulfilled.
  • Impact doesn’t have to look like something obviously measurable– you can create change through stimulating thought and action via art and writing. You can make a difference by voting or choosing what to spend your money on. All of the choices you make and roles you play have ripple effects.
  • When it comes to one’s purpose, impact needs to be goal-oriented and personally meaningful. Acts of kindness for friends, family, and strangers are wonderful and feel good. But if they aren’t part of a larger vision or connected to specific values, they do not constitute purpose.

Beyond those factors, you’d be wise to assess the scope, depth, and pervasiveness of a potential impact and get clear on to what degree you personally want to have an effect on the world beyond yourself. You can learn more about how to do this in Assessing Impact, upcoming.

Assessing Impact

In This Section

  1. Trickiness: Assessing impact is tricky business. There are many factors to weigh and considerable subjectivity to account for. Learn about general approaches to assessing impact.
  2. Impact Factors: Dive deeper into the factors that contribute to determining how impactful something is.
  3. Visualizing Impact: Visualizing impact can aid you in determining if what you’re doing aligns with what you really want. Learn about two different ways to approach visualizing impact.


Aside from choosing the field in which you want to make an impact, it’s important to consider the degree of impact you want to make- either for a specific endeavor or over the course of your life. There are a lot of possible facets through which to judge impact, making assessing it a bit tricky. Nonetheless, finding a way to approximate impact is definitely worthwhile.

Assessing impact is valuable because it can help us…

  • …evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts and thus help us refine our approach.
  • …make informed decisions down the road about what we want to invest our resources in and how we want to go about doing so.
  • …find endeavors that are more aligned with our strengths, interests, and values.

There are several factors to consider when assessing the significance of any particular impact. Think about the following examples of how some of these variables might manifest:

Affecting a large number of people

Being a celebrity TikTok star with millions of followers and sharing supportive messages about positive body image on your account.

Affecting a small number of people

Buying coffee and breakfast for the person in line behind you every Friday.

Having an impact that lasts a long time

Being an involved parent.

Having many different impacts

Ben Franklin contributed to many impactful endeavors: He was a father, discovered electricity, created inventions, was PostMaster General, worked on the French Alliance and peace treaties, supported the abolition of slavery, created Poor Richard’s Almanac, ran a publishing house, and was a part of the Philosophical Society.

An impact that creates significant change

Plato is considered a founder of Western philosophy and has deeply impacted the way many people think and understand the world.

A therapist supporting a client going through depression and suicidality.

A supportive coach, teacher, or mentor who teaches you to believe in yourself.

Being close to the effects and outcomes of your work

A volunteer doctor for Operation Smile working directly with patients in rural villages and being able to see them heal.

Supporting a close friend through a divorce.

Being distant from the outcomes of your work

Being an administrative assistant for a nonprofit that helps people out of poverty.


The above are only a handful of factors. Because impacts can look a wide variety of ways, assessing it can be a bit thorny. There are clearly a lot of dimensions to track (which we’ll return to in a minute)! Perhaps you affect large numbers of people just a little bit, or you affect a few people deeply.  Perhaps you have multiple ways you impact the world, perhaps each one changes over time, and maybe your impact compounds as you keep up various endeavors.

On top of all that, there’s the murky paradox that what qualifies as a significant impact to you will depend largely on your own personal value system (like we covered here) rather than quantifiable metrics. A priest may believe the work they are doing with the people in their congregation is massively significant while someone else might consider it far smaller.

While there is a considerable amount of subjectivity involved in assessing impact, people still give measuring it a solid go. More established approaches to measuring impact are those used by businesses and nonprofits who need to substantiate their efforts are well directed to stakeholders and investors.

Some nonprofits measure impact across five dimensions:

  • What the outcome is and how important it is to the people experiencing it
  • Who is experiencing the outcome and their characteristics
  • How much of the outcome is occurring, across scale, depth, and duration
  • Contribution – how much is the organization actually contributing to change, or would change have occurred anyway
  • Risk – What risks could undermine the expected impact and what would be the cost of the impact not occurring

Not all of those elements are easily applicable to assessing impact for the individual, like risk (although they are still especially useful for refining purpose-related goals).

One impact assessment approach is called Theory of Change. Theory of Change focuses more on making your strategy actionable rather than measuring your impact, so it’s especially useful in refining your goals (which you can learn more about in Align: Action).

The Theory of Change

If you’re curious to learn about Theory of Change now though, this short 3 minute and 40 seconds video from DIY Toolkit (a channel dedicated to helping groups in development improve results) walks you through an example of how it works.

Another angle of approach is suggested by professor, author, and musicologist Craig Wright. It’s called the Genius Equation. While the aim of making a significant impact is not to become a genius, Wright covers some variables in his equation that are useful when considering an individual’s impact on the world.

G = S x N x D

Genius (G) equals Significance (S) of the degree of impact or change effected, times the Number (N) of people impacted, times Duration (D) of impact.

The examples he offers in his book, The Hidden Habits of Genius, are as follows:

Significance: Alexander Fleming’s life-saving penicillin vs Kanye West’s latest style of Yeezy sneakers

Number: 200 million lives saved vs 280,000 pairs of shoes sold

Duration: Antibiotics have been around for 80 year vs the life of a shoe being use-dependent


In this regard, Wright’s definition of genius seems to correlate with degree of impact.

We can add some additional measures to our personal equation for assessing impact on the individual level, which we’ll talk about next. We want to be able to determine not only the potential degree of impact, but what is worth doing – broadly, and for ourselves individually.

Impact Factors

The most obvious factors to measure might be scope and depth.

Number of people affected

  • Helping pass a new law that protects human rights for an entire segment of the population
  • Teaching a class of 10 people for one semester

Significance of change

  • Helping someone heal from a traumatic experience
  • Teaching someone a new way to file their taxes

If you’re looking at the overall impact of an individual over the course of their life, you might consider quantity and duration:

How many endeavors were/are being engaged in

  • Being a devoted parent and partner, participating in community fundraisers, writing an impactful book, teaching piano to kids, and doing admin work at a company you believe in
  • Hosting meetups for strangers to build community, volunteering at polling stations, practicing English with a friend who is learning, starting a business and empowering employees, being an example for other businesses with a new wage model, taking care of ailing relatives

How long any single endeavor lasted/ has gone on

  • Inventing something that is popular momentarily or eternally
  • Being an influence on your kids’ lives
  • Working with an organization for multiple years
  • Spending a season counseling young entrepreneurs
  • Being a mentor to several different people over the course of a decade

Social factors that influence being satisfied with one’s impact might include intimacy and contribution:

How close the actor is to the outcomes of their efforts

  • Doing the bookkeeping for Habitat for Humanity- you’re contributing to the people who ultimately benefit from the services of the organization but you do not interface with them regularly nor are they likely aware of your contribution.
  • A therapist working directly with clients and seeing them change over time.

The degree to which a given individual is responsible for an outcome

  • Leading or designing a project with a specific outcome in mind.
  • Spending one day working in a community garden.
  • Collaborating with a team on an endeavor
  • Writing and self-publishing a book

In terms of how aligned someone is with the impact their making, you could consider coherence and overall fulfillment.

Personal-Coherence: How aligned one’s efforts are with their skills, interests, and values

  • Being an excellent accountant at a company who isn’t doing something you actually care about.
  • Helping campaign for a candidate you believe in but not being very experienced in your role.

Population-Coherence: How valuable the impact is to those it affects

  • Trying to teach a group of people how to start businesses when they’re more focused on having affordable healthcare or groceries.
  • Trying to solve someone’s problem when they really want empathy

How satisfied the person is with their outcomes and/or experience of working towards them

  • Being a real estate agent and feeling satisfied when you get a client a great deal on a home they love.
  • Being an artist who isn’t aware of how their work is affecting people and thus not feeling motivated.

Want a printable version of impact factors for reference?

Visualizing Impact

Accurately representing every feature of impact in one succinct visualization is a difficult (perhaps impossible) task. There are so many dimensions to convey and so much subjectivity involved in estimating the impact of a single given individual that what you end up with must be considered imperfect at best.

And, imperfection in stride, visualizing past, current, and potential impact is still a worthwhile effort. It can aid you in determining if what you’re doing aligns with what you really want. Perhaps it will help you clarify what it even is you want as well.

Below you’ll find two visualization methods you can use to assess your own personal impact. One revolves around outcomes while the other revolves around personal alignment. We’ll walk through the features of each “map,” explore a few examples, and then you can try them on your own in the impact exercises section.

Purpose Statements

Nonprofits have mission statements that can be used to define ideal outcomes. Individuals can have their own purpose statements that do the same. The difficulty here lies in the fact that our mission and purpose statements can often (but not always) be broad and vague. Take the following nonprofit mission statements as examples:

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: To inspire conservation of the oceans.
  • New York Public Library: To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities.
  • Girls Scouts: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

How are we to measure how each Girl Scout makes the world a better place? How are we to know what conservation work can be traced back to inspiration from the Monterey Bay Aquarium? What life-long learning can we attribute to the New York Public Library? It’s not a bad thing that these goals are not easy to measure, and it’s valuable to recognize that there is a degree of subjectivity inherent to these types of less quantifiable factors.

Assessing Impact Outcomes

The following model explores a given individual’s impact in the larger context of their lives. It captures the approximated combined outcome of various endeavors and projects. You’ll notice that the axis labels are vague; this is to leave room for subjectivity.

*Note Subjectivity is an unavoidable part of the following exercise. These maps are meant to be conceptual rather than mirroring reality exactly. Do your best to be discerning while creating your own maps and share them with a few friends who think differently from you to see if they agree.

Number of people impacted is conveyed by the height of each amorphous impact “shape.”

The degree of change is represented by the darkness of the shape. Darker = more change.

Quantity of impact is illustrated by the presence of multiple impact shapes.

Duration is conveyed by the length of each shape along the x axis.

All the above considered, a map that is darker and fuller represents greater impact overall.

Now let’s check out some filled in examples.

The blue map is an imaginary figure named Anna. She has lived a simple life working as a janitor and groundskeeper for a school. She’s involved in her community and has raised a family. She considers her life to be happy and fulfilling. Her map might constitute what a ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ impact map would look like for many people.

Compare Anna’s map to Ben Franklin’s. While the comparison might not be a fair one for the vast majority of people on the planet, Franklin’s map illustrates what a deeply purposeful life might look like when plotted out in terms of impact.


Now, it must be noted that there are probably a dozen other things that either one of these people might believe is important to include in their map. That is up to the individual and what they believe is most important. (If you’re not sure what you would want to include or not in your own map, check in with some people who know you well).

It would be natural to mistake Franklin’s map as better as far as impact goes, but as we explored earlier, bigger isn’t necessarily better when we account for personal values, conceptions of morality, and what we want from life. Not only is there variance along the intersections of quantity and quality mediated by personal fitness for a particular task, but the value placed on the quantity and quality of any person’s impact is influenced by a range of factors. What are their life goals? Are they focused more on happiness, meaning, or psychological richness? What role does impact play in their lives and why is or isn’t it important to them?

Anna is satisfied with her map. Let’s say Franklin was, too. They’d probably use different metrics for coming to that conclusion. Anna is focused on happiness and meaning. You might imagine Franklin was focused on meaning and purpose.

So before you assume what ‘better’ looks like in one of these maps, it’s important to ask yourself what is important to you, specifically. You can discover more about what is better for you by assessing how well a given impact aligns with your skills, interests, and values using the next map below.

Try It Yourself

Use this exercise to help visualize your current aggregate impact on the world beyond yourself.

Once you’ve plied yourself with a few ideas of potential impact endeavors you might engage in, it’s worth plotting them out to imagine their potential accumulated effect. Using the chart in this exercise you can imagine the scale, depth, and longevity of your potential future impacts.

Assessing Impact Alignment

We covered earlier that the more your chosen impact aligns with your skills, interests, and values, the more effective you are likely to be. The following map helps plot out an individual’s alignment with a given role and its field of impact. It includes a fourth and fifth aspect, “linchpin,” and “intimacy,” which refer to how much the success of the role depends on your specific contribution for its success, and how close you are to those you impact, respectively.

  • Skills: How well the role and field utilize your skills. The applicability of your skillset to the given role/field. The extent to which you are skilled at the role/field.
  • Interests: How well the role or field matches your personal interests.
  • Values: How well the role or field fulfills your most important values.
  • Linchpin: The degree to which the success of the role/field depends on your specific contribution.

*A Caveat on Linchpin: Being a linchpin in a field has its costs and benefits. If your contribution to an impact is not something only you can provide, you become more or less expendable. While you may be less valued, this is great if you want a project to live on strongly when you’re gone (versus being totally dependent on you for success). If your work is more unique to you, however, your individual impact will likely be more effective and you may feel more fulfilled.

  • Intimacy: Your proximity to those who benefit from your labor (further from the center in this instance is closer to them).

We’ll break down a few examples in a moment, but in so far as how to assess this particular map, generally a bigger shape indicates more alignment (with the linchpin concept being a bit more nuanced to interpret, which you can read about above). 

Wonky shapes are not necessarily bad, especially when you consider what it is you want from the role. For example, if your impact is mostly achieved through a traditional job (such as being a teacher, programmer, nurse, public servant, emergency responder, accountant, etc), the intensity of your impact may not be the only metric for why you’ve chosen the job. You may do it for passion and security as well. Therefore aligning your impact with your values may not be as important and you may be able to get by being above-average at it.

On the other hand, if you’re primarily seeking to have a highly effective and fulfilling impact, then the further along the poles each aspect is for skill, interest, values, and intimacy, the better.

Let’s check out some examples. Keep in mind that these maps, like the visualizing impact maps, are highly subjective and bound to be imperfect. Even when estimating a map for someone else, people may disagree on where someone falls along a given axis.

Klimt is a famous Viennese artist who collaborated with a group of other artists to establish the Vienna Secession, a movement that strayed from traditional artistic practices and heralded the beginning of modern art in Austria. The existence of the organization was a political and philosophical act. Klimt was elected president and organized exhibitions. While his skill as an artist is undeniable, his skill as the leader of a movement was less on point. He was a quiet and solitary man who didn’t enjoy social (especially political) functions.

Saana Rapakko Hunt used to be an executive for Meta, leading the company on growth for Instagram. In order to live more purposefully she left Meta for an organization called “The Mom Project” and took a 40% pay cut. She now feels more aligned with her values and thus more motivated and dedicated to her work.

Wanda (a fictitious person) has a role in upper leadership for the Girl Scouts of America. While the work aligns with her values of contributing to the well-being of young people (and she enjoys seeing the smiles of the kids the organization affects), she isn’t particularly interested in other aspects of her work. At the end of the day, it’s mostly just a job that pays the bills. While she is pretty good at what she does, if she decided to leave her job it would not be difficult for the organization to find a suitable replacement.

Vince (another fictitious person) is in an entry-level role as a mentor at a residential treatment center for teenage boys. He is incredibly passionate about his work supporting the boys navigate their emotional and relational challenges and deeply believes that he is doing something important. He gets to see how deeply his support impacts the boys because he sees and interacts with them daily, and watches them grow over time. Since he is pretty new to the industry he doesn’t have a lot of expertise. Because of this and the nature of his position being entry-level, he would be easily replaced if he decided to leave (even if his relationships with the boys are unique).

If we look at these maps side-by-side and use the metric of “bigger shape = greater alignment with an impact role,” we can deduce that Klimt and Vince are the most aligned with what they do and have the potential to create a more meaningful impact than Wanda and Saana.

It’s fairly easy to see from the examples that the shape of our maps can reflect different things about what’s important to us regarding our endeavors (and potentially other circumstantial influences) and how impact plays a role in our decisions.

  • Klimt may have had a massive impact through his own artwork and somewhat less of an impact via his contributions to the Vienna Secession, in part due to his skillset in that realm.
  • Saana Hunt impacted many people in her executive role at Meta, but not in a way that she cared about. It made sense for her to change roles in order to find greater fulfillment.
  • Wanda benefits from the inherent meaningfulness of her organization but ultimately she decided to be a “cog-in-the-machine,” perhaps missing out on some fulfillment and potential impact in favor of the security her work provides her.
  • Finally, Vince, while not professionally skilled and relatively replaceable, is deeply aligned with his work at the treatment center. Fulfillment and impact are a big deal to him, and in this role he aims for depth rather than scale. Building up his skills over time will make a big difference for him.

What about you? What shape do your current endeavors take? How do you feel about the ways they stretch or come short? Check out the impact exercises to plot out your personal maps.

Try It Yourself

Use this exercise to help visualize how a potential impact role and field aligns with your unique combination of features. The diagram used in this exercise focuses on coherence and contribution. Or in other words, how aligned your interests, values, and skills are with a specific endeavor, as well as visualizing aspects of contribution style.

Impact Exercises

The following collection of exercises is designed (in combination with the above content) to help you ideate potential fields and roles of impact, assess your current impact in terms of outcomes and alignment, and find inspiration for your potential. As you go through the exercises, content from above may be referenced as you find it necessary. Enjoy!

Get access to ALL the impact exercises in The Purpose Workbook

The Purpose Workbook has 5 beautifully designed resources dedicated to impact. Print out the Purpose Workbook to use as you read along.

If you only do one exercise, do this one:

Use this collection of questions to generate potential paths of impact.

More Impact (and related) exercises:

Assessing Current Impact Outcomes

Use this exercise to help visualize your current aggregate impact on the world beyond yourself.

To do this exercise:

  • Access it through the Purpose Workbook
  • Use the summary below to make up your own version

Here’s the gist of the exercise: 

Using the chart from the Visualizing Impact Outcomes section, fill in several of your personal endeavors in life (past and present) according to the variables defined in the example chart. Reflect on what you end up with.

Inspiring Impact List

These lists are offered as inspiration for potential roles and fields through which to make an impact. These lists are by no means definitive. Feel free to add more items to each list as they occur to you.

To do this exercise:

Estimating Potential Impact Outcomes

Once you’ve plied yourself with a few ideas of potential impact endeavors you might engage in, it’s worth plotting them out to imagine their potential accumulated effect. Using the chart in this exercise you can imagine the scale, depth, and longevity of your potential future impacts.

To do this exercise:

  • Access it through the Purpose Workbook
  • Use the summary below to make up your own version

Here’s the gist of the exercise: 

Using the chart from the Visualizing Impact Outcomes section, fill in several of your potential future impact endeavors according to the variables defined in the example chart. Reflect on what you end up with.

Assessing Impact Alignment

Use this exercise to help visualize how a potential impact role and field aligns with your unique combination of features. The diagram used in this exercise focuses on coherence and contribution. Or in other words, how aligned your interests, values, and skills are with a specific endeavor, as well as visualizing aspects of contribution style.

To do this exercise:

  • Access it through the Purpose Workbook
  • Use the summary below to make up your own version

Here’s the gist of the exercise: 

Using the chart from the Visualizing Impact Alignment section, draw the alignment diagram and estimate where along each arm a particular endeavor would be for you. Reflect on and compare your diagrams.

Inspiring Impact in Group Settings

This is an activity to do with a large group (ideally more than 50 people for the full effect) who are united in an effort to make some sort of difference. This is an excellent exercise for closing an experience.


  • Do this exercise in a place that can become very dark, or move the group outside at night for the final part of the exercise.
  • Give all participants candles.


  1. Begin with a discussion of the mission of the group and their hopes for the impact they wish to make as individuals, however small.
  2. Transition to a dark space- either by turning out the lights or moving everyone outside at night.
  3. Have someone in the group go to the center and light their own candle. Then they say aloud: “I am only one person. What difference can I make?” They then light the candle of two people near them who are pre-informed on what to do. They repeat exactly what the first person did, demonstrating for the group how to move forward.
  4. Each person repeats the phrase and lights the candle of two people near them until everyone in the group has lit their candle.
  5. Once all candles are lit, stand in silence for a while. Soft music can be played if desired. A speaker can close the experience by sharing something about the power of working together to achieve the impact you desire to have on the world.

Related Pages, Ideas, and Further Reading

Clarify Narratives Values Interests Dreams Strengths Impact Align: Experimentation

Purpose The Gist of Purpose Parts of Purpose Purpose Fundamentals Purpose in Context Purpose as your Work Should You Quit Your Job Purpose Myths Hindrances to Purpose Benefits of Purpose Passion The Purpose Journey Clarify your Purpose Align with your Purpose Support your Purpose Purpose Practice and Exercises Purpose Resources