When we evaluate the importance of a job, we often look at the proposed salary — the more money, the better the opportunity. But at the end of the day, money isn't the most important thing about your career. In fact, some would say it's the most insignificant part of building a purposeful life.
In research published in 2017, 9 out of 10 professionals said they would trade 23% of their future earnings for a job that is always meaningful.
It's hard to find a job that's more rewarding than one that benefits people, and you have plenty of options to choose from. These career sectors actively work to help others:
Mental Health Careers
In any given year, roughly one in five adults are diagnosed with a mental illness. This statistic from the National Alliance on Mental Illness highlights just how many of us need help with our mental health.
A career in this field could help someone overcome a temporary shock, like the death of a loved one, or you could develop plans to help people manage a chronic condition, like schizophrenia.
Good mental health careers that help people include:
Marriage counselor. A divorce is ruinous, both emotionally and financially. As a marriage counselor, you'll help two people reconnect and stay together. Work with them in joint sessions, and expand on the knowledge in private sessions. Typically, you'll need a license to do your work. In some states, you'll need a doctoral degree.
Substance abuse counselor. Help your clients overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Hold individual counseling sessions with people in need. Gather up similar clients and help them learn from one another. Your work might literally save a life. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree, although it's not unusual for states to require a master's degree and an internship.
Psychiatrist. Help clients control mental health symptoms with a combination of medications and counseling. Build a relationship with your clients, and you might continue to treat them for years. You'll need a doctoral degree and a license to do your work. You also might have a staff that helps handle day-to-day logistics for you.
Social worker. Do your work in poverty-stricken communities, and bring the message of mental health to people in need. Work in schools, child welfare agencies, mental health clinics, and more. You'll need a master's degree to get started, and you'll need a license to work in your state.
You may not think of the business sector as a hotbed of helping. After all, most businesses look for ways to make a profit, not help the community. But there are several jobs within this environment that could let you connect and lift up people in need.
In the business sector, these jobs include:
Interpreter. People who can't speak the language can't make informed decisions. Put your skills to work in a bank, legal aid organization, newspaper office, or nonprofit. Help people understand their rights and responsibilities. Your work will ensure they feel safe in this country. You'll need a bachelor's degree. You can also work as a freelancer if an office environment isn't right for you.
Financial planner. What should people do with a windfall? How can they pay down debt? Answer these questions for your clients, and ensure their fiscally sound future. Do your work in an office, or open up a freelance shop. You'll need a bachelor's degree to get started.
Nonprofit worker. Nonprofits fill gaps left behind by businesses and government agencies. Gather funds, raise awareness, or do both with a job in this area. Focus on grants, development, project administration, or another similar field. More than 10% of all private-sector positions are with nonprofit organizations, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so you have plenty to choose from.
Lawyer. Some legal professionals work with big businesses. You could choose to represent regular people in deep trouble. Gather evidence that supports their version of events. Keep them from long prison sentences and deep fines. Create class-action lawsuits that protect hundreds of people all at once. You’ll need a law degree to get started, and you must pass a very difficult licensing exam too.
Health Care Careers
If you're hoping for a job that puts you in close contact with people in need, look no further than health care. Almost every position you can think of in this employment sector gives you the opportunity to make a difference for real people in your community.
Choose to work in a rural area, and you can help even more people. Experts warn that some communities are part of a "medical desert" in which health care is either limited or missing altogether. Working in this space could mean delivering care to people who would otherwise go without it.
Consider choosing a career as a:
Dietitian. Everyone must eat, but some people make imperfect food choices, and that can lead to disease. Help create meal plans your clients can follow to improve their health. Work in a nursing home or hospital, and you'll direct a staff of food prep professionals to create therapeutic meals. You'll need a bachelor's degree and a license to do the work.
Physical therapist. Help people recover from illness or injury. Demonstrate stretches, pull together exercise plans, and keep people moving. Do your work in a hospital, nursing home, or private clinic. You'll need a doctoral degree to get started, and you'll also need a license.
Physician or surgeon. These positions are both emotionally and financially rewarding. You'll need to invest a decade or so of your life to get qualified. Once you are, you can save lives through your work. Assess, diagnose, and treat disease every day you go to work.
Registered nurse. Help doctors and surgeons do their work effectively. Provide hands-on care to patients healing in hospitals and clinics. You'll run tests and do some diagnostic work, but doctors will interpret results and break the news to patients. You'll need a bachelor's degree to get started, and you'll need a license to practice too.
Home health aide.When patients need help, but they're not sick enough to enter a hospital or clinic, you can be their lifeline. Work directly with patients in their homes. Assist with daily tasks and help your patients stay healthy and happy at home. You don't need a college degree to do this work.
Crisis Response Careers
When disaster strikes, everyone needs a helping hand. Unfortunately, these issues happen more frequently than you thought possible.
Careers in this field put you in touch with people during the most difficult moments of their lives. Your quick thinking, skills, and compassion could help them to move past the trauma and into a happier future.
Crisis careers include:
Police officer. Respond to distress calls in your community, and help to restore order. Investigate crime and help victims get the justice they deserve. Hold the line during protests and demonstrations, so no one gets hurt. A job like this comes with risks, as you'll always be in the eye of difficult situations, but the work you do is incredibly powerful. You normally need a college education to get started.
Firefighter. Your quick thinking and bravery can save homes and businesses from fires. You'll also help families escape from the flames. The work is dangerous, and you can expect to work weekends and holidays. You'll probably work plenty of overtime too. You'll need training in safety techniques to get started, and you will need to pass a physical exam.
Emergency medical technician. People too sick to drive themselves to the hospital rely on your skills. You'll stabilize them in the field and prepare them for the trip to the closest medical facility. You'll save lives every day you go to work. You'll need to think quickly, even under pressure, and your work is physically strenuous. You'll need training to get started, and you'll also need a license.
Emergency management director. When a large-scale disaster hits — such as a flood or an earthquake — thousands of lives are at risk. Develop plans and procedures that help your community respond quickly and appropriately. Teach public officials what to do and when to act. You'll need a bachelor's degree to get started. Prepare to work around the clock if your plans are put into action.
Where Should You Start?
When you're looking for a job that helps other people, you have plenty of options. Some careers require decades of training, while you can start others right away.
If you're not sure which position is right for you, check out our website. Read job descriptions from real organizations hoping to hire professionals right now. Learn more about salaries, prerequisites, and more.
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