top of page

"How can I get a sustainability job?" is the wrong question

Student behind book

Students often ask "how can I get a job in sustainability?" I certainly understand and empathize with why they would frame the question this way. They long to make a positive difference in the world. But I want to suggest that perhaps this is the wrong question. Asking how you can get a job in sustainability is like asking how you can catch a cab (or Lyft/Uber).

The question really is: where do you want to go?

Career development is a combination of internal and external work. The best work--and the greatest good you can do in the world--is when the inside and outside are aligned and work in harmony. When your values match your activities. When your talents match your responsibilities. When your interests match the results you are working toward.

So, the answer to where you want to go begins with who you are, what you have, and what you want. Answering these questions will make the original question "How do I get a job in sustainability?" much easier.

Questions of Focused Service

  • what kind of difference do I want to make in the world?

  • what problems do I want to solve?

  • what issues frustrate me that I want to resolve in the world? In my community? In my company?

  • what solutions, creations, people, and examples of what is possible most inspire me?

  • who do I want to serve?

  • why is this important to you?

Questions of Unique Internal Capability

  • what unique gifts and strengths do I have that can be focused on that difference I want to make?

  • what work do others find difficult but has always been easy for me?

  • using resources like Strengths Finder, 16Personalities, DISC, and the many other personal assessment tools can be very helpful

These questions focus the mind on what is most important: the end goal and what you uniquely bring to realizing it. This should be articulated and written down as clearly as possible. Even if you end up changing it; even if it sounds crazy--write it down. I encourage you to share it with some trusted friends, family members, and post it somewhere where you will see it everyday.

"One person with a commitment is worth a hundred who only have an interest."

- Mary Crowley

Then you can return to questions of how: how will you arrive at this destination? how and where can you use your unique capabilities to help get you there?

Once you know where you want to go and why it is important to you, you can address what you will need to get it done. Before moving on however, I cannot emphasize too much that the strength and intensity of your desire and commitment (your answers to the questions above) is of primary importance. As Friedrich Nietzsche said: “The person who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

The stronger your reasons for focusing on the difference you want to make, the stronger your commitment, the more the pathway forward will reveal itself to you.

As you consider how you will you move forward, identifying the kinds of skills, knowledge and networks you will need to acquire can help.

Questions of How

  • who will I need to become in order to realize this goal?

  • what skills do I need? how or where can I acquire them?

  • what knowledge will I require? from whom or how will I learn it?

  • who do I need to know or work with?

  • what resources, assets, equipment, or tools will I need? Or know how to use?

Only after the above exploration does it make sense to consider the original question: how can I get a job in sustainability? And then I prefer framing the question as: "what kind of job do I need to get or create to move closer to how I want to specifically make a positive difference in the world?"

The unimaginative catch any cab that passes by, and take any job that provides security or status. The creative determine where they want to go, commit, decide how to get there, and get to work.

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

― Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

Ikigai is a Japanese concept for a joyful, long and satisfying life

Job sites for impact careers

There are many, but here are good places to start. Seeing what exists can help you know where you want to go. But don't be limited by what's out there. All jobs are created. And you can create one too. Here are some places to look at what's out there:

Closing Thoughts Consider job creation and job hunting to be a part-time job, a constant side hustle. Each job, especially early in our careers, is an experiment that you run on yourself. You don't have to "get the right job". Focus on what you are learning and who you are becoming, and less on getting the "right job." Aim to put yourself with people and in places where your learning is aligned with your goals and gifts.

Be honest with yourself and get candid feedback from trusted others. What are the skill and knowledge and network gaps that exist between you and what you want to achieve? Just because you want to make a difference, doesn't mean you are prepared or skilled enough (yet) to do so. Self-assess and identify where growth is needed. Do you need to be a better communicator? Get to know more people in a particular industry? Learn more about a particular topic? Break a bad habit that seems to always frustrate your efforts at professional growth?

Finally, in the short run, having a job might be more important than having a dream job. "Do not despise small beginnings..." This is a process. Life and careers are long. The difference you want to make--that any of us want to make--is going to require deep understanding, a great team, exceptional skills, and deliberate effort over many years.

You will get there if you stay focused and committed. Keep at it. Keep believing it is possible. Never give up. And ask for help along the way.

bottom of page