Public Service, Anyone? After a Crisis, Rediscover Do-Gooding

In the wake of the financial sector’s fundamental restructuring, the labor market for everyone in this field (from new entrants to near retirees) is turning inside out and upside down, causing all kinds of unexpected, stomach-churning jolts to the lives of thousands.

What, you might ask, are business school students thinking? Here’s a small sampling, taken from my local work environment (The Wharton School):

“No worries, I’ll just go into consulting.”

“The world will always need bankers, especially from the top tier schools.”

“I might have to change my geographic preferences.” (Read: New York is out.)

“I’m so glad to be in school now, so I don’t have to deal with this mess!”

How these viewpoints evolve in the days to come remains to be seen. But I suspect we’ll see more and more people–at all career stages, driven not only by necessity but also by the recent exhortations of our governmental leaders–choosing to serve the public good.

For many people, a public service career offers an opportunity to align their actions with their core values. Indeed, an alumna who works for a non-profit wrote to me the other day saying that in the past couple of weeks she’s gotten emails from friends who are now looking to find greater meaning in their work.

It’s like the old saying about war: Soldiers find God in the foxhole. The intense environmental pressures and radical shifts rocking our worlds are compelling many business professionals to take a new look, and awake with fresh awareness of what’s really important.

With some people arguing for the US government to stimulate the economy through massive new public works projects, along the lines of Roosevelt’s WPA, the demand for talent in public sector might well rise, creating new opportunities for our best and brightest.

I believe the most successful careers are found in the overlap of three factors:

* You love the work and the impact you’re having
* You’ve got a talent for it
* There’s some market for it in which you can compete well

The big issue for most people is this: How important is material gain in comparison with leaving a legacy of having made the world better by your efforts, while using your natural talents to the fullest?

How do you and your friends answer this question now, in October 2008?

One Response to “Public Service, Anyone? After a Crisis, Rediscover Do-Gooding”

  1. Vivek says:

    I can totally relate to this article. I now find myself looking for–or possibly creating–a role that combines my interests in finance, strategy, and philanthropy. While some might argue that this is the time to become risk averse, I would agree with what you have to say, and argue that the current economy reduces the opportunity cost for young professionals to take chances and follow their true passions. I think a greater number of individuals from Generation Y will continue to focus more on big picture efforts that go beyond simply doing a job for a paycheck, and the Young Professionals Network ( supports this notion.

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