What Drives Your Career – Income or Impact?

We’re all driven by something. Professionally speaking, two of the biggest driving motivators are income and impact. Think of how this is playing out in your own life. Whatever you have chosen to do (or not do) with your life’s work up to this moment has likely been influenced by your desire to either achieve a certain level of income or impact. It doesn’t have to be that you outright chose one while denouncing the other. In fact, you likely have a combination of the two that you aim to balance to whatever degree fits your mission and vision. It’s a spectrum! And you will toggle along this spectrum throughout your life.

Different seasons will call for different focuses. Looking back at my own career, even as I’ve held the same position for over 12 years as the Owner of Bennis Public Relations, Inc, I’ve had seasons of slow or no growth when I had young children who needed more of my attention and my business was just getting started. I wasn’t focused on aggressively increasing my income because my focus what on the impact of my time. And rightfully, this was with my family. Don’t get me wrong, I was still growing my business and laying the groundwork for the growth that came in the years to follow, but it wasn’t possible to focus on both income and impact equally, nor was it necessary. That’s the beauty of this spectrum. You can constantly adjust to find the right “tune” for your life. And when signals get fuzzy or warped, you can adjust yet again.

Driven by Impact

What does it look like to be driven (primarily) by impact in your career? You’re likely to step into a role where you can directly see and control the outcome of your efforts. This requires both leaders and doers – ideally someone who can be both simultaneously. When you’re driven by impact, you’ll likely accrue many non-monetary milestones where you can look back and say, “Hey, my time and effort helped to accomplish THIS!” Opening a new business or division of an existing business, increasing or improving programs or services that help other people, and creating something that makes a positive mark on the world are all examples of impact. Additionally, parents who choose to pause a traditional career to be a stay-at-home mother or father are also impact driven – maybe in the biggest way possible. The impact of pouring time, education, attention, and love into future generations is the biggest impact work of all. And it is most certainly not income-driven.

Driven by Income

Alternately, being income-driven has its own kind of impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re money-hungry and morally starved. It simply means that income is an important factor in the type of professional work you pursue. If you’re the breadwinner in your household, an income-focused career may be important for sustaining a certain quality of life, supporting a family, and enabling a spouse to pursue an impact-driven career. And this has an impact! Just because you chose a job partially due to its financial benefits, it can still be impactful work. I can think of many examples of careers that pay well while allowing someone to profoundly help others. I’d like to think my own career is such an example. What’s cool is the reason you originally pursued a certain career (income or impact) can change over time. Maybe you did take a job because it had a healthy salary, but then you realized you can have a major positive impact through your work too, and became intentional about doing so. These are beautiful examples of how we all mature in our careers, and how it is never too late to strike a balance between doing well and doing good.

Setting Your Navigation

In order to set your navigation on the right course, you need to decide whether you are happy with the balance between income and impact that you currently have in your career. Does it fit your goals and passions? Or does one (or both) motivators feel misaligned? Much like driving a vehicle, your “career wheel” may feel like it’s pulling you to one side. Or maybe it’s the navigation that’s off. If you ever feel like you are no longer in control, or there are other forces causing you to turn down a road that’s not your intended destination, it’s time to slow down – or put it in park entirely – until you can figure out your next direction.

Where do you feel that you currently fall on the spectrum of income and impact? Which has the most control over your career decisions? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!

4 thoughts on “What Drives Your Career – Income or Impact?

  1. Thanks for sharing Stephanie! This is an area that I have contemplated and discussed on many occasions with colleagues and friends. In my career, income has been the motivating factor, but my career has afforded me not only the means but the flexibility to “pursue impact” in other areas of my life. (Church, Coaching, mentoring, etc)
    I feel blessed to have a career that I enjoy, while at the same time, the ability to serve in a variety of other capacities that bring meaning and purpose to my life.
    I agree with you, either career “motivator” is a worthy pursuit, but I’d submit, a life without purpose or impact will get stale in a hurry.

    1. This is a great point – neither income nor impact will be fully satisfying in a career if we feel we lack purpose. Purpose really is the glue that holds together everything we do in life to create an overall sense of fulfillment and well-being. I like that you mention that an income-driven career can enable a philanthropic lifestyle, further proving the two parts exist on a spectrum. And we must each be challenged to find the right balance/frequency on that spectrum that works for our goals, desires, and personality type. I appreciate the perspective!

  2. Great post, Stephanie. I like particularly how you weave in your own examples between family and career. I do think, as a retiree, the two (impact and income) can be intermixed. Meaning they are not polarized as in one’s limited time and attention. It’s possible to have a permutation of greater income/ greater impact, less income/ greater impact, etc. As you said, feel the career wheel and see if it is pulling you in the right direction. Make course correction if needed. Ultimately, it’s your career. And you should be in the driver seat. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I appreciate this perspective! It’s interesting to hear how this plays into retirement as well. The encouraging (though possibly overwhelming) news is that there is no one right answer. We all have different paths, passions, and thresholds for balance. What’s most important is that we remain “awake at the wheel” and play an active part in navigating our individual journey.

Comments are encouraged!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s