There are people out there who sincerely believe that the most rewarding thing that one can do in life is to make money. It may be true for a few of them if they just don’t experience much human connection. However, where the majority of us are concerned, the science is very clear: the careers that give people the most satisfaction, long term, are those that involve helping other people. We are social animals, and we have evolved to feel happy when we engage in positive interactions with others. The same hormones that create love and family bonds flood our bodies when we help other people, especially when we see positive results, and no other reward can compare to this.
Understanding Your Own Motives
If you’re seeking a career such as this, it’s important to examine yourself and consider why. The simple desire to be a hero often stems from low self-worth, and it can lead to feelings of frustration or even burnout in the absence of quick results. If you approach helping others from the point of view of seeking to control their behavior (beyond exerting a generally positive influence), you will be disappointed and you could end up doing harm.
If, however, you enjoy helping for its own sake and can feel good about it even in situations where you see no short-term improvement, then you could be ready to seek out this kind of work. There is a big difference between wanting to help and having the skills to help, however, so you will need to begin with education before you embark on a career.
Exploring Your Potential
What kind of helping career would suit you best? The good news is that there are lots of different options out there suitable for people with very different natural talents and different levels of ability.
This article is designed to help you explore some of the most popular, most effective, and most likely to pop up at the top of surveys about job satisfaction. Some are obvious, but others may surprise you. The important thing is to choose one that not only corresponds with your talents but also seriously interests you. Finding a job interesting is also a key factor in overall satisfaction, and it’s especially important when you’re helping others because it affects the subconscious signals you will be sending out to them.
Probably the most obvious of the caring professions, nursing goes a step beyond other areas of medicine to focus not just on identifying and curing diseases but also on supporting and promoting overall health. It’s a fantastic field in which to build a career, with ongoing opportunities to learn and develop new skills, lots of job opportunities available, and good rates of pay. However, the main reason why people go into it remains a desire to help others.
This isn’t always about recovery: given our aging population, palliative nursing is a growing field. It is, however, about improving people’s outlook and making it easier for them to deal with the situations in which they find themselves. Nurses are the people who spend the most time with patients, talking to them about their worries and, in the case of children, helping them through the stress of being separated from family members during hospital stays. Doctors treat diseases, but it is nurses who monitor symptoms and nurture and support patients – and it is often nurses who make the biggest difference to their recovery, as well as helping with minor ailments in outpatient settings, making life as a whole more comfortable.
Almost everybody suffers from physical health problems at some stage in life, but what is less well understood is that one in five US adults experiences mental illness in any given year. A lot of these illnesses are relatively minor and will get better on their own, but there’s a desperate shortage of trained professionals available to provide treatment where it is needed. That’s even more true when bearing in mind the needs of specific cultural groups whose members benefit most from an approach that takes their specific needs into account.
For this reason, a Christian psychology degree can be really helpful in enabling you to engage with people who find it hard to relate to other therapeutic approaches. Similarly, some people choose to specialize in treatment for disabled people, for whom standard treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy are generally a poor fit. Being able to relate effectively to your clients and their problems makes you a better listener, empowering you to support them through difficult times in their lives and help them to recover from illnesses or manage symptoms to the degree that lets them focus on the good things in life.
Nothing is as important in establishing our potential in life as education. Becoming a teacher – especially if you focus on early-year education or on helping children who have been excluded due to special needs or behavioral problems – gives you an amazing opportunity to set people on the right path for life. It isn’t just about teaching a set curriculum but also about inspiring children with a love of learning for its own sake and empowering them to seek out knowledge independently. A single good teacher can be the difference between a child who drops out of school and one who goes on to win acclaim at college.
The profession is also rewarding because it gives you a special guardianship role where children are concerned. You will be the person who is there to listen to their problems if they don’t feel able to talk to their parents and the person who notices when they are experiencing difficulties and makes sure that they get the right help. By paying attention and making them feel secure, you can boost their confidence and help them to get a lot more out of life.
Alongside important professions such as these, sport can seem trivial – however, to people who truly understand its potential, it is anything but. Whether you’re coaching, treating injuries, or working in a supporting role, it gives you the chance to improve people’s health and confidence and assist them in recognizing and achieving their potential. You might choose to work with young people who can learn important lessons about self-discipline and emotional regulation from their sporting activities or with disabled people or individuals recovering from illness who need guidance to help them rediscover what their bodies are capable of.
You could help older people to stay fit and thereby retain their independence for longer, or you could specialize in encouraging younger adults who dropped out of such activities after finishing their education to get back into shape and feel good about themselves again. Physical fitness has an enormous effect on mental health, increases life expectancy, and gives people more energy for all the other activities that are important to them. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.
If you’re keen to help people in difficult family situations, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and people with special needs, then social work could be for you. It will give you the opportunity to develop relationships with clients and ensure that they’re getting access to the services they need, as well as having one-to-one discussions with them to better understand their circumstances or simply to provide them with emotional support.
You could work with individuals who are isolated due to age or disability and really just need somebody to talk to, or you could help families whose members are at odds to find pragmatic solutions. You may also work with communities, providing outreach services or running groups aimed at tackling problems such as addiction or homelessness that are endemic to particular areas. Where other people choose to look away, you will step in to be a source of support. To succeed in social work, you will need to have a lot of willpower, be patient and diligent, and be very well organized, as you will have to assist people who lead very disorganized lives.
No matter how well our systems of healthcare, education, and social support work, there will always be some people who fall through the cracks. Often, these are people who have complex needs that go unaddressed because they get passed around between agencies or different specialists who fail to communicate with each other. Often, they have learning disorders or disabilities that make it difficult for them to source support for themselves. They may react to stress with aggression, resulting in them being abandoned by service providers, even though the right approach can easily resolve that.
They may also be written off as ‘difficult’ simply because they’re hard to categorize or can’t make use of standard forms of support. Professional advocates connect with these people and make it their business to see that their needs are met. They become experts at dealing with complex systems, and, though they usually develop good negotiation skills, they also have an innate toughness that sees them refuse to be ignored or turned away when their client’s needs are not being met. They are the last hope for many people, but when they are successful, they transform lives.
When thinking about ways of helping people, it’s easy to focus on what seems like the most deserving cases. Convicted criminals don’t attract a lot of sympathy, and yet they can be very much in need of support and guidance, capable of turning their lives around if given a chance. A shocking number of prisoners are illiterate, something that affects their ability to understand the relationship between actions and consequences, so patiently teaching them to read can do a great deal to decrease their risk of reoffending, as well as make it easier for them to earn a living without resorting to crime.
Another big problem is poor nutrition, which has been shown to affect the ability to make rational decisions, so teaching basic meal planning and cooking skills can make a difference. Most people in our prisons lack basic life skills such as these, often because they come from troubled backgrounds, and the prison system itself doesn’t give them much chance to learn. Working as a therapist, a parole officer, or as part of a team in a halfway house will give you the chance to assist them. Adjusting to life outside prison can be extremely difficult, and many prisoners struggle to see why they should care about wider society because nobody seems to care about them. You could be the person who changes that.
Although lots of people are willing to adopt, at least where babies are concerned, far too few people are willing to foster, and that’s a huge problem for vulnerable children. The vast majority of children in the care system are there temporarily while their parents are unable to cope due to crises such as sudden illness or bereavement, and the best thing for them is to return to the parental home as soon as the crisis is over. However, they need affection and support in the meantime. Children’s homes are dealing with so many vulnerable children that it’s very difficult for them to provide one-to-one attention.
They are often underfunded, and bullying and abuse are common. The best thing that can happen to such children, therefore, is to be placed with foster carers who have the skills and patience to help them. They are often traumatized by separation from their parents or the events that led to it, so they may act out or simply retreat into themselves and stop communicating. It’s not uncommon for them to stop eating and withdraw from any positive engagement with life, sometimes because they blame themselves for what has happened. What they need is patient, non-judgmental carers who will restore their confidence and get them through this difficult time.
When it comes to helping others, politics gets a bad rap, but that’s because we tend to focus on the worst of what our elected representatives do. For every corrupt politician hitting the headlines, there are many more quietly working away in the background, trying to steer public policy so that people’s lives will get better. At the local level, they’re making decisions about housing, transport, and public services that have a huge impact on the poorest communities.
While most of the other professions mentioned in this article focus on helping individuals, politics is about helping communities or, at the top level, society as a whole, but it’s no less satisfying as a result. By setting the right priorities and finding innovative ways to bring different projects together, you could improve the life prospects of thousands or even millions of people. Although you won’t usually see the fruits of your labors straight away, over time, you will see struggling areas begin to prosper, and marginalized groups flourish in the same way as those whose needs have always received proper attention.
None of these other activities are possible without money, and not all of them generate income directly, with charities and other nonprofits stepping in to fill the gap. This is why fundraising is needed and why, at the top level, it has become a specialist career in itself. While anybody can go door to door with a fundraising tin, and most people, with a bit of training, can approach people in the street to persuade them to donate, it takes more advanced skills to develop entire fundraising strategies and coordinate campaigns.
Professional fundraisers also write applications for grants and loans and develop a sufficient understanding of what’s out there to be able to make wise decisions about which of these to prioritize. They build relationships with philanthropists, organize and attend fundraising events, and network continually in order to identify potential fresh sources of income. Many people come into this profession from finance or financial services backgrounds, but there are degrees in fundraising available, especially through online learning institutions.
In the end, it’s possible to help others in most career sectors if you take the right approach. This begins with being clear about your principles and unwilling to compromise where the well-being of others is concerned. Living a useful life of this sort is about deciding who to prioritize, making ethical investment decisions, and being willing to go the extra mile when somebody is obviously struggling. It’s about looking after people who work under you and always being ready with helpful suggestions when your superiors are looking for ideas or specialist advice. By influencing others around you, you can achieve a lot more than it’s possible to do on your own, so do what you can to make it easier for them to make consistently good decisions. When you meet other people who also want to improve the world around them, show them your support and help them to climb the career ladder. You’ll be surprised by how much influence taking this approach to work can have and how the lives of those you come into contact with can improve as a result.
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