Finding your middle ground in the quest for relevance

Rowena P. Zamora

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Finding your middle ground in the quest for relevance
Making a career choice is never easy. Though there are trade offs, look to find the middle ground that makes you happy in whatever you do.

We are all pressured to succeed in our respective life choices. But the definition of ‘success’ is relative.

For most of us, success comes when we achieve the goals we set out for ourselves – at work, at home, assets we accumulate and milestones we make. When we contemplate on our success, the standard question is: “What have I made of myself in this lifetime?” Increasingly, another question related to personal success for most people is: “What have I contributed to the world?”  The yardstick for success has become the same one used for measuring relevance to those around you. (READ: A predator in the rat race)

My dilemma

Shortly after graduating from university, I gravitated towards non-profits convinced I would devote my life to making the world a better place.  I purposely chose it as my career and pursued further studies in a related field.  During those years, I had several realizations that encouraged me to spread my wings in a different field, one which I never tried and which I was not trained for. After completing my post-graduate studies, I had the choice to pursue the development route, or to try venturing into the corporate world.

The discipline and the rigor of the private sector always intrigued me. I thought to myself, “If I could learn that discipline and apply it to my development work, or better yet practice my development work from the corporate world, maybe I would have a better chance at making an impact.” Also, my twenty-something ego was a force to reckon with:  I wanted to prove to myself that I could succeed and find fulfillment in both fields.  As I ventured into what seemed to be a single-purpose driven corporate world, I landed in the opposite end of where I was in my earlier years. (READ: How to be awesome at job interviews)

Corporate success = personal success?

For 6 years, I lived outside of the Philippines to study and work for a multi-national corporation as a management consultant. There was an abundance of resources around me and everything was extremely efficient (which I found made me less tolerant of errors). It was a fulfilling stage in my life in terms of meeting career goals and proving to myself I could succeed in an unfamiliar world.  However, in this almost predictable lifestyle, I had less of a push to look beyond myself towards the broader goals I used to have. 

Several years into the job and after relocating back to Manila, I have found my ‘middle ground’: striving for excellence in my day job outside of development, while making the work I do relevant to a larger community.  

I learned that the question of success goes beyond doing well on the job and achieving your life goals.  I find that being relevant to people around me makes up a big part of my personal success. As someone who puts equal value on success on the job, and the ability to contribute to the community as a whole, finding my middle ground was very important. 

Here are some tips I found to be helpful in finding the ‘middle ground’:

Know what cause to support: Part of being aware and involved is knowing what cause/s you advocate.  They are all important, but what is it that you feel strongly about and are therefore willing to contribute to the most? 

Find out the best channel to contribute through: Not everyone has money to spare, nor is everyone satisfied with a one-time type of involvement. Think about how you can best participate in your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, and balancing the demands of the job, free time outside of work, and your need for personal involvement. 

Be proactive: Look around and do what you can. Participate in CSR activities organized by your company, or in activities organized by groups around you.  If your company does not have CSR activities in place yet, why not drive it?  

Start small, but start now: Everyone seems so highly-opinionated on controversial topics but I wonder how many people actually do something in their small space to contribute directly to these issues? If you feel strongly about these issues, start small and do what you can do to walk the talk, discuss with the people around you why these issues are important to you and what you can collectively do to help. 

Being aware, proactive, and involved are not dictated nor limited by your day job. 

Staying relevant

No matter what we do on a daily basis, we find ourselves wondering how our daily activities impact the people around us, and the society as a whole.  

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has clearly become a critical success factor for companies. Consumers are more inclined to support organizations whose value proposition goes beyond itself and its shareholders. Companies that practice “Inclusive Sourcing” (where a company enhances employment and training opportunities for the underprivileged), implement pro-environment policies, and support credited volunteer hours, become increasingly attractive to high-performing individuals. 

I appreciate that I am in an organization that allows me to do this. Our team at Accenture recently engaged with Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm (GKEF) to help them achieve scale by defining the required organization capabilities, and mobilizing their Social Enterprise Incubator. The incubator aims to support budding social entrepreneurs by linking them to industry experts and other resources they need to start their venture. This initiative aims to help ignite a new stream of socially-responsible economic drivers.

On a daily basis, management consultants analyze key business issues of our clients.  We help our clients define their strategic direction, and assess the gaps between their current capabilities and where they want to be.  This is exactly what we did for the GK Enchanted Farm.  We were given the chance to use the skills we use on a daily basis with our clients, to help a non-profit organization whose cause we support. This made me appreciate the work I do so much more, seeing how the same skill sets I have can also help an organizations with a wider social goal. I appreciate that the company has a strong Corporate Social Responsibility agenda, and that it allows its employees to invest volunteer time.

Beyond success

No matter what our professions and careers are, there are concrete ways to contribute to society. The challenge for us is to go beyond being successful and aspire to becoming relevant. Let us go beyond investing to enrich ourselves on the job, and challenge ourselves to invest in enriching others through the work that we do.  –

Rowena Zamora is a Management Consultant for Accenture and is currently based in Manila. She lived in Singapore for 6 years and studied at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. She has co-authored thought leadership on topics such as: Regional Business Expansion in South East Asia and Patient-centric Healthcare. 

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