when crisis becomes career opportunityFuture of Work Sherpa Dan Smolen believes that, when crisis becomes career opportunity, people do the work of their dreams.

The latest news of the world is grim. And it takes a steeled spine for one to log onto the New York Times website and read the stories.

However, it is in times of deep crisis that people can connect with the dream of doing work that is profound, protects the planet, empowers people and communities, and is fun to do–meaningful work.

Throughout my life, I have known people who set course on meaningful careers born out of crisis. Here’s one example:

when crisis becomes career opportunityMy lifelong friend Rob Glassman and I were in overnight summer camp together. And it was then, when a shared friend and fellow camper named David suddenly fell ill to childhood leukemia, 14-year-old Rob decided that he wanted to be a healer. After many years of study, internship, residency, and sheer determination, Rob Glassman MD became a world renowned oncologist. He successfully treated people with the same disease that felled our teenage friend.

Problem is, during times of crisis, people are often too traumatized to focus on how they can become healers like Rob, perhaps not as doctors but rather as engineers, project managers, public servants, or thought-leaders.

Rob was just 14 when crisis emboldened him to one day become a highly respected oncologist. My career inspiring crisis unfolded three years later:

As a high school senior I was also the editor of the student newspaper. My physical sciences teacher, Mr. Don Maxey, knew that and came to me with a serious problem that he felt I could help publicize. Mr. Maxey lived along the shoreline of the Potomac River in Northern Montgomery County, Maryland. And that is how he discovered that a trap-rock mining company up river from his property had begun dumping asbestos laden rock into the river.

I immediately recognized the crisis: Montgomery County, Maryland drew its potable water from the Potomac River. I also remembered this: ingesting asbestos fibers can cause cancer.

Mr. Maxey also remembered that, months earlier, I interviewed our representative in Congress, Newton I. Steers, Jr. Congressman Steers was a well-known environmentalist. And, three days after my phone call with him, the congressman got the trap-rock dumping stopped.

As I wrote in my book, Tailoring the Green Suit, many years later:

“I was a high school senior discovering that anyone–even a skinny seventeen-year-old kid–could make a difference.”

My lifelong involvement with environmental and public policy activism owes its start to my teacher’s request and Congressman Steers’ immediate response.

But unlike Rob, I didn’t merge crisis and career opportunity until many years later when I rebranded my executive search firm The Green Suits and specialized in resource sustainability and corporate social responsibility work assignments.

When crisis becomes career opportunity, we are well advised to seize the moment.

Now, as the world gets hotter and more people suffer, we may pair our passions and skills to make the world a better place.

And when we immediately seize the moment, our best days lie ahead.

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Image credits: Haiti earthquake aftermath, 1001nights for iStock Photo; Microscope and slide, artisteer for iStock Photo; Podcast button, J. Brandt Studio for The Dan Smolen Experience.