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Put Your Skills to a Greater Good

Advice on how you can re-invent yourself -- while still doing the same kind of work.

Lots of people talk about reinventing themselves — that is, finding a new career or passion to pursue.

But what if, instead of a total reinvention, you would just rather use the skills you have to do more purposeful work? David Simms, head of Bridgestar, a nonprofit consulting group, answers questions about how to make that happen.

When people hear the term "reinvention," they think of totally changing what they do. Do you think it's possible to reinvent yourself while continuing to do the same thing?

Absolutely. A lot of people realize that their set of skills can be used for a different purpose. For example, a lawyer who finds that a nonprofit organization needs help with legal issues. He or she can use his professional skills to help out in a way that makes a difference in the world. That's a kind of reinvention that doesn't require learning anything new or developing a new skill set.

How do you advise people to find new ways to use their existing skills?

You need to put yourself in opportunity's way. I have social worker friends who went with church groups to Haiti after the earthquake. They found that their skills were well suited to providing trauma counseling to people who had experienced great loss. That leads to an "aha" moment when they realized they could do more work in Haiti. It happened because they put themselves in a situation where they clearly saw that they could make a difference in people's lives.

Why do you think so many people are seeking to do work that has a humanitarian purpose?

I think a lot of Baby Boomers are looking at what's ahead and saying, "I don't want to just sit and retire on the golf course." Marc Freedman at Civic Ventures says there's a trend of people seeking encore careers where they can find a real meaningful way to make a difference. Huge numbers of Baby Boomers are trying to move from material success to something greater.

What advice would you give to people who are looking to do more meaningful work while continuing to use their existing skills?

A really good first question to ask is, "What do I care about? Are there passions in my life that would allow me to connect the heart and the skills that I bring to the table?" I can remember, several years back, working with a guy who wanted to do something more socially significant. He had adopted a child earlier in life. And he said, "I would love to go work somewhere where I can help an adoption agency. Because it transformed our lives to have this son that was part of my family, and I'd like other people to have the joy of that experience." So that's what I'd say — find the passion.

The second question that I'd encourage people to think about is, "What skills do I have?" Whatever you're good at, there are places where nonprofits need those same skills. It takes marketing people, there's technology involved, it takes a website, administration — every nonprofit I can think of needs people with a whole range of skills to accomplish their mission.

Lindsay Zoladz is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.