Bills and Passions

While in college, I had two types of jobs, passion jobs and bills jobs. My passion jobs orbited around the voluntary sector and reflected my personal interests: quality of and accessibility to education, social justice, advocacy research… Sometimes paid and sometimes not, these experiences were always fulfilling; should someone ask me the ubiquitous “what do you do?” question, I would always answer with my passion job. My pay-the-bills jobs, on the other hand, gravitated towards the menial and uninspiring, but served an indispensable self-evident purpose. Ultimately, each taught me valuable lessons and opened the doors to opportunities I could have never imagined. Most importantly, they helped me understand which sort of career I wanted and needed after graduation. The only problem was that the wanted and the needed seemed irreconcilable.

What I wanted was to make a difference. What I needed was to make money. Given my educational and professional background, I felt confident I could achieve either, but the dynamics of the non- and for-profit sectors made it unlikely that I could manage both. My initial compromise consisted of a full-time bills job supplemented by personal volunteering and charitable contributions. This was a temporary relief, but when I learned that nearly 70% of employees in the US are either disengaged or actively disengaged in their job, I became worried again. The difficulty of negotiating my values with the culture of corporate America and the financial needs of a recent graduate fueled the beginnings of a quarter-life crisis.

Any Millennial who researches their options, striving to stay out of that 70% of disengaged employees, will came across ominous statistics but some may also provide solace. They may learn they are not alone: in the US, 94% of Millennials like using their skills to benefit a cause. Around the world, 87% of Millennials believe that the success of a business cannot be measured only by its financial performance, but 64% think businesses are focused solely on their own agenda at the expense of the wider society. As many as 56% of Millennials worldwide have ruled out working for an organization because of its values. As I weighed my options, it became apparent that my problem was not just my problem; it was my entire generation’s problem. What is the Millennial job-seeker to do?

In B Corps, I found my answer. B Corps are companies that focus both on profits and the public good; Kickstarter, Patagonia, and Ben & Jerry’s are prominent examples. According to B Lab, the third party nonprofit that grants the B Corp certification, “B Corps are for-profit companies [that] meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Under this framework, people have come together at over 1,500 companies to use business for good. Today, I am proud to count myself among them.

Working at a B Corp has bridged the gap between bills and passion jobs. Rather than check my values at the door when I get to work, I can magnify my impact by collaborating with like-minded colleagues. In the investment banking industry, this can be quite substantial. Indeed, if three of the independent investment banks had given 5% of their 2014 revenue to the Against Malaria Foundation, they could have saved over 25,000 lives in a single year. Knowing this, our purpose is not just to help our clients achieve long-term success, but also to have a positive, lasting impact on the world. This sense of meaning provides satisfaction beyond a salary and drives true engagement and fulfillment.

Millennials like myself have been telling employers that we want to make both a living and a difference. As we become a larger part of both the consumer and employee pool, employers cannot help but to listen. B Corps are one of the ways in which they have responded, and thanks to this dialogue, businesses are treading a more compassionate path today. Across generations, we are growing increasingly conscious of our shared responsibilities, and in the process, we are dismantling the false dilemma that made us chose between money and purpose.

Sergio Reyes is a Millennial working at Keene Advisors, a socially responsible investment bank located in Newton, MA.