Worried? Become a ‘Solutionist’

The Great Reflection: Asking big questions and grappling with not getting the answers we want.

It’s not easy living in 2023. Global temperatures are rising, inequality is increasing, and most people simply don’t enjoy their day-to-day lives. Just 33 percent of employees say they are “thriving” at work, and 79 percent don’t feel engaged.

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An aerial view of a road with a white car driving through tropical forests.
“Eco-anxiety” now affects 68 percent of adults in the U.S. and 75 percent of young people globally. Michael Olsen / Unsplash

The pandemic prompted the Great Resignation, which has led to the Great Reflection: asking big questions about our careers and, more often than ever, grappling with not getting the answers we want. Second to money, the most important factor on the job is fulfillment–which can be hard to describe, and even harder to find. Asked why they quit their last job, a third (31 percent) of people blamed a lack of meaningful work. A fluffy mission statement and vague commitments to recycling won’t cut it. Today’s workforce wants to tackle real problems, with big, creative, concrete solutions. 

Coupled with the “eco-anxiety” now affecting 68 percent of adults in the U.S. and 75 percent of young people globally, worrying about the future of the world can crush whatever fulfillment at work remains. The point is, so many of us flip from stress-overwhelm to bored-ennui and back again—all in one Zoom meeting. 

Thankfully, there are ways to feel better. Science, impact entrepreneurs, sustainability experts and activists have made it clear that doing work that’s worthwhile isn’t just good for the world – it’s good for you. In a gloriously positive feedback loop, research reveals that working to create a happier, healthier world creates happier, healthier people. Workers who feel a strong sense of purpose not only feel more positive about their work—more satisfaction, connection and excitement—but about life more generally. They have more energy, better health and greater resilience. 

To feel good you need to do good

Indeed, offering help to others might even offer a key to humans’ great quest to live forever. Research has shown that the simple act of volunteering lowers mortality at a rate comparable to quitting smoking. We are hardwired to help. Ever notice how people who volunteer have a certain sunshine quality about them? Researchers have identified that it’s not just that happy people choose to help others, it’s that volunteering actively makes us happier. And one brain imaging study after another has shown that we get the same kick out of donating money as we do from receiving it. It’s essentially a healthy hit of morphine: studies have shown that the areas of the brain that release feel-good, pain-relieving endorphins—the areas that light up when we think about food and sex—are particularly active when we think about acting altruistically.

If you want to boost your well-being, solve a problem—and make it one that matters. 

“OK,” you say. “So dump my career and find a job at a soup kitchen?”

You could. But there are many other ways to activate your inner Solutionist that don’t involve quitting your job. 

What does a Solutionist do? 

In a 2022 blog post for Futerra, I tried to define what, exactly, a Solutionist is. In a nutshell, being a solutionist requires an ‘adaptive mind’ that welcomes change, sees challenges as opportunities, and is excited by new perspectives. With a bit of creativity and lateral thinking, solutionism can happen anywhere. 

Make changes from the inside
Leverage your knowledge of your current workplace—and all its politics, jargon and industry norms—to influence change from exactly where you already are. You might see gender injustice or hefty plastic waste going on in your organization or your industry more broadly. What is one change that could make a difference? Who are the decision-makers, and how can you reach them?

Practice sustainability on the side
Whatever your skills and experience, they will be relevant to other groups or activities aimed at solving a big, meaningful problem. Charities and activist groups need all sorts of people with all sorts of talents. Often, simply being a capable pair of hands offers a powerful way to make a difference. Identify a cause you care about, and look up a local group. If none exist, create one!

Start a business
Your experiences of the world, and of the industry you work in, will have revealed the sustainability gaps that exist in places only you can spot. You might be a vegan who’s never found a vegan cheese that tastes good. Could you create it? Or maybe you work in the music industry and see the ways that artists could cut carbon. Can you offer a new service? Get creative. Anyone can be an entrepreneur. 

Solutionists come in all shapes and sizes. You, too, have all you need to start solving the problems you care about. You just need to choose your battle and fight it. Your future self will thank you. 

Solitaire Townsend is the author of The Solutionists: How Businesses Can Fix The Future and is the cofounder and chief solutionist of Futerra, an award-winning sustainability agency.

Worried? Become a ‘Solutionist’