Until a few days ago, I was an impact guy. I would contemplate my own career ambitions in terms of ‘the impact I wanted to have’. I would talk with others about the impact they wanted their work to have on the world, others, themselves.

It seemed to me that thinking this way – with ‘impact’ orienting us towards an ‘other’ focus and generally making things better through our work was pretty intuitive and if I might, virtuous.

Until I read this report in the Pacific Standard. It appears in a column titled ‘Understanding Gen Z’ which explores ‘the historical context and social science research that helps explain the next generation’. Pacific Standard partners with Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences to produce the column.

What stood out to me in the report was the prominence of the concept of impact and its interpretation by the undergrads in the Stanford pilot study.

While the study concedes there were plenty of conversations about “making the world a better place [and] changing people’s lives for the better”, the pressure others feel to scale their impact in order to be successful illuminates a darker side of the story.

What is most troubling is that it seems for some, impact is the sheer number of people they can reach – regardless of the effect they’re having with those interactions.

Is impact (in one’s work or career) not about altruism, but about reach? Impact at scale, at all costs?

Maybe it’s time we reframe impact and talk instead about contribution.

While impact can be about quantity, contribution can be about quality.

While impact can be about the individual, contribution can be about the collective.

While impact can be about competition, contribution can be about collaboration.

While impact can be about the long-term, contribution can be about today.

While impact can be about the outcome, contribution is about the process.

While impact can be grandiose, contribution can be small.

While impact can be sexy, contribution is modest (ugly even).

While impact can seem out of reach, contribution is attainable.

Impact is the product of countless contributions. You cannot have impact if you don’t first contribute.

If we focus only on the impact we want to have, we might miss the opportunities to make the contributions that matter.

What will your contribution be?