04/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Six Questions for Emerging New Radicals

First, let's deal with your question: you may be wondering "what the heck is a New Radical?" In short, it's someone who has found a way to put the skills acquired in their career to work on some of the world's greatest challenges (see previous posts for more about this emerging movement) New Radicals may be baby boomers like me who have reinvented their work at midlife. Or men and women in their 20s and 30s who want their first careers to be about helping people and places in great need.

Whenever I give a talk about this powerful new movement people always ask, "How can I become a New Radical?" It's clear that emerging New Radicals have different motivations, take different journeys, and reach different destinations. But there is a pattern that is common to all -- a series of questions they pose as they are moving into their new lives (I explore these in detail in my book). Here are the six core questions:

1, What do you have to offer?
What, precisely, do we bring to the table? What are our skills and capabilities, our knowledge and resources? It's important to begin your journey with a comprehensive assessment of your abilities. There are three reasons to do this. Because it will help you find a role that is right for you -- and truly challenging. Because you need to be able to make the case for why you're the best person for the job (see Question 5). And because it's a wonderful exercise -- it can be a fascinating and deeply gratifying experience to review what we've accomplished so far.

2. What moves you?
If the first question is all about our heads, this one is about our hearts. What's important to us now, how do we want to spend the rest of our lives, what are our values? While Question 1 might be easy to answer, this one can be more challenging. It requires a self knowledge, and ours is a world that doesn't yet reward the inner journey. Take time to reflect, and establish a connection with the deeper part of yourself -- and see what splendid ideas and dreams appear. By the way, if talk of such things makes you uneasy, you're not alone -- clients sometimes outright refuse to do this spelunking. I tell them that it's really just about stilling the chatter of the conscious mind, and allowing fresh insights to emerge. British scientists note it happens all the time -- they've even dubbed it the 3Bs: all great discoveries are made in the bath, in bed, or on the bus.

3. What does the world need?
The short answer, of course, is that the world needs so much. As any glance at the headlines shows, we are a people and a planet in distress. You may also be feeling, "I'm only one person, what can I possibly do?" If that's true for you, may I point out that there are an infinite number of ways to bring hope, relief, and joy to our fellow human beings and healing to our planet -- and that every little thing we do makes a difference. If an issue doesn't immediately call out to you, how do you decide? Most New Radicals go through a process of exploration and research until they find a cause that has great personal meaning. This kind of connection can help you stay the course when the going gets tough.

4. How do you get there from here?
Some New Radicals just know what they want to do, and the lucky ones either find something quite quickly, or have a new role offered to them. Most often, New Radicals-in-the-making work hard to find or create a new role, a process that can take several years. As you begin to refine your search and start making decisions about how you'll reinvent your work (becoming either an Activist, Entrepreneur, or Innovator), you'll start to see that there are a number of things to do before you can step into your new role. Your transition plan might include exploring your new world -- making sure that a non-profit organization is really right for you. Ensuring that you have the right qualifications -- whether a new degree or volunteer experience in a particular organization. And how you'll fund your transition: how you'll survive if you need to study, or invest time without income as you reinvent yourself.

5. How do you make a name for yourself?
The most successful New Radicals rely on the ideas behind branding to help them make the case for why they're the right person for the job. Branding is a kind of sophisticated shorthand. Done well, it will give you a concise and meaningful answer to three related questions, "Who are you?" "What do you do?" and "What can you do for me?" New Radical pioneer Al Gore is a great example - he's developed a personal brand that really resonates with his public. We know him, "I used to be the next president of the United States." We know what he does - hardly anyone calls his climate-change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Instead, it's "Al Gore's movie." And we know what he can do for us - help us become informed about an issue that is changing our planet forever.

6. Are you ready?
Only you can decide if you want to become a New Radical, what your new role will be, and how you'll get there. Sometimes, when they're just about to step off the traditional career path and do something, well, radical, people get cold feet. It's a natural human reaction to change. There may be good reasons to delay. You may have responsibilities you can't ignore, or personal matters to attend to. You may need to bring your loved ones up to speed - not everyone will be happy that you want to reinvent your work. But don't let these hesitations stop you altogether. Keep the spirit alive until you're ready to begin moving forward. Because, and I say this with deep compassion, we don't have time to sit on the fence any longer. New Radical pioneers have been a beacon of light and hope. Their actions are a clarion call to the rest of us. What will your response be?

I've been writing about social entrepreneurs recently. [] If you'd like to be part of the Skoll World Forum -- 800 social entrepreneurs from 60 nations, gathered at Oxford University next week -- here are some ways to "listen in."

Please share your thoughts about New Radicals, social entrepreneurship, and our changing world by commenting below, or emailing me at

We Are The New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World is Julia's new book. She is also a speechwriter for North America's most beloved leaders.