01/20/2011 01:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tough Times? Do Some Good.

We are drowning. And not just in credit card bills and tuition payments. We are drowning in false choices.

We are told that we must choose between making money and making a difference -- that it is not possible to harness our strengths, embrace our passions and have a career at the same time. We've been misled, misinformed and we're now anxious about the future. But crisis -- both economic and planetary -- creates opportunity.

Whatever you think about your future career during this difficult economic time -- think the opposite.

Some clarity: the world's biggest needs align with dynamic opportunities to engage your strengths, find meaning -- and make money. These challenges are creating unseen career paths to thrive. Selflessness has never been so profitable.

Yesterday's jobs are ignorant to the reality-bending demands of zero emission minivans and zero poverty communities. Sacrificing yourself to the beast of conventional wisdom is a 21st century race to a better spot in the unemployment line. Enjoy the wait -- the economy still isn't looking that good.

Martin Fisher, raised in Ithaca, fixes things. He always has, beginning with outdated electronics in his family's basement. Martin doesn't particularly like psychology or medicine or marketing. He likes to fix things. Martin saw that most of the world's poorest are small-scale farmers living on dusty, unproductive land. With a team of designers, Fisher developed the MoneyMaker Pump to pull water and productivity from the ground. Today more than 110,013 pumps have been sold. Need plus strength equals career harmony.

"Why the light bulb?" a student once asked Thomas Edison. "I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent," he said.

Billions of dollars and a hundred years later, Edison's answer captures brilliantly how we should approach our future.

Today, like every other day, global-warming pollution is dumped by the 70 million ton truckloads into the sewer formerly known as our atmosphere. And tomorrow, billions live another day in the grinding no medicine, no light and no family type of poverty. Seventy billion animals -- about the number of humans who've lived in all of history -- suffer from cruel and inhumane treatment inside factory farm walls.

Don't cry for our planet or yourself -- reprogram bugs to beat back malaria, engineer meat that preserves our forests and humanity, write to amplify one hero's voice, build a box brimming with clean power for Africa or install green roofs for a new generation of bright green homes. Make Edison proud.

Take the lead in solving the world's biggest needs. Thousands already are. Creating the tools, law, vaccines, buildings, code, fashion and food that will allow the planet to grow stronger while empowering those living their days on income barely enough to buy a large coffee is the grandest opportunity of your lifetime.

Whether through burgers, bugs or light bulbs -- seek out the connections between the biggest needs and your deepest strengths. Get on the internet, google "engineering and climate change"; "biology and malaria"; "marketing and sustainability"; "journalism and social impact"; or other combinations that hold the informative power -- through jobs or ideas -- to unleash your strengths.

Finally, get to work -- our planet has suffered long enough waiting for the best of you.

This post orginally appeared in the Cornell Daily Sun.