I was struck by a passage from Barack Obama's recent autobiography, describing how each day in the oval office, he would read 10 letters from concerned citizens, and occasionally direct government agencies to reach out and help one. He didn't feel a lot of accomplishment from this, however, because he knew that for each individual he helped, there were tens of thousands struggling in the wake of the financial crisis.
I thought this passage was interesting, because while this sort of dejection might be appropriate for a person trying to maximize their impact at the helm of a huge bureaucratic apparatus, it would be a totally counterproductive attitude for many everyday citizens just trying to help out their communities. Clearly our society needs people with a wide distribution on the intended-scale-of-impact trait, and maybe individuals should also have their own distribution over the scale their various activities act on...?
As a PhD student, I felt for a long time that the highest EV thing I could do was learn things or work on projects, but as I've started to appreciate the miniscule impact most papers (...even many fields... lol) have, I've started to question whether that was the right call.
I was just curious how people here think about this. How do you approach diversifying the scale of impact of things you work on?