Plan Your Career on Paper

post by aogara (Aidan O'Gara) · 2021-09-23T15:04:46.139Z · EA · GW · 2 comments

I used to expect 80,000 Hours to tell me how to have an impactful career. Recently, I've started thinking it's basically my own personal responsibility to figure it out. I think this shift has made me much happier and much more likely to have an impactful career.

80,000 Hours targets the most professionally successful people in the world. That's probably the right idea for them - giving good career advice takes a lot of time and effort, and they can't help everyone, so they should focus on the people with the most career potential.

But, unfortunately for most EAs (myself included), the nine priority career paths recommended by 80,000 Hours are some of the most difficult and competitive careers in the world. If you’re among the 99% of people who are not Google programmer / top half of Oxford / Top 30 PhD-level talented, you might have a very tough time succeeding in these career paths as outlined by 80,000 Hours. 

So how can the vast majority of people have an impactful career? My best answer: A lot of independent thought and planning. Your own personal brainstorming and reading and asking around and exploring, not just following stock EA advice. 80,000 Hours won't be a gospel that'll give all the answers; the difficult job of finding impactful work falls to the individual.

I know that's pretty vague, much more an emotional mindset than a tactical plan, but I'm personally really happy I've started thinking this way. I feel less status anxiety about living up to 80,000 Hours's recommendations, and I'm thinking much more creatively and concretely about how to do impactful work.

More concretely, here's some ways you can do that:

Don't let the fact that Bill Gates saved a million lives keep you from saving one. If you put some hard work into it, you can make a hell of a difference to a whole lot of people.


This is a repost of an old comment [EA · GW] of mine. I spent a while writing and rewriting detailed elaborations of the comment, but I've finally accepted that those versions will not be published anytime soon, so I've just decided to repost the comment as-is. 

In the last 18 months, I think the EA career situation has changed substantially. Thanks to active efforts by 80,000 Hours and many others in the EA community to tailor career advice for a broader audience, there seems to be much less frustration [EA · GW]with the availability of career options, at least as evidenced by EA Forum posts on the topic. 

Here's a few recent publications I've found very useful on the topic:

The point I'd emphasize the most is the title of this article: Plan your career on paper. If you are stressing out about your career, I'd recommend writing down what you want in a career, what problems you think are the most important, what careers could address those problems, how you might enter those careers, and working both backwards from your goals and forwards from your current career capital to figure out your work-in-progress career plan. For the longest time, I thought I could do this passively in my head just by reading about EA online, but since writing down my thoughts I've understood my own situation much better and stressed about it much less. 80,000 Hours has always recommended this approach, and has recently authored some great new resources to help you get started

Thank you to Aaron Gertler, Ryan Carey, Brenton Mayer, Michelle Hutchinson, Khorton, and many others for feedback and encouragement here. 


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comment by theme_arrow · 2021-09-27T02:48:18.799Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like this post, and your conclusion really resonates with me. One more resource that I think is helpful to point people to is Ozy Brennan's Career Advice for the Everyday Effective Altruist. 

comment by MarcSerna · 2021-09-23T16:09:37.391Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is an interesting post and I have been seeing similar critiques in the past year. I wrote something similar but much less articulate once. I think the community is ready for practical advice, career options, and solutions for the not extremely outstanding masses.

Like advice for EAs with low GPAs and weak CVs, or advice on how to compare any two very specific options.

Your post is a very good starting point.