I came across an interesting concept today, and I spent 6 of those 80,000 available hours investigating it a little more in depth.
This concept launches the idea that, on average, you have 80,000 hours in your career: 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 40 years.
That’s a huge amount of time. And it means that your career is not only a major driver of your happiness, but it’s probably also your biggest opportunity to have a positive impact on the world.
The idea was born from two Oxford graduates, Will and Ben, both of whom were exactly at the point of deciding where to direct their work effort at the end of their studies.
The standard advice seemed to be to become a teacher, doctor or charity worker, but those jobs didn’t seem to be a good fit for them. Should they go into research? Get involved in a political campaign? Work in green energy R&D? Or something else entirely? The choices were overwhelming.
But they also recognized that having many choices was a sign of good fortune. As first-world college graduates in a world facing so many problems, they wanted to do something of value.
And their efforts to make a positive impact so far had obviously not been effective. Ben volunteered to do an environmental audit of a school, full of diagrams of how buildings could be redesigned to be more sustainable. Later, the headmaster wrote to tell him that they had started an organic vegetable garden, which did not have the impact Ben had hoped for.
Since career decisions seemed to be among the most important decisions they were going to make, it seemed worth doing some real research to find the best way forward. But it didn’t seem like most career advisors or outreach books even tried to compare paths in terms of impact. And most of the advice seemed to be based more on opinion than evidence. So they began to investigate the question themselves.
They set about researching for 10 years, and together with Oxford academics, they read all the relevant literature they could find and have conducted their own analyses of the impact of different career paths and strategies.
They discovered that there are many ways to rethink social impact careers. For example:
If many people already work on an issue, the best opportunities will already have been taken, making it harder to contribute. But that means that the most popular issues to work on, such as healthcare and education in the U.S. or the U.K., are probably not the ones that can benefit the most: to have a big impact, you have to find something unconventional.
This generation is facing problems that could affect the entire future of civilization, such as existential threats or the creation of artificial intelligence smarter than human, but people who want to be part of this progress rarely work on these issues.
You don’t need to work for a charity to make a difference. Indirect ways to help-such as communicating ideas, conducting research, or donating to effective organizations-can often be just as effective (or even more so); at the same time, many charities don’t have much impact.
These findings mean that the question of how best to employ your career is even more important than we first thought.
This is because some career paths will allow you to have much more impact than others, but they are often not the ones that the general public focuses on. This means you have more options to make a big impact than you think. And that means it’s often possible to find a new path that is more impactful and fulfilling than what you would have done otherwise.
This is what motivated them to create 80,000 Hours. They are a non-profit organization whose goal is to provide research and support to help students and recent graduates find careers that effectively address the world’s most pressing problems.
Their advice focuses on students and graduates between the ages of 18 and 30 who are fortunate enough to have the security and ability to make helping the world one of their main goals, although they also handle advice on all kinds of career decisions.
They insist that their hope is to get the next generation of young people to focus on tackling the world’s most pressing problems, so that – collectively – they can solve them.
Clearly, this is not an easy path, but it is a meaningful one. If you’re at this stage in your life, take a look at their advice – what’s the worst that could happen, that you use 1 hour of those 80,000?