Maria Gutierrez on doing good through art, Costa Rica and why 80,000 Hours changed her career

This week I interviewed Maria Gutierrez to learn more about how 80,000 Hours had changed her career plans. For the last year Maria has been our freelance graphic designer, producing most of the artwork on our site today.

I sped up the recording so it is quick to listen to:

Summary of the interview

  • In 2014 Maria had a general desire to improve the world, but no idea how to put that into practice. She didn’t see any way to do useful work while continuing to use her creative skills and was frustrated by this.
  • She stumbled onto 80,000 Hours and effective altruism while browsing the internet, and its ‘honesty’ immediately resonated with her. It provided a concrete way to assess what would actually be useful to do where previously she had no way to think this through. It was the first time she considered ‘earning to give’ as a way to do good.
  • She realised that she could do a lot of good by using her artistic skills to help grow any organisation that does exceptional work. She decided to start by offering to work for us.
  • Maria decided to move back from New York to Costa Rica in order to dramatically lower her cost of living, and thereby be able to donate more. This is possible because all of her work is done remotely, for teams in the US and UK. She recommends other people seriously consider doing the same thing, and we suggest some careers and locations that are particularly promising for remote work.
  • We discuss how the 80,000 Hours mindset can be applied to other people in the creative arts, and when art is and is not particularly valuable.
  • Long term, Maria isn’t sure between earning to give as a fine artist against doing ‘direct work’ as a designer for organisations that she thinks are having a large social impact.
  • This raises tricky issues about personal fit, and which sacrifices she is willing to make and which she isn’t. Maria doesn’t think she could be happy without being challenged artistically, and also expects she would burn out quickly doing commercial marketing. She intends to directly test out both paths before she commits to one.
  • Finally, we discuss RISE (Red de Impacto Sustenible y Effectivo), an effective altruism inspired organistion in Costa Rica, which she intends to launch with a friend. Maria explains why she doesn’t want to take donations away from charities that work in countries poorer than Costa Rica.