You’ll spend about 80,000 hours working in your career: 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 40 years. So how to spend that time is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.
Choose wisely, and you will not only have a more rewarding and interesting life, you’ll also be able to help solve some of the world’s most urgent problems. But how should you choose?
To answer this question, we set up an independent non-profit and did over five years of research alongside Oxford academics. Our only aim is to help you have the greatest possible positive impact.
Along the way, we’ve discovered some surprising things, and over 2 million people have read our advice.
How did we get started?
Back in 2011, we were students at Oxford in the UK. We wanted to figure out how we could do work we loved while making a significant positive impact.
We wondered: should we work at a non-profit? Go to grad school? Go into business so we could earn high salaries and give back through philanthropy? Give up and go meditate in a cave? Or something else entirely?
Most career guides we read were about how to land different jobs, but few gave advice on what jobs to aim for in the first place. Most people we knew didn’t even use formal career advice, relying instead on conversations with friends.
As for doing good with your career, people suggested things like medicine, social work, teaching, or most thrillingly, working in corporate social responsibility. But, valuable as these careers are, we felt like there might be even higher-impact options out there.
For instance, we recognized that some of the highest-impact people in history came from different fields. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who shaped the Civil Rights movement. Bill Gates is a billionaire software engineer who has saved millions of children’s lives by donating his wealth. Marie Curie was a scientist who pioneered life-saving medical technologies through her research into radioactivity.
So, we started doing our own research into which career to choose and giving talks to other students. And to our surprise, people listened, and some started to completely change what they did with their lives.
In 2011, inspired by this feedback, we founded 80,000 Hours as a part-time project in collaboration with researchers at Oxford working on related questions.1 The aim is to provide the advice we wish we’d had – easy to use, transparently explained and based on the best evidence available.
In 2012, we raised funding and hired a team. We’re a non-profit supported by individual donations, and we don’t take money from advertisers or recruiters, so all our advice is impartial.
Since then, we’ve spoken to hundreds of experts, spent hundreds of hours reading the relevant literature, and conducted our own analyses of the many job options available. We still have a lot to learn, these questions are difficult to settle, and we’ve made some mistakes; but we don’t think anyone else has done as much systematic research into this topic as we have.
Among the things we’ve learned: if you want a satisfying career, “follow your passion” can be misleading advice; you might be able to do more good as an accountant than a charity worker; and that many approaches to making the world a better place don’t work. We’ve also come up with new ways to approach age-old questions like how to figure out what you’re good at, and how to be more successful.
Most importantly, we’ve learned that over your career, if you choose well, you can likely do good on the scale of saving hundreds of lives or more, while doing work that’s more enjoyable and fulfilling too.
As of today, thousands of people have significantly changed their career plans based on our advice. These readers have pledged more than $30 million to some of the world’s most effective charities, founded ten new organizations focused on doing good, and helped to start the global “effective altruism” movement, which aims to use evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to help others. Some of our readers are saving hundreds of lives in international development, some are working on neglected areas of government policy, some are developing ground-breaking technology, and others have used our research to figure out their own paths.
What you’ll learn
See a summary of the 12 articles in one page.
The first six articles discuss which options will be most fulfilling and have the highest-impact over the long-term:
- What makes for a dream job?
- Can one person make a difference?
- How to have a real positive impact in any job.
- How to choose which problems to focus on.
- What are the world’s biggest and most urgent problems?
- What types of jobs are high-impact?
The next four cover how to narrow down those options and succeed by investing in yourself:
- Which jobs put you in a better position?
- How to find the right career for you.
- How to be more successful in any job.
- How to write a career plan.
The last two cover how to take action and launch your dream career:
- How to get a job.
- How our community can help.
At the end, we have a planning tool to help you apply all the ideas.
Who is this guide for?
Most sections are relevant to everyone. Earlier in your career, you have more flexibility, but no matter how old you are, you need to invest in your skills, choose which problems to focus on, and compare the options open to you. Although we designed the guide especially for students and recent graduates in their 20s, the ideas apply to a reader of any age.
3 ways to get the guide
1. Read the guide online
Start with our article on job satisfaction.
2. Watch the video summary
It’s only 90 minutes and covers the key ideas, in less depth.
3. Order the whole guide as a book
It’s available in Kindle or paperback.
Notes and references
- Our co-founder and president, Will MacAskill, was a graduate student at the time in 2011. He's now an associate professor of Philosophy. Our founding board also contained Dr. Toby Ord and Dr. Nick Beckstead, who have both worked as researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford (and Toby still does). They advise us on our research. We're affiliated with the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Future of Humanity Institute, with whom we shared an office for most of our history (though currently we’re based in Berkeley, CA). We’re also advised on our research by several other academics, such as Dr. Owen Cotton-Barratt, formerly a maths lecturer at Oxford and today a researcher at FHI in Oxford. See more on meet the team.↩