You have 80,000 hours in your career: 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per 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 — it’s probably also your biggest opportunity to have a positive impact on the world.
So how can you best spend those hours?
We’re a nonprofit that aims to help you answer this question, and here we’ll explain how we can help.
When we, Ben and Will, were about to graduate from Oxford in 2011, we were wrestling with that same problem.
Like many, we wanted to find a career that would be satisfying, pay the bills, and make a contribution to society — but we felt really unsure which direction would be best.
The standard advice seemed like it was to become a teacher, doctor, or charity worker, but those jobs didn’t seem like a great fit for us. Should we instead go into research? Join a political campaign? Work on green energy R&D? Or something else entirely? The options were overwhelming.
But we also recognised having lots of options was a sign of our good fortune. As first-world college graduates in a world facing so many problems, we wanted to do something.
And our efforts to do good so far hadn’t obviously been effective. I (Ben) volunteered to do an environmental audit of my school, full of diagrams about how the buildings could be redesigned. The headmaster later wrote to say, “we’ve started an organic garden” — which wasn’t quite the impact I was hoping for.
Given our career decisions seemed like some of the most important decisions we’d ever make, it seemed worth doing some real research to find the best path. But it didn’t seem like most career advisors or popular books even tried to compare paths in terms of impact. And most advice seemed more based on opinions than evidence. So we started to research the question ourselves.
Over 10 years of research alongside academics at Oxford, we’ve spoken to hundreds of experts, read all the relevant literature we could find, and done our own analyses of the impact of different career paths and strategies.
We discovered there are many ways we need to rethink social impact careers. For instance:
If lots of people already work on an issue, the best opportunities will have already been taken, which makes it harder to contribute. But that means the most popular issues to work on, like health and education in the US or UK, are probably not where you can do the most good — to have a big impact, you need to find something unconventional.
Our generation faces issues that could affect the entire future of civilisation(!) — such as existential threats from new pandemics or the creation of smarter-than-human AI (which we’ve been recommending people work on since 2014) — but people who want to do good rarely work on these issues.
You don’t have to work at a charity to make a difference. Indirect paths to helping — such as communicating ideas, conducting research, or donating to effective organisations — can often be just as (or even more) effective; while at the same time, many charities don’t have much impact.
These discoveries mean that the question of how best to spend your career is even more important than we first thought.
This is because some career paths will let you have far more impact than others, but they’re often not the ones people already focus on. This means you have more options to have a big impact than you think. And that means it’s often possible to find a new path that’s both higher impact and more satisfying than what you would have done otherwise.
This is what motivated us to create 80,000 Hours. We’re a nonprofit whose aim is to provide research and support to help students and recent graduates find careers that effectively tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
We want to provide the information and support we wish we’d had when we graduated: transparently explained, based on the best research available, and willing to ask the big questions — entirely for free.
Our advice is focused on students and graduates aged 18–30 who are lucky enough to have the security and ability to make helping the world one of their main goals, though we also have advice about all kinds of career decisions.
To date, millions of people have read our advice, and thousands of people have told us they’ve changed careers based on it. Our hope is to get the next generation of young people focused on tackling the world’s most pressing problems, so that — collectively — they can solve them.
In particular, we think this generation faces existential risks to civilization, such as nuclear war, engineered pandemics, and potential AI-related catastrophe, but these issues have received very little attention relative to their importance. We think it’s possible for our readers to make real progress on these problems, so we focus on helping people tackle these issues in their careers (though much of our advice is general and applicable to whatever issue you’re focused on).
We still have a lot to learn, and have made some mistakes along the way, but we hope that by sharing what we’ve learned so far, we speed you along your path to an impactful career.
This might not be an easy path, but it is a meaningful one. We’ve often felt deeply uncertain about what to do, and intimidated by the scale of the issues. But we’ve also found a great deal of meaning and satisfaction in our efforts, especially as more and more people have joined us.
We believe you could have a realistic shot at helping to tackle some of the world’s biggest and most neglected problems, and our central aim is to help you do that. If you feel able to spend your career in this way, the easiest place to start is our newsletter:
Sign up to our newsletter and get started finding a new career
We’ll email to guide you through the whole process over a couple of months. We’ll also mail you a free book about high-impact careers.
You’ll be joining our community of over 350,000 people, and can unsubscribe in one click.
How we can help you
We aim to help you go from having no idea what to do, all the way to being in a fulfilling job that does good.
1. Start with our career guide
Our career guide is based on 10+ years of research alongside academics at Oxford. It aims to teach you the basics of finding a fulfilling career that does good, from why following your passion isn’t the best route to finding a fulfilling career, to why jobs like medicine or charity work are not always the best options for helping others.
It contains 12 articles, each with exercises at the end. If you work through them all, you’ll have a draft of your new career plan.
2. Speak to our team and put your plan into action
Once you’re familiar with our ideas, or ready to make a decision, apply to speak with our team one-on-one for free. They may be able to help check your new career plan, and then introduce you to mentors, job openings, and funding opportunities to help you put it into action.