Why even our readers should save enough to live for 6-24 months

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Your ‘personal runway’ is how many months you can easily live if you stopped working. It’s a product of the cash and sellable assets you have on hand, your living expenses, and your ability to draw on your friends and family in times of need.

For instance, if you have $10,000 of savings and live on $1,000 per month, your personal runway is 10 months. If you could quickly and comfortably move back in with your parents or stay on a friend’s couch, cutting your living expenses by $500 a month, then your personal runway is 20 months. If you have non-work income, that boosts your runway further. If you’re lucky enough to have a family who would support you indefinitely in a productive lifestyle, then your runway is indefinitely long.

I think most people we advise should aim to have at least 6 – 12 months’ personal runway, and up to 12 – 24 could be good for flexibility.

I’ve noticed some people in the community who don’t have much runway and don’t appear to be saving, because they are donating a lot of income or doing very low wage work. Unless you have family or friends who’ll support you, you should cut back on donations and save until you’ve got enough runway.

Some more detail follows.

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LinkedIn finds the most common ways in and out of every career

We recently wrote a career profile on medicine which said that one of the most common exit opportunities for physicians was into academia. How exactly did we know that?

LinkedIn has mined their enormous dataset to find the most frequent career transitions for people from a huge range of different professions. It turns out that the most frequent transfer for a physician or surgeon is to become a university professor, presumably studying or teaching medicine itself. Most roles have several common options.

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I strongly recommend playing around with it and reading their analysis. It turns out that ‘sales’ is a huge skill area and one of the most common next steps for people from a very wide range of professions. Almost every business needs some people to work on sales!

You can use this both to see what your natural next career moves are, and figure out what indirect paths you can use to get into a particular different position you have in mind. It doesn’t do the reverse lookup itself yet, so you’ll need to guess which options are most likely to lead you into the one you want.

We’ll be incorporating the wisdom of this tool into our career profiles as we update them.

The broad skill groupings they classified seemed to me to be:

  • Sales, hospitality and logistics (blue)
  • Health and education (red)
  • Information technology (pink)
  • Practical trades,

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We change more than we expect (so keep your options open!)

How much will your personality, values and preferences change over the next decade? Probably more than you think, at least according to a recent paper, “The End of History Illusion” by a team of psychologists at Harvard and the University of Virginia.

In a number of separate experiments, the authors asked a total of over 19,000 people between 18 and 68 to measure their current personality, values and preferences. Half of them were also asked to complete the assessment as they believed they would have done ten years earlier, while the other half were asked to predict what they would say in ten years’ time.

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Stop worrying so much about the long-term

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Today I’ve been reviewing our most recent round of coaching, and something struck me about the applications. Many of them were written by people who were clearly desperate to plan out the next decade of their career, or even their entire working life. As a result, they tended to feel anxious and even overwhelmed by the options available and the weight of the decisions in front of them.

Might this be you? Some giveaways are phrases like “how can I find the right career for me?” or “I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life”.

To people who feel this way, I have this advice: stop worrying so much about the long-term.

Don’t get me wrong, of course your career decisions are important. 80,000 Hours is built around the idea that you can make an incredible difference through your career choices, if you choose carefully.

However, I don’t think that making a detailed career plan is a particularly good way to ensure that your career goes well in the long-term. A better idea, especially at the start of your career, is to make sure you get the next step right: focus on getting into a better position, and then worry about what comes next when more decisions arise.

This may sound counter-intuitive. So why do I recommend it? Four reasons:

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Why and how to keep your options open

Keeping options open is important for everyone, it’s especially important if you want to make a difference, because the most effective career opportunities are likely to change in the future. Indeed, we think it’s usually more important to keep your options open to make an immediate impact.

Many people think that ‘keeping your options open’ means being non-committal and avoiding tough decisions. We disagree. The best to keep your options open is to commit to building flexible abilities and resources, such as transferable skills, money and a public platform.

For more, see our new page on the topic.

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