For older EA-oriented career changers: discussion and community formation

Much of 80,000 Hours’ ca­reer ad­vice seems pri­mar­ily di­rected at peo­ple in their early 20s or teens. This makes sense, but I think there’s value in be­gin­ning a dis­cus­sion speci­fi­cally for peo­ple who have been in the work­ing world and are be­ing guided by the “im­por­tant, tractable, ne­glected” frame­work to­ward a ca­reer change. I in­vite any­one else in the same boat to re­spond to these ques­tions or raise oth­ers. My hope is that out of those who re­spond, we can form a com­mu­nity for mu­tual sup­port, iden­tify com­mon prob­lems and po­ten­tial solu­tions, and nor­mal­ize ca­reer change for older peo­ple who might think it’s not for them.

It may be that if 10 peo­ple in­vest 75 hours a year in a mu­tual aid sup­port group, they’d col­lec­tively in­crease their chance of mak­ing a suc­cess­ful ca­reer change by 1%. Con­sid­er­ing the stakes − 600,000 hours of fu­ture ca­reer work for a group of ten peo­ple who’ve been work­ing an­other job for a decade—this kind of in­vest­ment seems well worth it.

Here is a link to the Google Forms sur­vey ver­sion of these ques­tions. Hope you’ll take the time to an­swer!

What have you been do­ing for work thus far, how do you feel about it, and why are you chang­ing ca­reers?

I’ve been work­ing as a pri­vate mu­sic teacher, which is en­joy­able but gives me lit­tle money or ca­reer cap­i­tal. The “ar­gu­ment against ed­u­ca­tion” makes sense to me, and my in­tel­lec­tual abil­ities, au­to­di­dac­ti­cism, and so­cial com­pe­tence make me think I’m cut out for sci­en­tific or policy work. 80k’s anal­y­sis of press­ing is­sues and ca­reers with lev­er­age ba­si­cally makes sense to me. It swayed me to study math and eco­nomics rather than pur­sue my ini­tial ca­reer change plan of be­com­ing a doc­tor.

At what stage is your ca­reer change?

I’m at a com­mu­nity col­lege, plan­ning on a year of math and econ classes. By that time, I’ll make a de­ci­sion about whether to pur­sue a PhD in statis­tics or eco­nomics, or a mas­ter’s in policy.

How has your age in­fluenced your pro­cess?

It makes me leery of pur­su­ing a PhD, be­cause academia is already hard enough to work in with­out be­ing older. I may pur­sue work in in­dus­try or gov­ern­ment for that rea­son, but I’m hop­ing that a strate­gic choice of de­gree and pro­gram, top grades, test scores, and some in­de­pen­dent re­search ac­com­plish­ments will give me a chance at walk­ing through many doors. Most of my fam­ily mem­bers neg me sub­tly or openly for not get­ting a teach­ing cer­tifi­cate, buy­ing a house, and start­ing a fam­ily; I an­ti­ci­pate this will con­tinue un­til I have been ad­mit­ted into a grad­u­ate pro­gram. I’m be­com­ing prac­ticed at jus­tify­ing my choices to get peo­ple off my back, be­cause most of the anx­iety they pro­ject onto me is only go­ing to be an emo­tional bur­den rather than a use­ful cri­tique of the rea­son­ing guid­ing my choice.

What do you think would make this pro­cess eas­ier, more at­trac­tive, or more nor­mal for you?

My com­mu­nity col­lege has a post-bacc pre-med pro­gram, and I found it very helpful when I was work­ing to­ward be­com­ing a doc­tor. It was a strong source of com­mu­nity, and helped me feel nor­mal, mo­ti­vated, and sup­ported. We had an ad­viser who fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing the pro­gram, biweekly sem­i­nars that brought in speak­ers from med­i­cal schools and suc­cess­ful grad­u­ates and helped us with ca­reer plan­ning, and biweekly so­cial lunches. I did a rough calcu­la­tion that full in­volve­ment with this guidance pro­gram took about 75 hours a year. Hav­ing this pro­gram made my oth­er­wise or­di­nary com­mu­nity col­lege a draw for in­ter­ested stu­dents from two states away.

I wish there was some­thing equiv­a­lent for 80k-ori­ented post-bacc ca­reer chang­ers.

What do you think gets left out of the con­ver­sa­tion when we fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the “im­por­tant, ne­glected, tractable” frame­work for is­sue or ca­reer eval­u­a­tions?

I think I’m not alone in hav­ing “self­ish” de­sires and “ir­ra­tional” emo­tions. I want fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity and chil­dren some­day. I’d miss home if I moved, worry about the toxic en­vi­ron­ment of cor­po­rate Amer­ica or our gov­ern­ment that I’ve thus far largely avoided by work­ing for my­self, fear ac­cu­mu­lat­ing sig­nifi­cant debt and then failing to find a job, and like where I’m liv­ing and would be sad to move away from friends, fam­ily, and the beau­tiful en­vi­ron­ment of my re­gion. I’m also afraid that I’m be­ing forced to com­part­men­tal­ize these nega­tive emo­tions and that they’ll sab­o­tage me down the line. We look not only al­tru­is­tic work, but is­sues that are ne­glected, mean­ing that they are prob­a­bly es­pe­cially likely to be low-pay­ing or non-pay­ing, while also seem­ing very strange to our loved ones.

I wish there were more dis­cus­sion of how we can deal with these is­sues. Often, it seems as though these emo­tional con­cerns are sim­ply set aside—of­ten by writ­ers who have already achieved sig­nifi­cant ca­reer suc­cess work­ing in the EA-sphere or academia, and who seem there­fore not to share this strug­gle.

What are your ideas for how a group of EA-al­igned older ca­reer chang­ers could best sup­port each other?

Video con­ferenc­ing so­cial meet­ings, or­ga­niz­ing some form of ca­reer-plan­ning sem­i­nar, meet­ing up if they live near each other, shar­ing strug­gles, op­por­tu­ni­ties, and suc­cesses on­line, ex­chang­ing con­tacts and net­work­ing, and serv­ing to nor­mal­ize this pro­cess for them­selves, the EA com­mu­nity, and our friends and fam­ily who may not always be en­tirely sym­pa­thetic.

Would you like to be in­volved in an older EA-ca­reer changer com­mu­nity, and if so, what kinds of pro­jects are you in­ter­ested in and what’s your availa­bil­ity?

Yes, and I could prob­a­bly de­vote 1-2 hours per week to this.