It’s ok to leave EA
Crossposted from my new blog, Otherwise. Extended somewhat since yesterday; thanks for the prompt to be more specific!
Several times in the last few weeks I’ve seen someone saying EA has become really bad for them. I don’t have anything really profound to say here, but I think people who are especially miserable in EA should seriously consider leaving.
There are lots of ways to engage with EA, and sometimes if you’re burnt out on some aspects there are other aspects that still feel viable and invigorating. But maybe there aren’t. Maybe the whole thing makes you want to hide in bed. And if so, I think you should trust your gut. Not to hide in bed, I mean, but to get some space from EA.
I realize “take some space” might be easier said than done, especially if you work in the EA space or a lot of your social life is there. Maybe try out a small experiment first: a vacation from EA-related work, reading, or actions.
For a while, interviewing childcare providers caused me to feel especially doom-y. No one was doing anything wrong, but I hated the whole process. I was simultaneously afraid they wouldn’t like my family enough to want to work for us, and that I’d choose someone bad. After a difficult round of interviews, we found someone and stuck with the arrangement longer than was ideal, partly so I wouldn’t have to go through the search as soon. Two years later, I was in a different headspace and able to do the task without so much worry.
Who do I mean this for?
I don’t mean that we should all leave when EA gets hard. I think a lot of us find EA hard but also find a kind of determination and energy in response.
But sometimes it’s more like exhaustion and despair. And if you’re in that zone for a while, that’s when I think you should consider getting away.
(I’m imagining someone out there worried about whether they are unhappy enough to qualify. If you’re on the fence, maybe take three months off and see whether it gets clearer.)
If other’s people work depends on you, like if you’re managing an organization or large project, that makes walking away a lot more costly. But if you’re miserable in a role, I’d be surprised if you can stay in it long-term without slowly poisoning things around you.
A tiny minority of the people making progress on the world’s problems identify as EAs. There’s a ton of good work to be done outside this space.
Or maybe you need to get back to more basic human stuff: eating, sleeping, moving, feeling. If you think you might need to just focus on that for a while, I encourage you to try it.
I want to tell you that taking care of yourself is what’s best for impact. But is it? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s true in some circumstances and not in others. My guess is that if you feel like you’re drowning, you need to disrupt something about your circumstances, and you’ll eventually be more able to do good work (in EA or outside EA) than if you’d continue struggling in the same place.
Someone rightly pointed out that this is all kind of vague. Some more concrete things that I mean:
I personally won’t dislike you for leaving.
If it would feel like a relief to have someone’s permission to go, you have mine.
I expect the EA community to be healthier / more vigorous if people who are having a terrible time move away from it.
I want people I know to be ok, and that probably slants my judgement about whether this is overall good for the world. So if you’re considering leaving, maybe you should ask someone who’s more of a hard-ass than me and see what they say.