Know what you’re optimising for

This is a linkpost for Know what you’re optimising for, a piece that I wrote for the 80,000 hours blog, collecting a group of ideas I’ve found myself often discussing in 1-on-1 careers calls. The post has some formatting which doesn’t translate well to the forum so I haven’t copied the entire text over, though I would value comments, thoughts, and feedback from EA forum users, and this post seems like a reasonable place to put them. I didn’t want to just have a bunch of italic text and a link though, so below is a small extract which I think gives a good sense of my motivation for the overall piece:

There’s a difference between doing things that are somewhat correlated with things you want (or even doing things that you expect to lead to things you want), and trying really unusually hard to actually get what you want. Sometimes working out what you actually want can be really hard — for many, working out what one ultimately values can be a lifetime’s work. However, I’ve been frequently surprised, during my time as an advisor, by how often it’s been sufficient to just ask:

It looks like you’re trying to achieve X here. Is X really the thing you want?