This is an interesting coincidence. I’m someone who read and was influenced by EA blogs around 2014-2015, after working for an NGO for a few years. I was influenced enough to factor it in my decision to leave my job and go back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner. (As evidenced by the fact that nursing and advanced practice nursing aren’t highly recommended pathways in 80k hrs, it’s fair to say I factored what I read among EA sites alongside my own appraisals of priority areas, beliefs/attitudes, and individual circumstances).
Despite being in Boston, arguably an EA hub, I didn’t engage with the community there during my time in school. Although the NGO I worked for wasn’t EA, having a peer group that was concerned about various issues and recognized the need to deviate from mainstream culture when it came to matters of earnings and consumption, definitely counted for something. Compared to grad school, where classmates surely had diverse motivations for choosing the career path, the greatest common denominator revealed itself to be “achieving a comfortably middle to upper-middle class lifestyle and the ability to ‘help people.’”
I can tell you my values drifted. Concepts such a marginal impact, and the fact that clinicians’ marginal impact is much less than most believe, are threatening to front line clinicians—so I avoided those topics with peers. Surely many classmates were conventionally status-oriented that my previous peers in the non-profit. As I tried to learn about the more conservative norms regarding attire expected in some private practices, (as opposed to the NGO where I worked which was quite informal), I was exposed to more of such consumption-as-status messaging. After breaking up with a long term significant other, who at least understood my beliefs and attitudes about EA and simpler-living, and starting to date other professionals in a high-COL city, I definitely found myself thinking about more of my income going more towards self-presentation. With significant student loan debt from the program, my first job will definitely prioritize salary more than I’d otherwise like.
All the while, I always had EA in the back of my mind. I listened to MacAskill’s book in audio format at some point during my graduate program. As someone who seems to be more interested in managing downward risk combined with the fact that my previous work was in behavior change/nudging, I was always concerned I would not ‘come back’ to the community or succumb to norms of the dominant consumer culture.
On reflection, I think that is part of the reason I wasn’t deeply engaged with the community—I seem to be more concerned with making sure I have some kind of significant impact, than trying to maximize impact. I’ve long been concerned about an imagined future-self succumbing to burnout, resentment, or alienation. I wondered how my future self might cope if I invest heavily in a problem area that turns out to be, for one reason or another, no longer a high-impact area. It’s safe to say that I’m rather risk-intolerant.
Moving forward, I do plan to re-engage with the community, especially in person because I now appreciate how alienating it can be to not have peers than understand your deeply held values. I hope this post adds-value; rather than codify the challenges and protective-factors, I thought it’s best I just concretely describe my experience and leave it here for interpretation.
Thank you for this detailed description of your experience!
I would guess that many other people in the EA community have a similar story to tell about the challenge of self-presentation/conspicuous consumption, as well as the ease with which you can drift when you find a new partner/friend group. I’m trying to understand value drift better, and this comment added value for me.