[Podcast] Having a successful career with anxiety, depression, and imposter syndrome

Link post

Note: 80,000 Hours wants to keep the interviewee’s name off of Google in this context. You can use “Howie” in comments, but please don’t use his surname. We’ll redact the surname if any comment happens to use it.

I’m linking to one of my favorite 80,000 Hours podcast episodes ever — not only because the topic seems important and broadly relevant, but because some of the interviewee’s advice was directly applicable to problems I was experiencing and problems I’ve been working through with friends who are struggling.

I’d honestly recommend the episode to basically anyone in or out of EA, with a few caveats:

  • As 80,000 Hours notes, the conversation gets pretty intense. See the end of the quote below for advice on working around the most intense bits.

  • The podcast goes on at length about the ways in which the EA community can be deeply supportive of people struggling with mental illness. I can imagine parts of it being a difficult listen for people who either (a) spend a lot of their time in other communities that aren’t so supportive, or (b) haven’t gotten the same kind of support from within the EA community. In either case, I can imagine some of the advice not being very applicable, and this being frustrating.

Points that especially resonated for me:

  • Your friends may not be available all the time, but they’ll almost always want to help in some way. Consider ways that even a few minutes per day of a friend’s time could be good for you.

  • If you’re struggling to get something done, and you’re about to spend hours worrying about it or frantically churning out a terrible version of it before some arbitrary deadline… well, I’ll quote the podcast:

    • Sometimes you can literally just write a one sentence email that’s like, “Hey, I’m not going to get to this for a week. I’m sorry,” and that clears the whole thing. The person writes back, “That’s totally fine,” and you don’t have to feel bad about it at all anymore. And nobody was ever upset.

Episode description

Mental illness is one of the things that most often trips up people who could otherwise enjoy flourishing careers and have a large social impact, so we think this could plausibly be one of our more valuable episodes.


We also hope that the episode will:

  1. Help people realise that they have a shot at making a difference in the future, even if they’re experiencing (or have experienced in the past) mental illness, self doubt, imposter syndrome, or other personal obstacles.

  2. Give insight into what it’s like in the head of one person with depression, anxiety, and imposter syndrome, including the specific thought patterns they experience on typical days and more extreme days. In addition to being interesting for its own sake, this might make it easier for people to understand the experiences of family members, friends, and colleagues — and know how to react more helpfully.

Several early listeners have even made specific behavioral changes due to listening to the episode — including people who generally have good mental health but were convinced it’s well worth the low cost of setting up a plan in case they have problems in the future.

So we think this episode will be valuable for:

  • People who have experienced mental health problems or might in future;

  • People who have had troubles with stress, anxiety, low mood, low self esteem, imposter syndrome and similar issues, even if their experience isn’t well described as ‘mental illness’;

  • People who have never experienced these problems but want to learn about what it’s like, so they can better relate to and assist family, friends or colleagues who do.

In other words, we think this episode could be worthwhile for almost everybody.

Just a heads up that this conversation gets pretty intense at times, and includes references to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

If you don’t want to hear or read the most intense section, you can skip the chapter called ‘Disaster’. And if you’d rather avoid almost all of these references, you could skip straight to the chapter called ‘80,000 Hours’.