How to pick a career that counts

I really like being a journalist; it’s one of the few jobs where you’re actively encouraged to call up people who are experts in their fields and ask them anything you want, which is an incredible privilege.

And I get to write about topics I think are really important, like why I think more people ought to consider donating their kidney. If I’m lucky, that writing has a real-world impact — more people actually do donate their kidneys, for instance, or donate to effective charities.

But I still wonder at times if I’m doing what I should be doing, or if there’s another career where I could do more.

Maybe I ought to directly work for a charity saving people from malaria or distributing deworming pills, rather than just writing about other people doing that.

Maybe I should become an economist and help evaluate and design even more effective interventions.

Maybe I ought to go to law school and join Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner’s office, to help dismantle mass incarceration.

Maybe I should become a mortician and try to spread greener cremation methods. (This is an actual thing my girlfriend had to talk me out of doing.)

On the final episode of the Future Perfect podcast’s first season, Byrd Pinkerton and I talk to a few people who’ve thought really seriously about how to pick a career where you can do the most good possible. We talk to the couple Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman, who’ve been grappling with ethical career choice since they started dating in college, and made a bunch of fascinating career moves along the way. They’ve thought really hard about this issue, and they’re still thinking it through, trying to reach an optimal path for each partner.

And we check in with the career advising group 80,000 Hours — named after the number of hours in a typical person’s career — which has done a lot of research on this question. At first, it advocated “earning to give”: taking a high-paying position in finance or tech to maximize your earnings, so you can give away more to effective charities. But it gradually came to believe that for most people, doing good directly in your career, through advocacy or research or operational support, is a better option.

I’m still thinking all this through too — though this fantastic journalism job is great for now.

Thanks for listening this season, and please continue to read Vox’s effective altruism articles at Future Perfect!

Read more

  • 80,000 Hours’ career guide
  • Jeff Kaufman’s blog, where he breaks down his and Julia Wise’s contributions
  • Julia Wise’s blog, Giving Gladly
  • Larissa MacFarquhar profiles Julia Wise in the Guardian
  • More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage

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