Already during the first month at LSE, there is naturally a lot of talk about careers. After all the “where are you from’s”, the “what are you doing after LSE”-questions stand next in line. Some have a clear idea about where they are going, others (like myself) need a little outside help to light up the next step of the path. On Saturday, I got invited to an LSE event called “80,000 hours“, an organisation working with two research groups at the University of Oxford. It changed my career approach.
The idea is that your career will approximately entail 80,000 hours. 40 hours a week for 40 years. Deciding on where to spend those hours are often coupled with the questions of where we can be sufficiently challenged, what our passion is, where we can get the economic safety of handling a future housing mortgage (in the middle of London…) and so on. According to 80,000 hours, we should be turning it around and asking ourselves where our hours have the potential of doing most good.
A very good example coming from the workshop was the idea of Superman as the potentially worst Superhero of them all. Why? He can fly faster than a speeding bullet. He is more powerful than a locomotive. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound. And – he choses to fight one crime at a time. Not the best way to use his 80,000 hours. The question put on the table was: “what if he had spent his powers giving vaccinations against malaria?”.
I want, in short, to share parts of the strategy with you here, and I urge all of you to use the tools provided by 80,000 hours. If you want to figure out where your career would have the highest impact, you could start by going through the following steps:
1. Find the most pressing problems
This can be done by asking yourself which areas are being systematically neglected, whether the problem of large scale and whether it’s solvable.
2. Match the problems with your passion and your capabilities
Do you want to do the research? Can you make the best policies? Should you do activism? Can you improve developing economies through technological innovations? Do you have the possibility to become a millionaire, and then donate half of your income to organisations who can more than what you can?
3. Figure out what skills you need to build
To actually end up having a high-impact career, it requires hard work. When you have figured out which problem you want to help to solve, work on the skills that can get you as far as possible. Do you need quantitative skills to do the right research; should you join a society that teaches you how to negotiate – the list goes on and on. If you are unsure about something, for instance if you can handle the mathematics of a certain field, ask someone. Try it out!
Per Fugelli, a Norwegian philosopher once said: “We live in the most peaceful seconds in history, on the safest part of the planet”. If we think a little differently, we can make this the case for a lot more people both today and tomorrow, one hour at a time.