Discovering 80,000 Hours

Michelle Child
Jul 13, 2017 · 4 min read

Recently I had a work call that really upset me, and that hasn’t happened in a long time. For two reasons: I’m usually pretty good about taking criticism of my work, and truthfully, it’s been a while since I cared about a project enough to become emotionally invested.

^ My lack of emotional investment in work is definitely the larger issue here. As I reflected on why the call made me upset, it was easy to see that it was just the tip of the iceberg. The Franz Ferdinand of my most recent breakdown.

Also, in full disclosure I was really hungry and that call went 30 minutes over.

I took a drive, stopped at a local spot to get a snack, and sat in the parking lot with my AC blowing full force (maybe it being 95 degrees with 95% humidity affected my mood, too) and googled “job happiness”. The second hit (P.S. way to go on SEO!) was a site called 80,000 Hours, and 12 hours later their career guide is still blowing my mind.

Some Background

Note — this is long and rambling and mostly for me. Skip down if you just want to read about 80,000 hours.

To give a quick synopsis of my career, I left college with a earnest desire to make a difference in the world. I knew I needed to be helping people, or “doing good”, to feel like I was doing something worthwhile. I joined AmeriCorps, and moved to South Carolina to work at a small nonprofit that focused on healthy eating and active living in the community.

The goals were great, but the work became mundane. Granted I was 22 and earning 10k a year (living on the poverty line is part of Americorps), so I don’t think they gave me a ton of responsibility. But mostly I hated going to work in an office from 9 to 5 everyday. Once I called off work so I could work at home.

When my year was up, I moved to France for 6 months to teach English and actually put my French degree to use. I wish I could say this was the most enlightening, best time of my life, but it was actually incredibly lonely and difficult. I learned my limits, I guess you could say that.

This illustration by Mari Andrew really hits home for me… sometimes the “discomfort zone” is not always where I want/should to strive to be.

I moved home, worked as a server (and LOVED it, still haven’t figured that one out completely), and chose my next move — a 3 month intensive course in web design. It seemed like everything I liked about my other jobs, as a job.

Fast forward three years…

And it mostly is! It’s perfect blend of organization and aesthetics for my visual mind, and I think I’m pretty good at it.

After I finished the course a colleague recommended me for a job with her at a large insurance company: sooo not my cup of tea. However, I knew I’d have to make some sacrifices to get experience and — this was the kicker — I could work remotely 4 days a week. Working remotely is my jam. I hope and pray I never go back to a cubicle.

I had a great boss and learned a ton about what it means to be a designer. I even followed him to a new company last year, where we were the first designer/developers they’ve ever hired. I work remotely 100% of the time, they’re flexible, the pay is really good, I have insurance, I have a shitty vacation policy but that’s not the worst when you work remote, I have what so many people would kill to have. But my job is making me so very unhappy.

I’ve lost my sense of doing good in the world.

I’ve gotten attached to job stability and making a good paycheck and I’ve lost my connection to making the world a better place. This seems like a good time to just quit! Go find something that makes a difference. But I’m not 22 anymore and it all seems a bit more complicated.

Enter 80,000 hours.

It’s a company that “want[s] to help everyone in the world have a big social impact in their career [with a] focus on giving advice to talented and ambitious graduates in their twenties.”

They have a 12 step career guide that’s grounded in decades of research around job satisfaction and happiness. They focus on giving (your money, your skills, your time) but they also focus on several other ingredients that are needed to obtain a “dream job”:

  • Work that is engaging
  • Work that helps others
  • Work you’re good at
  • Work with supportive colleagues
  • Lack of negatives (unfair pay, long hours, long commute, job insecurity)
  • Work that fits in with the rest of your life.

In work that is engaging, they describe this as entering a state of flow, which I love. I learned about this concept first when watching a video (I think it was how to use jekyll?) by Travis Neilson:

I think we’re all looking for this, and it’s harder than it seems.

It is so exciting to read this guide (currently on part 5 of 12). I’ve always known I need to be ‘doing good’ to feel satisfied in my job, and I’ve still managed to get away from that in my short career span.

I don’t really know where my recent exploration will lead or what move to make next, but I can’t stay where I am, so I’ll keep going.

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