You can be financially secure and impactful

You can be financially secure and impactful

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tl;dr
  • It’s reasonable to be concerned about money.
  • If you’re (reasonably) concerned about not having enough income, it may be worth developing your backup options so you can take more risk later.
  • There are lots of well-enough paid jobs that have a big impact, so look for them and don’t assume you have to be Mother Teresa to help the world.
  • Money stops being a key driver of your happiness pretty quickly (see nerdy aside below)
  • You should weigh money against other factors.
  • You don’t have to sacrifice everything to have a big impact

It’s okay to worry about money

Money matters to us, and we know it matters to you.

But it isn’t the only thing you should care about. Instead we should be explicit about how money trades off with other things you might care about, like helping the world or working with people you like.

Reach high, with a backup

To make a really big difference to the world, it is likely that you will have to take risks. You’ll have to try to do things that are really hard, or that no one else is doing. To empower yourself to be ambitious, it’s smart to have a safe fall-back.

We call this fall-back plan your crash pad. Crafting a crash pad plan which you are comfortable with would empower you to climb higher and take riskier bets, knowing that if you fall, you’ll be okay.

This is what you would do if you decide to drop out of your PhD programme, quit your job, or switch careers. Important features of this fall-back plan would be:

  • A place to live (can I move in with my parents for a while, or stay on a friend’s couch?)
  • A source of money (this could be a job you can easily pick up such as tutoring or café work, or it could be your savings, also known as a financial runway)

If your life is more expensive to maintain, or the friends couch and parents house aren’t options for you, then you should consider applying to back up options alongside the more ambitious ones you go for.

Having a crash pad enables you to feel more comfortable taking risks, allowing you to climb higher – in rock climbing, and in your career.
Having a crash pad enables you to feel more comfortable taking risks, allowing you to climb higher – in rock climbing, and in your career.

Money stops being an important driver of happiness pretty quickly

Sure, spend time working out how much money you need to be happy and secure. But making “get as rich as possible” your goal can lead to a fairly hollow, meaningless existence.

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Nerdy aside:
The evidence on income & happiness

Psychology research suggests that, though earning more money can make you happier day to day, this effect stops after you are earning around $200, 000 (or around £150, 000).

Source
Source The happiness rating on the y-axis is self-reported, and the income on the x-axis is in USD

If you want to find out more about this, check out this article. The key takeaway is that once you have a decent amount of money, more money doesn't influence your happiness as much. There are many important factors to happiness, like whether you are helping other people, or if you have developed mastery of a skill. These matter no matter how much money you make.

Doing good and making money — you can pick both

If I thought of the people who do the most good, you think of people like your Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King Jr. who dedicated their lives to make the world better, and often lived in squalor and harsh conditions. I thought you can either be really altruistic and devote your life to others, or you can achieve your financial and commercial success. - A high schooler we advised in 2022

Fortunately, there are many careers that pay very well while doing a huge amount of good.

Effective Altruist organisations are generally well funded, and want to attract people who are going to excel at what they do. If you are the right person, they don’t want you leaving for a better job elsewhere, so they make sure that you are payed competitively.

Despite this, you can’t get through life without making some tricky decisions. When deciding which degree to study, or what career to pursue, from a list of options, you’ll need to consider how much you really care about your salary, alongside other factors that you really care about.

Money isn’t everything

Doing good shouldn’t leave you bankrupt

Self-sacrifice won’t help anyone

Many people who care about helping others in their career don’t put enough weight on their own needs. They think that by worrying about making enough money to be personally happy, they aren’t thinking enough about others. The ideal person, they imagine, would only pay attention to how much good they could do in a role, not how happy it would make them.

We disagree.

The fact is, you can do a lot of good while living happily and accomplishing your personal goals; self-sacrifice is often unnecessary.

But more than that - self-sacrifice can actively undermine your long term impact. It can be tempting for some people to ignore their own needs. While this can make sense from time to time, it’s important that your do-gooding is sustainable.

How to make doing good sustainable

We recommend being honest about your personal needs, and not neglecting them. Not just the basics like sleep, eating well, and exercise, but your higher needs like esteem.

Another approach is to set boundaries, or have budgets.

Impactful careers that pay well

Many highly impactful jobs, especially within the effective-altruism aligned organisations, pay comfortably.

An extremely rough measure: we skimmed the 80,000 Hours list of high impact jobs, and the large majority of them pay >$60,000 per year, which would be enough to put you in the top 1% of income globally (source: calculator, spreadsheet).

Explicitly weigh salary against other considerations

You can often get a long way just by being explicit about your decision-making: doing your best to get your thoughts down on paper or even just explaining your reasoning to yourself aloud. At very least, both practices will reveal to you what you are most and least confident about.

Below is a template that you could use for weighing the importance of salary against other considerations. If there is another factor that matters to you as much as or more than salary, like distance from family, or good place to live, then add it in as another column.

If you should consider more than just salary, then what else is there?

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Considerations for your options
Salary

Make sure to include non-salary benefits. For example, stock options, insurance, what you can expense.

Impact

How pressing are the problem(s) this path specifically addresses compared to others, and how much will it let you contribute to solving them (by getting leverage over resources you can put toward an effective intervention)?

Personal fit

Does the job fit what you want out of life?

Are you good at it? What are your chances of outsized success in the long term? Does the role match your strengths?

Will you be sustainably motivated and happy?

Career capital

How much will this path set you up to do bigger and better things later? How transferable is what you learn to other areas? How much will you learn hard things or solve important problems? How excited are you to be with the people around you?

Other job factors

Do you like the people you’re working with? Does the job have major things that suck about it (e.g. very low pay, long commutes, too many people seeking too few jobs, very long hours)?

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Give it a try: Compare your options
Google Sheet
AirTable
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You can make a copy of this Airtable. (Bottom right of page > Copy base)

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