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Do you take a job that pays $35k a year at a non-profit trying to help alleviate poverty, or do you take a $100k job at a financial firm on Wall Street?

It’s an increasing prevalent question for those conscious of wanting to insert purpose into their careers.

With the demonization of Wall Street, it’s tough to justify “selling out” for the big paycheck and a chance to retire comfortably vs. helping those that suffer and who have had less opportunity than you, for a third the salary and the resulting difficulties in paying off those expensive student loans.

Thankfully, a movement known as effective altruism is changing the way we view this conversation.

What is effective altruism?

Effective altruism, as defined by the center for effective altruism, is “a growing social movement that combines both the heart and the head: compassion guided by data and reason.

It’s about dedicating a significant part of one’s life to improving the world and rigorously asking the question, “Of all the possible ways to make a difference, how can I make the greatest difference?”

Values such as Open-mindedness, Critical-thinking, and global empathy combined with a desire for scale, tractability and neglectfulness of the organization are all important for the effective altruist.

“…compassion guided by data and reason.”

A great place to find organizations that meet the criteria of effective altruism is Givewell, which publishes a list of top charities as well as their reasoning.

80,000 hours and the giving pledge

So how does effective altruism fit into your career? It comes down to basic math.

If you take the $35k/year job, then your impact will likely be limited to those you can impact within or through your organization. This is not something to underestimate but if you take the $100k/year job then you have up to $65k/year in giving power (ignoring taxes).

In fact, if the organization is based in a developing country, then that contribution could lead to 4 or 5 or even 10 jobs. That’s incredibly more effective than working yourself, as one person, for an organization.

When you combine that $65k with the scientific rigor that goes into evaluating the impact of its services (such as Givewell), then you can estimate your impact.

There are two organizations that can help you in mapping out your career and deciding how much to give.

One is 80,000 hours which exists to “…give you the information you need to find a fulfilling, high-impact career.” 80,000 hours provides research, content, coaching,  and access to a community of other effective altruists.

The other is The Life You Can Save which provides a calculator to determine what percentage of your income you should give and an impact calculator that can help you determine the impact of your donation. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer for The Life You Can Save)

The power of purpose

Having a purpose in your career is incredibly empowering.

Psychologically, it is a huge boon. When you have a purpose in your life you look forward to the day, ready to achieve. You are focused and organized in your pursuit. These can lead to increases in productivity which in turn can lead to greater accomplishment and happiness. The effect then builds on itself.

But it is not just a boon, it can serve as a preventative measure against the daily variance in life. Being able to look to your purpose can help with the inevitable downs that come in life that can leave you vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

All of these benefits will likely lead to more consistency in work and thus, give you more opportunities to find success in your career.

You don’t have to donate $65,000 of your $100k job to make a difference, $5k will do the job. It’s certainly more then you would likely be able to donate with the $35k/year job.

If you’ve got other questions there is a great FAQ on effective altruism and with that, I’ll leave you with Peter Singer’s TED talk on Effective Altruism.

How do you find effective altruism? If you had to choose between a job that pays $35k a year at a non-profit or a $100k job at a financial firm on Wall Street, which one would you pick and why? 

Let me know in the comment section below.

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