This is a linkpost for Know what you're optimising for, a piece that I wrote for the 80,000 hours blog, collecting a group of ideas I've found myself often discussing in 1-on-1 careers calls. The post has some formatting which doesn't translate well to the forum so I haven't copied the entire text over, though I would value comments, thoughts, and feedback from EA forum users, and this post seems like a reasonable place to put them. I didn't want to just have a bunch of italic text and a link though, so below is a small extract which I think gives a good sense of my motivation for the overall piece:

There’s a difference between doing things that are somewhat correlated with things you want (or even doing things that you expect to lead to things you want), and trying really unusually hard to actually get what you want. Sometimes working out what you actually want can be really hard — for many, working out what one ultimately values can be a lifetime’s work. However, I’ve been frequently surprised, during my time as an advisor, by how often it’s been sufficient to just ask:

It looks like you’re trying to achieve X here. Is X really the thing you want?

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There’s a difference between doing things that are somewhat correlated with things you want (or even doing things that you expect to lead to things you want), and trying really unusually hard to actually get what you want.

To me there's some resonance between this and the CFAR technique of "turbocharging" (see CFAR Handbook pages 192-200, especially page 196). One quote from there:

Always be wary of advice that you should do activity A “because it will make you good at activity B.” Sometimes this is actually true, but more often than not, it’s wasted motion.

Thanks for the tip! I haven't read it but having taken a quick look now at the maths education example (particularly enticing given my background), I agree that this seems closely related. Many of the ideas I have around things like this were partially formed in response to examples extremely like that one.