A response to: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/M5GoKkWtBKEGMCFHn/what-s-the-theory-of-change-of-come-to-the-bay-over-the 

For people who consider taking or end up taking this advice, some things I'd say if we were having a 1:1 coffee about it:

  • Being away from home is by its nature intense, this community and the philosophy is intense, and some social dynamics here are unusual, I want you to go in with some sense of the landscape so you can make informed decisions about how to engage.
  • The culture here is full of energy and ambition and truth telling. That's really awesome, but it can be a tricky adjustment. In some spaces, you'll hear a lot of frank discussion of talent and fit (e.g. people might dissuade you from starting a project not because the project is a bad idea but because they don't think you're a good fit for it). Grounding in your own self worth (and your own inside views) will probably be really important.
  • People both are and seem really smart. It's easy to just believe them when they say things. Remember to flag for yourself things you've just heard versus things you've discussed at length  vs things you've really thought about yourself. Try to ask questions about the gears of people's models, ask for credences and cruxes.  Remember that people disagree, including about very big questions. Notice the difference between people's offhand hot takes and their areas of expertise. We want you to be someone who can disagree with high status people, who can think for themselves, who is in touch with reality.
  • I'd recommend staying grounded with friends/connections/family outside the EA space. Making friends over the summer is great, and some of them may be deep connections you can rely on, but as with all new friends and people, you don't have as much evidence about how those connections will develop over time or with any shifts in your relationships or situations. It's easy to get really attached and connected to people in the new space, and that might be great, but I'd keep track of your level of emotional dependency on them.
  • We use the word "community" but I wouldn't go in assuming that if you come on your own you'll find a waiting, welcoming pre -made social scene, or that people will have the capacity to proactively take you under their wing, look out for you and your well being, especially if there are lots of people in a similar boat. I don't want you to feel like you've been promised anything in particular here. That might be up to you to make for yourself.
  • One thing that's intense is the way that the personal and professional networks overlap, so keep that in mind as you think about how you might keep your head on straight and what support you might need if your job situation changes, you have a bad roommate experience, you date and break up with someone (maybe get a friend's take on the EV of casual hookups or dating during this intense time, given that the emotional effects might last a while and play out in your professional life - you know yourself best and how that might play out for you).
  • This might be a good place to flag that just because people are EAs doesn't mean they're automatically nice or trustworthy, pay attention to your own sense of how to interact with strangers.
  • I'd recommend reading this post on power dynamics in EA.
  • Read CS Lewis 's The Inner Ring
  • Feeling lonely or ungrounded or uncertain is normal. There is lots of discussion on the forum about people feeling this way and what they've done about it. There is an EA peer support Facebook group where you can post anonymously if you want. If you're in more need than that, you can contact Julia Wise or Catherine Low on the community health team.
  • As per my other comment, some of this networking is constrained by capacity. Similarly, I wouldn't go in assuming you'll find a mentor or office space or all the networking you want. By all means ask, but also also give affordance for people to say no, respect their time and professional spaces and norms. Given the capacity constraints, I wouldn't be surprised if weird status or competitive dynamics formed, even within people in a similar cohort. That can be hard.
  • Status stuff in general is likely to come up; there's just a ton of the ingredients for feeling like you need to be in the room with the shiniest people and impress them. That seems really hard; be gentle with yourself if it comes up. On the other hand, that would be great to avoid, which I think happens via emotional grounding, cultivating the ability to figure out what you believe even if high status people disagree and keeping your eye on the ball.
  • This comment and this post and even many other things you can read are not all the possible information, this is a community with illegibility like any other, people all theoretically interacting with the same space might have really different experiences. See what ways of navigating it work for you, if you're unsure, treat it as an experiment.
  • Keep your eye on the ball. Remember that the goal is to make incredible things happen and help save the world. Keep in touch with your actual goals, maybe by making a plan in advance of what a great time in the Bay would like, what would count as a success and what wouldn't. Maybe ask friends to check in with you about how that's going.
  • My guess is that having or finding projects and working hard on them or on developing skills will be a better bet for happiness and impact than a more "just hang around and network" approach (unless you approach that as a project - trying to create and develop models of community building, testing hypotheses empirically, etc). If you find that you're not skilling up as much as you'd like, or not getting out of the Bay what you'd hoped, figure out where your impact lies and do that. If you find that the Bay has social dynamics and norms that are making you unhappy and it's limiting your ability to work, take care of yourself and safeguard the impact you'll have over the course of your life.

We all want (I claim) EA to be a high trust, truth-seeking, impact-oriented professional community and social space. Help it be those things. Blurt truth (but be mostly nice), have integrity, try to avoid status and social games, make shit happen.

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:53 AM

This seems like a really good post. It's compact, honest, and clueful to a lot of social realities. It is aware of many offsetting considerations and presents these appropriate way. The post must also have been easier to write than a longer, more ornate post.