Holden Karnofsky's aptitudes framework has been one of my favorite ways to think about career decisions.

For the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative (SERI) conference, I led a career aptitude reflection exercise. It was targeted at students and early-career folks interested in longtermism. The goal is to make thinking about career aptitudes more interactive and get people applying the aptitudes framework to their own lives/careers.

It takes about 45-60 minutes. You can access the Google Doc version or see the text below.

Feel free to leave feedback in the comments section. I may run similar exercises in the future.

Career Aptitudes Reflection Exercise 


  • The purpose of this exercise is to help you reflect on career aptitudes that may be valuable to reduce existential risk.
  • This exercise is loosely inspired by this post by Holden Karnofsky. Holden describes career aptitudes (e.g., helping organizations achieve their goals; communicating existing ideas to new audiences).
  • I highly recommend that you read it at some point. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important readings for early-career longtermists.


  • You should go at your own pace. The time markers are suggestions, not obligations. It might be more valuable for you to spend 15 mins on one question and 2 mins on another. Do whatever is most valuable for you.

What success looks like

  • Reflecting on your career is really hard. You are not going to be done thinking about your career after one hour of reflecting.
  • A few examples of “success cases”
    • You dig into a problem in longtermism that you haven’t dug into before.
    • You reflect on a few aptitudes you have, and you have a slightly better view of why they might be important.
    • You end up noticing a few assumptions that you were implicitly making about your career.
    • You identify new questions and confusions to explore.

Part 1: What are the problems, and how will we solve them?

Note: This is really hard. And we’re only spending 10 minutes on it. It’s OK if you’re confused. If you’re confused, try to keep going.

What do you see as the most important problems that the longtermist community will need to address in order to reduce existential risk? (5 mins)

Try to be specific– e.g., instead of “AI safety”, articulate a sub-problem within AI safety.

Imagine a world in which one or more of these problems were solved. Which aptitudes/skills were needed to solve these problems? (5 mins)

Imagine that these problems are solved. What happened? Who was essential in solving this problem? What kinds of skills and abilities did they have? 

Part 2: Who do you want to become?

Imagine a skilled-up version of yourself in 5 years. What skills does this version of yourself have? (5 mins)

Be ambitious! Imagine a super version of yourself that actually has the skills/aptitudes/ideas that are useful in meaningfully reducing existential risk.

Imagine a genie gave you all of the skills and aptitudes that you just listed. But you can’t get any more. Why aren’t you fully satisfied? What skills are you missing? (5 mins)

This prompt is meant to help you consider skills/aptitudes that may not appear at first glance.

Part 3: Where are you right now?

What skills or aptitudes do you currently possess? What are some things that you’re excellent at (or could become excellent at)? (5 mins)

Don’t be humble! If you really tried, what are some things that you might be able to become really excellent at? 

Part 4: What’s next?

Which skills or aptitudes do you most want to develop? Why? (5 mins)

This might involve becoming even better at something that’s already a strength of yours. Or it might involve investing time into something that isn’t currently a strength of yours. 

What are some cheap/quick ways you can try to develop or test some of these aptitudes? (5 mins)

Try to think of things you could reasonably do over the next few weeks.

Who are other people who have successfully developed and applied the aptitudes you hope to develop? Is there anyone you can reach out to for advice? (5 mins)

Try to think about people who you would realistically reach out to and feel comfortable asking for advice. 


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:50 AM

I really, really like this approach! I like how this exercise doesn’t box in your thinking - rather, it is a very simple and plain “What do you want to do, now how do you get there?" reflection. It leaves a lot of room for imagination, creativity, and interpretation that will differ based on how you imagine solving your specific cause area.