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Hi everyone!! I recently read a piece on “decision documents”, in which you write out all the relevant points about an important decision you are making, and then ask others for advice - and realized this is exactly what I need! I think getting insight that helps me better make a career decision I am facing could significantly improve the positive impact I have on the world.

I am highly uncertain what career path I should choose right now and am seeking advice. I have thought about this a lot because it is an extremely important decision and I want to feel like I did everything possible to make the best choice. I would like feedback on what jumps out as the most persuasive arguments for either choice, as well as any holes in my logic or anything I am missing. I would also appreciate advice from people with relevant experience or information on these paths.

The TL;DR, I currently live in Los Angeles and am trying to figure out if I should stay here, get a Master of Social Entrepreneurship degree at USC, and feel a little more confident and prepared

or

Move to the San Francisco Bay Area, go directly into working, saving money, and doing work that has a positive impact

More detail:

I am currently living in Los Angeles and considering starting a Master of Social Entrepreneurship degree at the University of Southern California that is 30 credits and can be completed in 1 or 2 years. I originally came for a Master of Social Work program but did not feel like a good fit so dropped out of that program and transferred to the Social Entrepreneurship program which starts in June.

On the other hand I could move to the San Francisco Bay Area, probably Berkeley, and expand a Turo car-sharing business (car rental, like Air BnB for cars) to make around $50,000 a year for 10 hours of work per week, $100,000 a year for 20 hours of work per week, $150,000 a year for 30 hours if work per week, etc. over the next 5 years. I may also be able to hire independent contractors to do most of the rental work for me.

While in the bay area I would also do either 1. Community building work in the Effective Altruism movement in Berkeley, Stanford, and San Francisco 2. Entrepreneurship related to Effective Altruism or social entrepreneurship, especially a “Hybrid Market” (will expand on this later) 3. Research broad approaches to improving the longterm future and create a broad longtermism fellowship 4. Create blog/video/podcast content promoting and advancing the Effective Altruism movement, or 5. Some combination of these

My Current Thinking

Bay Area Entrepreneurship

I am currently leaning toward Turo and Effective Altruism in the Bay Area for a few reasons.

First, for the last few years I have felt like my biggest bottleneck to improving my personal life and focusing all my energy on having a massive positive impact on the world is financial constraints. I have been whiplashed between various situations due to not being able to make enough money, severely constraining my productivity. With this car-sharing opportunity which I recently discovered, there is a high probability I could make enough money to retire within 5 years, without overworking myself. It I do not pursue the opportunity now, there is some chance it could diminish in the next few years as more people learn about it, though it has been around for many years already.

Furthermore, this option may be better for directly having impact because I could research and learn about exactly what will help me achieve my impact goals, and “learn by doing” to quickly figure out how to have a very large impact. In general I think entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are better learned by doing than by attending school, and I have already spent a decent amount of time reading over a hundred business and social entrepreneurship books.

Finally, I feel I would make much better connections in the Bay Area because there is a much, much larger effective altruism community, and in general I think I fit in with the Bay Area culture much better in multiple ways. I have not lived in the Bay Area, but after living in Los Angeles for a year it is one of my least favorite cities I’ve lived in, so feel I would likely be happier living there. Making better connections includes personal connections, in particular dating is an extremely important consideration right now, I am 29, far too long single, and feel a strong desire to date women who share common interests, and this seems more likely in the Bay Area.

On the downside, I am not particularly passionate about nor enjoy car-sharing. It feels like a slight waste of time, except for making money and building some entrepreneurial skills. More importantly, there is a significant chance the market may change, or cars may become much cheaper, and I may only make half as much money, or in the worst case scenario even make no money and trash my credit score. I would give both of these a 10% chance. I have no savings at risk of loss, so if something bad happens I would just have to declare bankruptcy and could walk away from the business with no net loss.

Los Angeles Social Entrepreneurship Degree

On the other hand, I have dreamed of being a social entrepreneur for the past 6 years, and learning about social entrepreneurship was a major paradigm shift for me. I also idealize having a Master’s degree. When I picture myself as someone who has a Master’s of Social Entrepreneurship degree from a relatively prestigious university, I feel some yearning for this self-image, and I feel very sad thinking that I wouldn’t ever achieve this. It is hard to imagine giving up this opportunity.

Furthermore, my top idea for impact may be slightly supported by getting this degree. The idea is researching and creating/promoting a hybrid social stock market that measures financial and social/environmental impact, taxing negative impact and subsidizing positive impact for all organizations, for-profit and non-profit. I predict that such a system, if successful in replacing capitalism, could make the entire $100 trillion global financial/public/philanthropic system perhaps 2 to 10 times more efficient and greatly enhance global coordination, overshadowing almost any other altruistic pursuit by many orders of magnitude. I have already designed an idealized version of this system. While highly unlikely to succeed due to the extreme difficulty level of this project, because of the extremely high potential upside it still has very high expected value.

The Social Entrepreneurship program would help me to learn a large amount of information relevant to this goal. Arguably, perhaps only 30-50% of what I would learn in school would be relevant, and I could instead, at least in theory, learn closer to 100% relevant information about this Hybrid Market by researching it and working on it directly. The challenge here is that I may have difficulty focusing in the same way I could in school, since in school the curriculum is very well regimented and incentivized, while researching on my own I may get distracted. Overall, I think it may be slightly easier and more likely I would successfully pursue the hybrid market goal if I go to school, though this would also mean direct work on it may be delayed a year or two.

On the other hand, if I pursue the hybrid market directly for a few months in the Bay Area, there is some chance I would realize it is not a feasible path or a good fit for me, and this would allow me to switch directions must faster if necessary.

If I stay in LA I could also participate in my local USC and UCLA effective altruism groups, which are not as robust as those in the Bay Area, but still hold some appeal as options. Another factor is that although I’ve been extremely interested in utilitarianism, longtermism, and other EA ideas for a very long time, and so felt instantly aligned and elated when I learned about it, I only started learning about the actual Effective Altruism movement about 4 months ago, and it may be nice to learn more about effective altruism before “stepping into the big leagues” so to speak.

Another factor here is that I detest authority and so am not a big fan of school in general, I feel some dread about it, I somewhat prefer car-sharing entrepreneurship in the Bay Area due to the freedom element of entrepreneurship .

I do not think the master of social entrepreneurship degree itself will be highly valuable, but it might make me feel somewhat more confident and be appealing to some employers. Of course, if I did car-sharing, made money, and then could retire (to focus on altruistic pursuits), I wouldn’t ever have to worry about employers again so on this front car-sharing is probably actually preferable.

I do somewhat like the Social Entrepreneurship community and would enjoy getting to know and become friends with my school cohort, though probably not nearly as much as the Effective Altruism Community in the Bay Area.

Other Options

I could always delay school and then come back to it in a year or two, but I think it unlikely I would want to come back to Los Angeles after leaving, especially since I already feel a little old for and unenthusiastic about school. Sometimes I think I am only holding onto school as an option due to loss aversion and feeling like I’m giving up a clearly good opportunity, versus things in the Bay Area which feel much more uncertain and risky. This would also be the third time I dropped a Master’s program, so I feel hesitant because I fear making the wrong choice again.

On the other hand, I could rush through school and finish the degree in one year, then move to the Bay Area. One year wouldn’t be too long, and may even allow car prices to come down, making car-sharing less risky. If/when car prices drop by 25%, it would erase all my profits from the first year anyways. However, I am relatively uncertain when or how fast car prices will come down, so waiting a year may be a waste.

Another option is that I could drag school out for two years (a large majority of students in the program actually do two years and this is recommended) and during that time do some of the other Effective Altruism projects I was planning to do in the Bay Area. There’s no reason I couldn’t do this in principle, but I feel it’s unlikely I will be able to focus fully on these projects and school at the same time, and I think I would be more likely to do them successfully in the Bay Area where there are many highly ambitious and talented peers and potential collaborators doing similar projects - though possibly with the exception of the hybrid market, which might be slightly more supported by the environment of being in school for social entrepreneurship.

Conclusion

To sum up, on the one hand I would like to do Turo Car-Sharing in the San Francisco Bay Area because I could probably quickly make enough money to allow me to retire and focus the rest of my career on creating positive impact. I think I would find better connections there which would be good for my personal dating life and for having maximum positive impact on Effective Altruism projects.

On the other hand, if I do my Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship degree I would probably enjoy it somewhat, learn some skills that would help create a Hybrid Market, would have some time to learn a little more about Effective Altruism, and could probably still move to the Bay Area and do the other plan a year or two later. I would feel a little better about myself and more prepared and confident after doing the degree. I am not as highly enthusiastic about this path but think it has some merit and I may feel some regret not taking it.

My Ask

My main question and uncertainty I am trying to answer is whether staying here, doing the degree, and getting a little more prepared, is worth more than the opportunity cost of going to the Bay Area now and taking more concrete - though also more risky - action on moving my life forward.

I really, really appreciate any thoughts, feedback or ideas on this!!! What is your first overall impression and intuition? Any clarifying questions for me? Anything I’m missing? What would you advise me to do?

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:58 AM
New Comment

It's flattering to see that this was in part prompted by my post! 

Without trying to lean too hard into this tweet, I do actually think it might be worth linking to a googledoc version of this piece which has comment access enabled. Being able to comment on specific parts to ask for clarification and/or to respond to others, is pretty useful, especially for something that's more than a few paragraphs long.

Thanks, I don’t think I fully appreciated the importance of that. Just updated it above, and will share that version with others!

Great work writing this up and putting it out there for feedback! I think it's always difficult to give much of a view as an outsider, but it sounds to me like you've been feeling insecure for a while due to lack of savings, and so taking a paying job sounds like a good idea. It seems like you're not actually keen on doing a masters, and it doesn't seem obvious you need one to do what you're aiming for. So deciding against doing one sounds very reasonable to me. Both your options sound good though!

Thank you so much Michelle, this reflection is really useful. It feels like a reflection of what I already know, and yet having it reflected back from the outside is very helpful, makes it feel more real and clear somehow. Much appreciated!!

Thanks Jordan. I wanted to pick up on the Turo element. You mention that this is something you only recently stumbled across, and it doesn't sound like you have prior experience or training in this area, and that you aren't especially passionate about it. You also say that you could make $200k a year on it working a 40 hour week. Where did you get these figures? There aren't many opportunities you can go into without experience and start earning $200k a year.

It may be possible, but I'd suggest it's a high bar to reach as such opportunities are rare, so I'd be interested to see more analysis here. You also mention risks, and it doesn't look like these are gone into in great deal. So I would really look for some maximally rational analysis on this aspect first.

Obvious point might be too obvious to say, but have you applied for 80k advising?