Trade Heroism For Grit.

by AllAmericanBreakfast1 min read6th Jun 20201 comment


"Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality--there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth--actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested." - David Foster Wallace

When I discovered the EA community, it made me feel excited, validated, and full of purpose. It also led me to change my career in order to pursue greater altruistic impact.

As time has passed, I've gotten deeper into the weeds of chemistry, calculus, and coding. I simply don't have the time to read EA posts or maintain EA community, because I'm spending so much time pursuing an EA career. These abstract subjects, and the intellectual work that will define graduate school and my career, are hard to connect with any kind of emotional thrill. It's hard, specialized work, and a great bet in the long run. But in the short run, it's either controversial or uninteresting to most people.

One of the persistent complaints about 80,000 Hours is that some people identify with its guidance, then feel disappointed when they feel it's unachievable for them. It feels like an unanswerable call to heroism.

By contrast, I think the guidance on 80,000 Hours is achievable for me, and I've already invested a lot of time and effort pursuing it. But along the way, I've had to drop the idea of having a big impact and let go of the heroic feelings.

A gritty new mantra keeps me going.

Make your homework neat, double-check everything, and turn it in on time. But have a life. Cultivate curiosity, but stay on track. You'll get distracted, but keep coming back to your work. Get into grad school. Think through the big decisions carefully, but get things done. Speed the process up where you can, but accept that it'll take many years to achieve the skills, understanding, and position you need to make a big impact. Pivot when necessary, but keep going.

These feelings of heroism are like a store-bought avocado: it's tasty, green, expensive and spoils quickly; most of it is a seed. Planting that seed and letting the tree grow so that, one day, the world can enjoy the fruits of your labor, requires the attitude not of a superhero but of a farmer. After all,

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” - Masanobu Fukuoka