I recently received a message from someone who had watched this video and then gone on to read some of my posts. He explained how he felt his personality is similar to mine and asked specifically about career advice – what kind of career might suit someone like him?
As it turns out, I’d thought about this question before, and not just with regard to personalities similar to my own. Societally and individually we are in a time of extreme uncertainty about the future, especially when it comes to economic prospects. Many traditional career paths are quickly becoming unreliable, or have already disappeared. All industries, at some level or another, are being eaten by technology.
What’s more, university education is increasingly a poor choice compared to the available alternatives, especially if the cost is high. The quality of higher education may be declining in absolute terms, with ideological groupthink pervasive in academia. The value of a degree, especially in non-STEM fields, is declining.
It’s difficult to know what to do in times like these, especially as a young person deciding on a career trajectory. I don’t claim to have the answer, but I do have some ideas and recommendations. This video explains my thinking as I thought it might be helpful to other people as well.
Below is a summary of the points discussed in the video.
Acquire skills and knowledge that are likely to be useful in the most number of potential future scenarios
You can imagine the future as a range of potential scenarios, existing on a spectrum of how likely vs. unlikely they are to come to pass. Thus, when thinking about skill building or knowledge acquisition, it makes sense to focus on those that are likely to serve you well in the most number (and most likely) potential future scenarios.
The first example of an activity that I think is highly likely to pay off in the future is learning to program computers, because it is almost impossible to imagine a future where it is worse to be more competent with technology than better. The second example is building an online platform/audience, whether through one’s own website, social media, YouTube, or a podcast. Here again it is almost impossible to imagine a future where having reach, influence and/or connections is not valuable in some way.
Understand & use “skill stacking”
Skill stacking is a concept I learned from Scott Adams’ book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, reviewed in more detail in this post. The basic idea is that there are two strategies for success. The first is to attempt to become the very best in a highly specialized area – say, top 1% or 0.1%. This is difficult as it’s likely highly competitive, and unless you happen to be extremely gifted in this area, chances of success are low.
The alternative is what Scott Adams calls “skill stacking”. Skill stacking is where you become at least competent, or maybe above average, at a range of skills and abilities that are valuable in their own right, but also support one another. You “stack” you skills together so that they reinforce one another and ultimately make you a more able, adaptable and successful person. This can be done with both soft and hard skills.
Check out 80,000 Hours
80,000 Hours is an organization that provides free research findings and guidance on career choices. It is the highest quality resource I’ve come across on this topic, and I wish I’d known about it when I was younger! 80,000 Hours exists under the umbrella organization Effective Altruism, which is based around the idea of using reason and evidence to do the most possible good. The theme of doing good and making a positive impact with one’s career underlies 80,000 Hours’ material.
There may be some things mentioned in the video that weren’t included here, so go ahead and watch that if you want all the information. I hope that’s helpful and good luck!