Replaceability — Can someone else easily step in?
To be as effective as possible, you should consider the specific nature of the job you would be doing, and how much better you could perform than the worker who might replace you. If there are many people competing for your chosen field, (veterinary care for instance), someone else likely could fill your potential role and perform in a similar manner if you decided not to pursue that field.
On the other hand, if you worked toward a profession that generates a high income (but doesn’t directly support animal welfare) and planned to donate much of that income, then you become less replaceable in the overall good that you would accomplish. It is important to consider though, that some organizations or projects that you donate to might have replaceability issues themselves, which would compromise your effectiveness.
Working for a Non-Profit: Due to low salaries that often accompany non-profit positions, along with the fact that employers are drawing from a smaller pool of potential employees (i.e., the people who care about a specific issue), the talent level is simply not as high as in the for-profit sector. Non-profits need high-quality workers just as much as any other field, but they simply don’t have the same selection. As such, if you are a potentially high-performing individual, it’s entirely possible that you will not be especially replaceable in the non-profit position, as compared to the person who could be hired in your place.
It’s important to realize that doing something overtly “good” is not the same as making a difference.
The above examples are some possible scenarios. The labor market is very complicated, as is the charity funding landscape. Some non-profits have little trouble recruiting workers, especially in entry-level positions. Some jobs are high-paying because there are a shortage of qualified workers, and additional workers grow the size of the field instead of replacing others. Some of the charities you might donate to would have other ways of funding their operations if you did not donate, and others will not.
Opportunity Costs — What’s at stake?
Each choice you make determines not only the path you do choose to pursue, but also those you cannot pursue simultaneously. The value of the best alternative career that you pass on is the opportunity cost of the career that you do pursue. This cost is not directly paid, but it is the difference between the world as it is and the world as it otherwise could have been.
For example, let’s say you are trying to choose between either working as a manager in one of our recommended charities with a starting salary of $25,000 (this is a hypothetical number for this example and not necessarily representative of our recommended charities) or pursuing higher education to eventually become a medical doctor with a starting salary of $100,000. Your thought process is that by earning $100,000/year, you can fund several positions with annual donations to the charity in question, so you reason that the medical doctor position may produce the best overall results. This model, called earning to give, seems logical, but there are other complications to consider.
If you choose to earn to give, the charity will be losing your potential services as a manager. If you would have been an exceptionally good manager who worked particularly efficiently, this could be a substantial opportunity cost. On the other hand, if you would have been a merely average manager, this may be no opportunity cost at all, since they will hire another manager instead who is just as good as you would have been.
If instead you choose to work for the charity directly, the opportunity cost is the loss of your potential donations. The medical community also experiences some opportunity cost, in the form of the difference between you and the person who will take your place in medical school, but unless you have very unusual skills, the chances of this are small.
Opportunity costs are highly individual. Figure out the true cost by taking a careful look at your personal skills and the opportunities before you.
Some people may be so clearly cut out for particular careers that all their other options look substantially worse, leaving little opportunity cost when they pursue their best option. Others may have varied or widely applicable talents, so that even courses of action with great benefits also have significant opportunity costs.
Delays and Priority Changes — What hurtles are ahead?
The Costs of Education: If you decide to pursue that higher paying field you may need many extra years of education, and the costs can be large, both in time and money. For instance, if you decide to be a doctor, you could easily accrue $100,000 or even more in debt while spending six years learning to be an MD. During that time, you likely would not make an effective contribution to animal welfare, and even after receiving your education, you will need to spend the next few years paying off your debt.
When Plans Change: As the time frame grows to 8-10 years after your initial intention to be as effective as possible, many of your ideals may change. You may meet that special someone who wants a family. You could buy a house and need to put children through school. Your cost of living could rise, your disposable income could shrink, and your view of supporting charities could change.
That’s not to say that this would definitely happen. It’s certainly possible that you could speed through medical school with as little debt as possible, maintain your ideals, not buy a house or have children, and donate the maximum amount to charity. By thoroughly researching the expectations involved with funding your education, planning accordingly, and consciously maintaining a habit of donating and/or living below your means, you could certainly successfully progress from med student to doctor with your ideals and intentions intact.
Consider the probability of certain life-events changing your plans. If you’re not sure how you’ll act in the future, you might consider a career that allows you to begin tangibly helping animals immediately.
If you decide to pursue a non-profit career path, your immediate costs will be minimized. You won’t need to invest as much time/money in your education, and you’ll be able to immediately contribute to advancing the cause of your choice. The likelihood of following through with a high-paying course of action needs to be weighed against the effectiveness of tangibly working for your chosen cause right away to offset future uncertainty.
Potential Success — Where will you thrive?
There is no simple answer to what career choices most effectively help animals, and the above examples illustrate that it can be more complex than you might be lead to believe. One important consideration that may help to sway your decision is sustainability: in what position do you see yourself not just surviving but thriving? Choosing a more sustainable position for you individually could lead to better performance and a higher likelihood of being an effective advocate in the long-term. Choosing a career can be one of the most important decisions in your life, and can greatly impact your effectiveness as an animal advocate. For more career advice, please visit 80,000 Hours.