The GiveWell Blog

What’s in it for me

Today is my first day of working full-time for the Clear Fund. (Technically, since payroll doesn’t start until June, it’s my first day of unemployment.)

It’s easy to talk about ditching money for meaning, not so easy to do it. And there’s a lot more I’ve walked away from than money. The job situation I’ve left is one that anyone would be lucky to have. I was well treated and well paid. I was surrounded by intelligent and capable people whom I respect. I largely set my own career path. I was challenged, but at the same time I basically had no worries of any kind.

And, I don’t think that what I was doing was without value to society. Hedge funds help move capital to where it will be most productive. Like any other business, they create wealth that can be approximated by looking at their net profits. And any of that wealth that ends up in my pocket can be donated to the charity of my choice.

But I think that I will be way more valuable to the world working for the Clear Fund. My exact analysis of this is a little tangential, so I’ll spill it out another time (or in a comment if someone asks). Briefly, I think that the “pipes” translating wealth into a better world are broken, and that working on those pipes is a more valuable use of my time and talents than generating more wealth to funnel into them.

And that’s what drives my decision. I think being valuable to the world is an incredible desirable thing, in itself. It’s not the only thing I want, but it’s really, really desirable. (I don’t understand people whose goal is to earn so much money that they can be useless for the rest of their lives. Is watching TV all day so awesome that it makes up for having no value? Have I been watching the wrong shows or something?) The more valuable my work is, the more passionate I’ll be about it, the more I’ll enjoy it, the better I’ll do it, and the more my life will be worth living.

This isn’t about leaving a job because it’s boring or bad or makes me feel empty (none of those things applies). This is about leaving a job I like quite a bit for a mission that I’m passionately in love with. Nobody would argue with me about this if we were talking about women instead of jobs … well, my job takes up more of my waking hours than any woman ever will, and having an equally high standard seems appropriate.

Think about how weird it would be if a million dollars in cash were sitting on the sidewalk and everyone was ignoring it. That’s how I feel about the fact that no one else wants to start the world’s first transparent grantmaker.

A few people are incredulous that I’d be so crazy as to voluntarily take a large cut in pay and general security. It’s certainly true we might fail in our mission, and if that happens this will have been a bad move. But if we succeed, people will look back at my decision and be incredulous about something else: that such a tremendous opportunity to be valuable to the world was just sitting there, ready for the taking.

Here goes.


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