Richard_Batty comments on Effective Altruism is Not a Competition - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Richard_Batty 05 January 2017 11:16:56PM *  10 points [-]

I know some effective altruists who see EAs like Holden Karnofsky or what not do incredible things, and feel a little bit of resentment at themselves and others; feeling inadequate that they can’t make such a large difference.

I think there's a belief that people often have when looking at successful people which is really harmful, the belief that "I am fundamentally not like them - not the type of person who can be successful." I've regularly had this thought, sometimes explicitly and sometimes as a hidden assumption behind other thoughts and behaviours.

It's easy to slip into believing it when you hear the bios of successful people. For example, William MacAskill's bio includes being one of the youngest associate professors of philosophy in the world, co-founder of CEA, co-founder of 80,000 Hours, and a published author. Or you can read profiles of Rhodes Scholars and come across lines like "built an electric car while in high school and an electric bicycle while in college".

When you hear these bios it's hard to imagine how these people achieved these things. Cal Newport calls this the failed simulation effect - we feel someone is impressive if we can't simulate the steps by which they achieved their success. But even if we can't immediately see the steps they're still there. They achieved their success through a series of non-magic practical actions, not because they're fundamentally a different sort of person.

So a couple of suggestions:

If you're feeling like you fundamentally can't be as successful as some of the people you admire, start by reading Cal Newport's blog post. It gives the backstory behind a particularly impressive student, showing the exact (non-magical) steps he took to achieve an impressive bio. Then, when you hear an impressive achievement, remind yourself that there is a messy practical backstory to this that you're not hearing. Maybe read full biographies of successful people to see their gradual rise. Then go work on the next little increment of your plan, because that's the only consistent way anyone gets success.

If you're a person others look up to as successful, start communicating some of the details of how you achieved what you did. Show the practicalities, not just the flashy bio-worthy outcomes.