Less Wrong mentoring thread

post by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2011-12-29T00:10:58.774Z · score: 31 (34 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 92 comments

I just had a 17-year-old Less Wronger e-mail me for advice regarding the Thiel Fellowship after reading my application essay from last year when I was 19. We had a long instant message conversation where I gave him a lot of advice which he seemed to find highly useful (my biggest piece of advice was to start teaching himself programming using Learn Python the Hard Way, shamelessly asking for help using a pseudonym on IRC channels, forums, and Stack Overflow if he got stuck).

It seems likely that there are other Less Wrong users who still live with their parents who could benefit from life and career advice. I'm especially interested in reaching those who see reducing existential risk as a major life goal.

A related idea is for people who have some goal they want to achieve, like having a romantic relationship with someone of their preferred gender or being admitted to a prestigious graduate school, to pair up with someone who has accomplished that goal.

So if you're a young person who would like advice, an older person who would like to give advice, a person who wants to accomplish a goal, or a person who has accomplished a goal and is willing to help others accomplish that goal, consider leaving a comment on this post so you can find your counterpart.

I realize this post is a bit open ended--consider it an experiment in tapping Less Wrong's social capital in a novel fashion.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Tripitaka · 2011-12-29T12:17:55.976Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Does anyone else feel like this sort of threads/comments should be somehow better archived/presented/integrated? Threads like this are vanishing far to fast into oblivion. Low-hanging fruits of lesswrong: better "advertising" the possibilities/chances of the LW-network.

Examples include:

  • The thread where people offered listening-time to depressed people.
  • The thread with the ongoing survey for zip-codes of LWlers.
  • This mentoring-thread.
comment by curiousepic · 2011-12-29T15:29:20.848Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

If there were ever an additional category besides Main and Discussion, I would vote for some kind of "sticky" category of a limited number of posts promoted from Discussion.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-12-29T17:48:55.456Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This should be done.

comment by PhilosopherQueen · 2011-12-29T18:16:45.450Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Additionally we could have subcategories which the questions would fall under, most FAQs seem to categorize their questions to some extent, so why not here too?

As for me, I'm interested in having ideas for careers suggested. I know I want to do something energizing, something which allows one to be up and about and if possible also induce a little edginess in me. I don't know what college degree to pick though. There's so many possible degrees and jobs as well - so where does one start?

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-29T21:31:51.202Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's so many possible degrees and jobs as well - so where does one start?

I know Anna Salamon has talked and written on this subject, but I don't have a reference handy.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-30T19:23:14.152Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The quickest fix might be to just have a "sticky" tab next to Main and Discussion on the top.

Along with what the grandparent mentioned, this would also include: That month's Open Thread, and potential monthly book/media recommendations, Monthly quote thread, and other of the uber-useful non-Sequence posts.

Note: "Quickest" doesn't mean best solution. It just means something I think could be feasible for someone to actually do.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-01-30T20:11:00.059Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just came across this. It seems like nobody's taken up this idea. Perhaps these types of threads should have a link in the Special Threads section of the Wiki?

comment by EphemeralNight · 2011-12-29T13:28:14.713Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

A related idea is for people who have some goal they want to achieve, like having a romantic relationship with someone of their preferred gender

I am 22 years old, and I have never had a girlfriend. At no time in my life have I remained single by choice.

I strongly suspect that this has more to do with a general inability to form social contacts, than anything specific to forming a pair-bond. Wherever the difficulty, the goal is to meet and befriend someone with whom I can share a meaningful and lasting intimate relationship, and socializing-in-general would be no more than a means to that end.

It is likely that I have heard all the general advice on this subject, multiple times, and enacted it where applicable. Nothing in the cached wisdom has proven helpful. I am still single. And not merely single but genuinely alone without friends or associates, and starting to feel frustrated in helplessness about it.

If there's help to be had, I would be glad of it.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-29T14:15:08.736Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

A while back I had an open offer to provide suggestions to LW-ers OKC profiles. I had a lot of fun doing it, and giving some general one-on-one advice as well. The offer still stands, if more people are interested!

I'm 28 yo female. I've been involved in many kinds of relationships (married, divorced, mono, poly, serious, casual, and everything in-between), and am a former hired gun (aka professional flirt).

I'm willing to give whatever one-on-one advice that I can.

comment by EphemeralNight · 2011-12-29T19:59:21.149Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I have an OKCupid profile, but I haven't updated it in a while, since it barely averaged one view a month and I haven't gotten messaged in over a year. Even if I had the Awesomest Profile Ever I don't think it would help. Wherever the people I need to meet are, it doesn't look like they're on OKC.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-29T20:30:39.092Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

(Note: I am assuming you are a straight male from your use of "girlfriend".)

I have an OKCupid profile, but I haven't updated it in a while, since it barely averaged one view a month

There are ways to raise your view count:

  • Log in once a day- You don't have to actually do anything, but one of the search options is "Online in the last ", if you rarely log on, then you probably aren't showing up on most females' searches.

  • When you update, answer questions with explanations, add pics, etc, it pops you into people's front pages. (i.e. " just uploaded a new photo" or something)

  • View, rate, or favorite other people who are local and have a decent match rate. Personally, if I see anyone over 80% match rate has viewed me, I'll check them out. If they are less than 50% match rate and they favorite, rate or message me, it's creepy. Don't do that.

I haven't gotten messaged in over a year

I admit it isn't fair, but men are still expected to do most of the pursuing on these sites, and girls get to pick and choose. The fact that you've even gotten one message is pretty promising. It really is up to you on these sites to message a bunch of females. Sorry.

My personal experiences follow this- When I message a guy, I am almost guaranteed a response. When I message a girl it's more like 50/50. From what I hear, it's much worse for guys messaging girls. On my end, as a female I get lots of messages and such, and only respond to very few (maybe 1%).

What this means is you have to do a decent amount of work to get just one date with a girl.

Messages should be tailored to their profile, but don't spend too much time on them, since you need to get quantity out. Even more effective in getting a female to respond is to IM her: For a message, the recipient has to make a conscious decision to reply. Whereas when an IM pops up, the recipient has to make a conscious decision not to respond.

(Dark Artsish warning) Most people feel much more guilty not responding to an IM that has just popped up, than a message sitting in their inbox. They are likely to reply just to be polite. Don't push things, but if they are amenable to conversation, you've already got your foot in the door. Also, if you favorite a person, it will tell you when they are online, so you can msg them. (end Dark Arts)

If you send me your username, we can continue this conversation via PM.

comment by EphemeralNight · 2011-12-29T23:21:39.102Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, but that all pretty much falls into the category of "general advice I've heard many times before" or "stuff I already knew", including the dark arts bit.

I'm not exactly sure how to link to a specific OKC profile, there doesn't seem to be an applicable URL that I can find. In lieu of that, my username there is DarkDaydreamer. I do log in semi-regularly because of the "online in the last " thing, but the last time I edited my proflie or did more than glance at the Quiver, was at least a year ago.

The fact that you've even gotten one message is pretty promising.

I didn't know this, however (and if true, that's a bit of a self-esteem boost). But, it supports the notion that my problem lies in finding the right people in the first place; something I have had no success doing on OKC. And I would prefer not to go through a dating site anyway, if possible.

(I've been on Meetup.com a lot, but all the groups in my area are either religious-only, lesbian-only, women-only, deader than HDDVD, or about something I have absolutely no interest in. There's a really disproportionate number of those first three, too.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-29T23:46:39.646Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Responded to privately. :)

comment by MBlume · 2012-01-11T01:24:13.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if this is the right place, but I'd definitely appreciate it if you had a look at mine =)

comment by Prismattic · 2012-07-25T03:09:22.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If this offer is still open, I'm interested (provided I can count on you not to defect by linking my Lesswrong identity with my real identity). Private messaging is not working at the moment for me; perhaps it will for you.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-25T04:23:25.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

PM-ing is still down, but if you do a search for "LessWrong" on there, you should find me.

comment by atorm · 2011-12-30T18:16:33.502Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Joining the swing dancing club at my college did more for my social skills/life and romantic opportunities then any other single choice in my life. Swing dancers as a culture tend to be open, friendly, and lacking in personal space boundaries. If you have a club in your area, go to lessons and go to social dances until you start getting complimented on your dancing. Work at becoming a good dancer. I assume you have already read advice on how to make small talk, which is all you need while dancing. Once you become a proficient dancer, girls will start flirting with you. This is just a thing among swing dancers: good dancer = attractive. Provided you aren't creepy (again, I will assume you've read enough to prevent this) you will find dancers an incredibly accepting group.

Tl;dr swing dancing clubs are an excellent way to meet people without having to maintain long conversations.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-12-29T14:08:21.323Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where do you live?

comment by EphemeralNight · 2011-12-29T19:32:06.015Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Around Here.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-12-29T23:52:15.834Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

*consults Google Maps*

*reads OKC profile*

If you're poly-friendly and want to haul yourself down to Berkeley sometime after, call it January 10, and you're interested, I'll go out with you at least once. We can talk about worldbuilding and Nightwish and whatnot.

If not I could just give profile-optimizing tips. Or if so I could give profile-optimizing tips, for that matter.

comment by shminux · 2011-12-30T01:02:29.690Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Whoa, that's mentoring taken seriously!

comment by EphemeralNight · 2011-12-30T00:29:38.579Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's... quite generous of you.

I think I may want to take you up on that at some point, if the offer's serious.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-12-30T13:52:15.655Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Offer's serious ^^

comment by EphemeralNight · 2012-01-01T01:27:34.956Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, cool.

I'll definitely see about getting myself down to Berkeley after the holidays are through.

After giving it a bit of thought, I'm reasonably sure I have plenty of reasons to accept the offer and no reasons not to, even if the idea does stir up a bit of my old social timidity.

Oh, and while I'm not exactly poly myself, I'm definitely poly-friendly.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-01-01T01:46:42.960Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you inexactly poly?

comment by EphemeralNight · 2012-01-01T04:34:59.076Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW


Well, I don't actually have much experience in this area (obviously), so this is based mostly on introspection and guesswork, but I have observed in myself a distinct reluctance to split my attention among things which I feel individually merit more than cursory attention.

I don't know what this actually amounts to in practice. I suspect this means that if I had multiple girlfriends, as soon as one was clearly my primary, I would find myself inclined to neglect my relationships with the others. (Which, combined with a touch of Projection, is why I once referred to myself as "naturally monogamous"--I now think that's an oversimplification and not necessarily a good thing.). However, as I've never even had one girlfriend at a time, this is all speculation, and I'm most likely near the limits of what I can learn through introspection.

So I'm... potentially poly, verification pending? :P

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T03:39:38.385Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That was very nicely said.

Have you ever really liked a girl who was going out with a friend of yours? How jealous did you feel? That could help shed light on how poly you could be.

comment by EphemeralNight · 2012-01-02T11:32:34.268Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, that's not a concern at all.

I've never been in that exact situation, but I have been in situations where I think I would have felt jealousy if I was likely to in general, and didn't. Jealousy has never really even been an issue for me, even before I knew poly was a thing.

I would be extremely surprised if I ended up having issues with jealousy.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T11:35:01.033Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's certainly a good sign.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-12-31T01:44:33.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not complaining, but why is this upvoted so highly?

comment by EphemeralNight · 2012-01-01T01:27:26.642Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if there are enough upvotes in the world to express the value of actually taking action over merely dispensing verbal platitudes.

comment by Solvent · 2011-12-31T05:20:04.459Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Because it was quite an "awww, what a nice thing to do" deserving comment, as well as a very clever idea.

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-29T21:38:38.426Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It sounds like you're potentially of similar temperament to myself, so I'll feel free to other-optimize this once. I would suggest focusing on making friends first; it seems like the ideal person for you would be someone who would be in your circle of friends anyway. Do things that you like to do that involve other people and let your soulmate find you. Then if you've made friends but haven't found someone, now you have friends to ask for help.

comment by Alexei · 2012-01-04T05:09:02.520Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Look at this helpful website and see where you are failing.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2011-12-29T02:24:24.243Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I need a mentor from a patient person who has their shit together.

I made poor choices in college and graduated this summer with a meager GPA in an unprofitable major. I am now working a $9/hr job in food service. In the five months since I graduated I've added a significant achievement to my resume, but I've also wasted a lot of time on frivolous pleasures. I fear the comfort of living with my parents is inhibiting my drive to get a real job.

I would appreciate a mentor who could guide me through the process of finding a "real" job. (Defined as paying $30k per year, with benefits and advancement opportunity). In return, I can donate a token amount to the charity of your choice.

comment by juliawise · 2011-12-29T19:07:16.221Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I know enough to be a good mentor, but I was in your shoes four years ago. I wanted to work for a nonprofit, so I went to a temp agency. After a few three-day temp jobs, they found me a two-month job with a charity. The charity liked me and hired me at $33K a year with benefits, though I'm not sure how much . I enjoyed my time there, and I saved enough to go to grad school in something useful without taking out loans.

So, in short: tell a temp agency you want jobs in (area of your choice). Living with your parents isn't a bad idea if it lets you save money to take risks (like moving, grad school, or quitting your current job to temp at other ones.)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2011-12-29T19:21:28.053Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your comment Julia. If anyone wants to leave some drive-by advice without committing to mentorship, I'd appreciate that too.

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-29T08:50:00.543Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm past 40 and have done a few things right in my life. Already in contact with one Thiel candidate, but willing to advise more. "Mentoring", depending on the time commitment - i.e. if that doesn't entail more than some email exchanges and the occasional live conversation.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-12-30T04:48:03.636Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Great idea. But it will only happen if one or more heroes put in lots of work to make it happen.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-30T19:14:10.687Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for linking to an article that is highly relevant to me right now.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-29T22:22:06.520Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds cool to me. I'm an 18 year old guy, and I've made some incredibly poor choices throughout high school. Since I spent most of my early high school days in a depressive funk, I had a very low GPA and almost no social life whatsoever. I wish I could say that I picked up my GPA after I grew out of my depression, but I'm ashamed to say I didn't, and I dropped out of high school recently. I can't make any excuses for that, only that academia wasn't doing anything for me and I was learning more as an autodidact. I'm currently working on a scholarship opportunity for Tec^Edge.

Also, I've had a girlfriend once for about a month three years ago. I've been single ever since, not entirely by choice. By most standards, I am completely alone. There are some people my age who I keep in contact with (mainly over Skype) and who I actually hang out with occasionally in real life, but I have no one (outside my family) who I would actually call a friend. It sucks. I'm pretty sociable with people who share my interests (a.k.a transhumanists and rationalists), but I have a hard time keeping a conversation going with people for more than five minutes about non-science/technology/transhumanism related things.

I'm extremely interested in science and technology, as you already guessed, and reducing existential risk would be something that I would find extremely valuable and fulfilling, more than anything else. To be perfectly honest, after reading papers on existential risk, I'm scared shitless about the future forty to fifty years from now, and doing something to help steer humanity in the right direction, however small, is very important to me.

So, yep. I need advice. Because I don't really know where I'm going.

comment by Costanza · 2011-12-30T20:39:05.102Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

First and foremost, don't let yourself get seriously depressed. This is really important. You allude to having grown out of a depressive funk, which is good, but (if I may say so) the tone of this comment seems to suggest that sinking back into that mire is still a danger.

I have been depressed in the past. Depression is very, very bad. Not just because it's excruciatingly painful, which it is. Some excruciatingly painful experiences are necessary and honorable and lead to better things. In contrast, depression is constricting and debilitating and hideously toxic. It's a far worse mind killer than politics. It's a life killer.

On that note, please remember that you don't have it so bad. You say you "made some incredibly poor choices throughout high school." Well, people in general between the ages of 13 and 18 may be noted for many things, but excellent practical judgment is not usually one of them. Also,"incredibly poor choices" is a relative thing. Far too many people no older than you are pregnant, or in prison, or dead as a result of their choices.

You've dropped out of high school. According to the conventional wisdom, that's bad, because the general class of high school dropouts is generally worse off than the general class of high school graduates. But I happen to have known a fair number of kids whose families had immigrated from the former Soviet Union. A surprising (to me) number of them looked at the standard American educational path and decided it was a waste of time. Instead, they deliberately dropped out as soon as possible, passed the GED, went on to junior college, and then transferred to a traditional university, saving years and money. This was a while ago, and since then, college prices have gone nowhere but up.

You'll probably have to pass the GED if you haven't already. Beyond that, I don't know what your educational path should be, except to say that you should make sure you have access to an intellectually stimulating environment. But it sounds like you've already taken wise steps in that direction.

You're pining for a social life, as you should. That's extremely important, but I advise you to be reasonably patient, as hard as that may be. If you place yourself in an environment in which you can excel and thrive and be recognized for your accomplishments, you'll be in an environment in which you can make real friends.

A brief personal note: one of my greatest regrets is losing track of friends, simply through inattention. When too much time has passed, it's hard to revive what was once an effortless relationship. When you do make a lot of close friends (and you will), be sure to stay in touch with them.

Finally, I predict that if you succeed in finding a niche in which you are rewarded for your work, and (as I predict) you establish real bonds of friendship with people who share your interests, you will be in an excellent position to find a girlfriend who is both a girl and a friend, and the friendship will last much longer than a month.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T06:32:31.068Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate your reply. Reading back through my comment again, I can see I do give the impression that I'm close to depression again, for which I apologize. I'm not naturally sad. Seriously. I have a relatively stable and healthy hedonic set point, and my previous depression had everything to do with external factors and how I naively thought the world worked, and had virtually nothing to do with my neurochemistry. So, no need to worry about that. I guess I should probably work on making my comments peppier.

Again, your thoughtful comment is truly appreciated. It's always nice to see some actual concrete advice instead of empty platitudes.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2011-12-29T00:13:07.684Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm 20 years old and interested in mentoring folks 18 and younger.

I'm interested in helping folks of all ages waste less time on the Internet.

comment by KPier · 2011-12-29T02:49:00.331Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm 17 and just got into a top U.S. college, where I want to major in math and economics. I am a bit worried that I haven't learned good work habits and that I waste too much time on the internet, since high school was mostly a breeze for me. I've heard from a lot of people that kids like me get hit hard in college when they have to work hard for the first time, and while I can think of lots of reasons I'm different, this is probably a good situation to take the outside view.

So in short, I'd love a mentor. How does this work, exactly?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-29T17:10:30.839Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not a mentoring relationship, but a short plan that should help you avoid most trouble:

Write a check to your roommate for $100. Do not sign it, and leave it pinned on the back of your door, above a calendar. Write all your assignments on that calendar, moved up as far as is reasonable. (For example, if you would do the weekly homework assigned Thursday and due Thursday on Wednesday, i.e. one day before, then write it as due on Friday, i.e. one day after it's assigned). If your homework is not done* by the date on the calendar, you sign the check, your roommate cashes it, and you replace it with a new one.

As Scott Adams puts it, losers have goals and winners have systems. Focus on setting up the incentives you want for yourself. (The importance of this when choosing friends cannot be stressed enough.)

* Perhaps you work on a problem for an hour and you can't break through, and you need to ask a friend or professor for help. You may find that a first draft is all you can produce after one day. That's fine, and this system is more beneficial if that's the case, as it brings those things out into the open early.

comment by juliawise · 2011-12-29T18:56:10.125Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The disadvantage to this is that it gives your roommate an incentive to distract you.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-29T19:28:45.961Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yep. But having a compliance officer is helpful more often than not.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2011-12-30T15:21:31.821Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It'd be easier to make a beeminder account and just give someone the link to watch your graphs.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-30T15:42:52.189Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Easier, perhaps, but better? I don't find the incentives from websites to be nearly as strong as the ones from people who live with me.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2011-12-30T16:21:46.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It allows for wider selection of confidants. A roommate might be a trusted friend who've you known for a while, it might be a bland personality from craigslist. Further, an offline analog one is subject to conjoleing, conflicts of interests, and lawyering that an online digital system is not subject to. When failure is automatic if you don't report progress and the money goes to a third party these relational complexities are removed with a scalpel rather than having to be dealt with like a bad itch. By having a person keep taps on you through typing in a URL rather than having to go through to trouble of getting a picture or text everyday you lower the barrier of entry and the amount of work it takes for the system to remain stable.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2011-12-31T07:29:43.221Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One thing I've noticed is that my behavior depends to a large extent on where I am and who I'm with. For example, when I went off to college, I learned to be much more patient and tolerant when dealing with other people. However, when I went home to visit my family, I fell back into my usual ways of finding my younger siblings annoying, and even snapped at a friend I had made in college during an IM conversation.

So you might try making a point of working hard whenever you're in your dorm room (or your school library, or wherever) and try to establish working hard as a conditioned response to being in that place.

When it comes to wasting time on the Internet, I recommend you use a website blocker like this one that allows you to do regular expression blocking. This allows you to block a website's homepage only, while allowing you to do specific things (like search for something you read) which are probably okay. (Example: reddit.com/?$ should block the Reddit homepage only.) It's not actually all that painful to remove addictive websites from your life entirely if you replace them with nonaddictive breathers like Hulu. (Don't underestimate the importance of rejuvenation. To be productive, a good goal is "distraction free work and guilt free play". If you feel guilty when you play, playing may not actually served as a relaxing activity for you, which could make it very difficult to regain energy.)

My number 1 self-improvement secret is to spend time every evening thinking about how your day went and planning out the next day. You can even keep a queue of productivity ideas you have read about and try one out each day as an experiment.

A more general version of this is to "reset" yourself using the following procedure: notice that you're being unproductive, plan a break and a detailed work strategy, take your break, then execute your strategy. I find myself "resetting" constantly, to the point where I no longer see myself as controlling my life and only as periodically shifting the steering wheel in order to stay roughly on course. (The evening planning session is a special case of this because the break is sleeping for the night.)

I'm sending you my Skype username in a personal message in case you want to chat further :)

comment by wuthefwasthat · 2011-12-29T12:50:42.920Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was in a similar situation as you, 4 years ago. I worked a fair bit harder, learned WAY more, and had a WAY better time in college. To be fair, my work ethic is still not very good, but I pretty much get A's in the classes I care about and B's in the ones I don't.

I suspect that you will be fine - you're probably smart enough that college won't be as hard as you might think, and you'll also be more motivated to dig up good work habits if you really need/want to.

comment by ahartell · 2011-12-29T07:59:55.951Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in pretty much the exact same situation but I'm thinking math and physics.

comment by atucker · 2011-12-29T07:38:45.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


Where'd you get in?

I understand if you mind my asking, and I don't mind if you feel uncomfortable answering. You can also respond by email.

I just like being happy for people that I know/find to be similar to me in the ways that I'm different from others/

comment by Randaly · 2011-12-29T05:59:47.862Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Same (if you replace math and economics with engineering).

comment by Curiouskid · 2011-12-29T21:35:19.102Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Did you check out the introduction thread for highschoolers?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-10T03:16:21.142Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am a female high school student who aspires to develop into a self-made, rational thinker. To realize this aspiration, I would like to explore logic-related studies such as physics, mathematics, artificial intelligence, philosophy, and cognitive science. While I have involved myself in math and science initiatives in school and continue to do so, I am more interested in devoting myself to the pure study in a method which I can control.

My circumstance demands that I cope with and finish high school. I am trying to turn my appreciation for rationalism into a fulfilling skill (mastery of how to learn and apply these interests) which makes "coping" with my circumstance enjoyable.

Previous attempts at addressing this issue have resulted in failure because of my inexperience and ignorance with and within these studies. I am (supposedly) experiencing calculus and physics for the first time in school right now; I still feel unsatisfied with my understanding of basic algebraic and geometric concepts. Pursuing formal educational opportunities, even those outside of classes, like summer research at a university or participation in Science Olympiad, has been achieved. My problem with these achievements is that they were not indicative of my true experience or, rather, inexperience. It was possible to qualify for these opportunities based on an application or test score; the opportunities were centered around making me a more competitive college applicant.

I am finding my schooling unsatisfying; I am not especially motivated by earning good marks and fulfilling the requirements which are imposed on me. I would like to foster appreciation, critical thinking skills, and conceptual understanding of my interests outside of formal educational methods. Moreover, I would like to continue this pursuit as a lifelong activity.

What insight or materials can you offer that can help me apply myself to my interests in an engaging and achievable manner?

I imagine that insight from other, more experienced "rationalists" or even mentors would be helpful for me. I('ve) experience(d) bouts of existential depression and often feel isolated from most of the people physically around me. Talking to understanding humans on the internet is helpful. Actually, I imagine that the most "ideal" situation would be to find one such teacher, mentor, or group with a collective goal and study as a part of such a "school". However, I realize the improbability of arranging this and instead look for other possibilities. Thank you.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-10T04:10:21.841Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In hindsight, Less Wrong probably fits the description of such an "ideal" situation:

Actually, I imagine that the most "ideal" situation would be to find one such... ...group with a collective goal and study as a part of such a "school".

LW is larger than the school which I was imagining, one with only a handful of students, and I am currently inexperienced to engage myself in most LW discussions. But, of course, eventually making sense of the core sequences is definitely one of my goals, along with someday being a productive contributor.

comment by allandong · 2011-12-30T04:37:50.935Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am in my last year of undergrad trying to finish up my Economics major, which I am disliking more and more. I am dismayed at myself for the sudden jump in akrasia I experienced when I got to college, which I partially attribute to my general dislike of my classes and partially because I had given up on being pre-med-which I suspect was a driving motivation to do well back in high school.

Long story short, I would like help combating my procrastination/akrasia tendencies, and if anyone has any advice on how to find a new passion or drive in life, I'd love to hear it.

comment by wuthefwasthat · 2011-12-29T12:36:27.192Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in my last year of studying CS/Math as an undergradate at MIT (I'm going to do a Master's next year though). I'd really like some advice about what I should do after I graduate - Grad school? Industry? Any alternative?

I care a fair amount about reducing xrisk, but I am also fairly skeptical that there is much I can do about it right now.

I have job offers with Google and some tech start-ups, and I suspect I could get a job in finance if I tried. I personally have some desire to start a tech company one day. I'm not sure what the tradeoff between doing good work and making money is, but I suspect my main goal should be maximizing expected income. I'd try to use most my money to support people doing good things. (Though I'm not sure money is the limiting factor here. Perhaps discovering what to do would be better...)

I'm not sure whether I can get into a top graduate school - I have a 5.0 technical GPA (4.8 overall), but no research record or particularly good recommendations at the moment. I believe I am much better than most mathematicians/computer scientists, but I am also not sure what sort of research I could do that I would consider worthwhile. Realistically, I am at least 2 huge leaps down from being as good as, say, John Von Neumann (that is, people far from as good as him are far better than me). I also have really bad attention span, and tend not to think about problems for extended periods of time. I'm not sure this is worth factoring in, as it can probably be remedied. Even if I am not suited for solving the really hard theory problems out there, but minimally, I can code and do math better than most people in most labs. I'm basically open to going to graduate school in any field, as long as I'd make an impact, and hopefully have a comparative advantage.

I've talked to a number people about this, but I'm still pretty uncertain about what to do. I'd love to hear people's thoughts. Thanks in advance!

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-29T16:30:13.259Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My recommendation would be working at Google, or possibly one of the startups. Finding a job that fits your temperament is great for satisfaction- many doctors make the mistake of going into the field they find academically fascinating rather than the one that has a practice they'll enjoy. (That is, they don't look at what hours a job will require, whether they'll have to be on call, how many patients they'll have / how much time each patient will take, etc.)

If you go to graduate school / do research, it will mostly be thinking about problems for extended periods of time. Ability to code is not very relevant, though it's important in industry. You shouldn't worry about being third rate- the intellectual bar for PhDs is around 5th rate (though you need other strengths to make up for that).

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-12-30T02:02:16.920Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

According to what I've heard, working at Google is awesome. Go for it.

comment by atucker · 2011-12-29T07:34:57.321Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd totally like to help people!

For reference, I ran a robotics team, got into Harvard, am taking a gap year, and am currently being paid to do things that I find interesting.

I'd also like to reduce x-risk and encourage a friendly singularity, and my current plan is to create a rationalist community capable of developing and empirically testing other rationality moves like kicking. I don't think that I have the skills necessary to achieve that yet, but I'm optimistic about my ability to acquire them.

comment by zntneo · 2012-03-13T02:09:00.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I got a degree in psychology and a couple credits short of a minor in philosophy. I had a poor gpa due mostly to the fact that i started as a computer engineer and have some learning disabilities that i didn't realize then. I want to be able do something with my psych degree such as go to grad school to do research in psych but have no idea if i can make it. Also, currently i am a cashier who is looking for a tech job (i have an associates in information technology and 6 years of part time experience) but i can't seem to get one. Any help would be appricated

comment by peirce · 2013-07-21T23:18:08.329Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


It looks like I could be a couple of years late, but I could quite do with a mentor.

The things I could do with some help are:

1) I've been offered a place at University in the UK to study philosophy and psychology, but after reading a few fairly damning articles about philosophy, I'm not sure if it's really for me anymore. I'm contemplating something more cognitive sciency.

2) I could do with someone to ask a few basic questions about the less wrong community and how it all works, because i'd quite like to get more involved, but i'm not quite sure how.

3) i'm very interested in self improvement,

Anyone who could help me with any of these things would be great, whether its just to answer a few questions or to become a more long term mentor.


comment by TheatreAddict · 2012-01-03T06:42:19.839Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a junior in high school. My GPA isn't terrible, but isn't good. 3.6ish. Meh. I'm of relatively average intelligence, I just possess a genuine curiousity for learning and stuffs. So... learning for me requires more effort than most people on here, it seems.

Basically, I'm confused about politics. I don't really know how to define myself, or even what side I like better (US politics, Republican vs. Democrat), or even if I should identify with a certain party. I have trouble even determining what I think about political issues, because it seems to me like the objective truth, if there is any in politics (to me it seems that multiple solutions exist... yet I assume one has to be at least somewhat more advantageous), is extremely muddled and difficult. And given it's hard to find an unbiased opinion... I just want the truth, damnit.

If anyone is interested in talking to me about stuffs, feel free to email me or add me on Facebook and message. I'm a part of the LessWrong high school club on Facebook.

comment by shminux · 2012-01-03T09:45:39.418Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, I'm confused about politics. I don't really know how to define myself, or even what side I like better (US politics, Republican vs. Democrat), or even if I should identify with a certain party.

Politics is the Mind-Killer. Surely you have heard that. And identifying with a party is one of the quickest ways to kill what's left of your mind.

I just want the truth, damnit.

There is no such thing as the objective truth, at least as far as politics/economics/society in general is concerned. Maybe some general guidelines of what tends to work and when.

Politics has too many pitfalls, if you want to avoid being suckered, learn all you can about cognitive biases first. Probably won't make you any happier, or make you any friends among "politically active" youth, though.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-12-30T03:24:03.762Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I love this plan, and would be excited to participate, both as mentor and mentee. I would even be happy to hear advice from people younger than myself. I am a software developer, machine learning researcher, and philosopher of science living in Cambridge (I often go to the meetups there).

consider it an experiment in tapping Less Wrong's social capital in a novel fashion.

This is a good idea. We should be doing more to help each other win.

comment by zntneo · 2012-03-13T02:07:35.443Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So are you a professor? I got a degree in psychology and a couple credits short of a minor in philosophy. I had a poor gpa due mostly to the fact that i started as a computer engineer and have some learning disabilities that i didn't realize then. I want to be able do something with my psych degree such as go to grad school to do research in psych but have no idea if i can make it. Also, currently i am a cashier who is looking for a tech job (i have an associates in information technology and 6 years of part time experience) but i can't seem to get one. Any help would be appreciated

comment by J_Taylor · 2011-12-29T06:20:57.813Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I mainly need an anti-akrasia partner.

I am a young person who graduated from college with, like MileyCyrus, an unprofitable major. However, my GPA should be good enough to go to a grad-school. There, I intend to pass the time while learning more profitable skills. In the mean time, I am working on my applications and attempting to find a temporary job.

If someone is willing to go further than an anti-akrasia partnership, and form a mentor-mentee relationship, I am in tentative favor of this. Like MileyCyrus, at a pre-defined point in the mentor-mentee relationship, I am willing to make token donations to a suitable charity.

comment by magfrump · 2011-12-29T06:26:36.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I believe that a partnership (moreso than a mentor-mentee relationship) would be efficient in reducing my own akrasia. Is this what you mean by an anti-akrasia partner? If so, insies.

comment by zntneo · 2012-03-13T02:10:53.480Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What about a 3 way partnership for the anti-akrasia. I suffer from a massive amount of akrasia. And need desparently to get a better job (i have a BS in psychology and an associates in information technology with 6 years experience in the field yet i work as a cashier which is driving me insane)

comment by magfrump · 2012-03-13T06:45:30.927Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So far this has not happened. If you'd like to try to figure something out please private message me with some more personal info.

I'm not sure what the most effective way to do things would be, but I feel like having a nemesis who you skype with once a week or so and attempt to embarrass with your achievements and who laughs at your failures would be fun and motivating (assuming it was in good spirits and followed with constructive conversation)

comment by somervta · 2012-10-12T05:18:44.800Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've got a feeling this would be incredibly valuable to me, are you still interested?

comment by ricketybridge · 2013-01-10T23:50:10.802Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

TL;DR: Should I give up my highly risky and possibly even immoral career pursuit and go into charity work or not?

I've spent the last 6 years (from ages 24-30) trying to get into a career that’s incredibly competitive, with little to show for it (I’m purposefully not revealing what it is, so as not to conjure up any biases people may have about it). From what I've read, this is par for the course, and it could easily take a few more years to break in, but the base rate of success is about 1%. Of course, strategizing and training smarter than I have been should theoretically help, but sheer luck definitely does play a factor in this field. In most situations with odds like this (e.g. raffles), I wouldn’t bother betting so much as a dime. Should I not extend that conclusion to my career? (I of course assume that no one on here will reply with “just follow your passion no matter what!” ;-) )

One could argue that, unlike raffles, I’m not risking anything this situation: even if I totally fail, I will have still gained whatever skills and life experience from the attempt, aka even if I lose, I win. However, there are moral considerations:

In 80,000 hours parlance, I would consider this a relatively “unethical” field with middle-class income as the most realistic possibility, and since I don’t have any expertise in any other field, including anything related to charity or high-earning, there’s no reason not to select this profession for moral reasons except for the fact that, as with any business, it takes money to make money. And the idea of spending, say, $2000 for the chance of making a living at this profession versus another seems immoral to me. To translate that into a thought exercise, it’s as if someone is telling me that if I shoot two children in the head (i.e. a conservative estimate of the number of children that money could have saved had I sent it to a charity instead of investing in this risky career), I get to roll a 100-sided die to see if I luck out with my intended career (which will likely pay only just as much as any other middle class career, so there’s no reason to believe I’d be able to make up for that $2000 and save an even greater number of lives, especially since I already intend to give as much as I’m comfortable giving). Since I wouldn’t shoot the two children even for 100% chance of success, I obviously wouldn’t do it just for a 1% chance.

I could theoretically restrict myself to only cash outlays that have a pretty certain certain ROI or only engage in things that require no initial investment, and I know of many people who (as far as I know) succeeded at this business in that way, but I would imagine that that restriction hobbles my chances even more. Although the “even if I lose, I still win” thing would technically still be true, I would think I’d end up getting immensely frustrated with essentially shooting myself in the foot and feel like I was wasting my time and energy that could be more productively spent doing something else.

This seems rather convincing to me (so if you detect any errors in logic, please let me know!), so why am I posting it here? I suppose it’s because something’s holding me back. I can’t cut the cord. I’m still harboring that hope that “I’ll be one of the lucky ones.” I’m like that guy hunched over the craps table at two in the morning after gambling his life savings away saying “just one more roll, one more roll...” I feel like this clinging must be at least partially due to the American “you can do whatever you set your mind to” crap that’s been drilled into my subconscious my entire life. It must also be partially due to the fact that I’ve considered my field the “most importantest thing ever,” as untrue as that may be, ever since I was a kid, which is probably largely due to my father's influence. There’s no other field or job I find interesting, except some charity stuff, but as I said, I have no expertise or training in that, would just be taking a job away from someone else, that’s a competitive field too, etc.

Any advice/suggestions/comments/manifestos?

Thanks! :)

comment by shminux · 2013-01-11T00:24:32.751Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which of the outlined outcomes would you consider "awesome" (as opposed to good, ethical, right, or virtuous)?

comment by ricketybridge · 2013-01-11T00:37:56.225Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hitting the 1% outcome would of course be the most awesome (or heck, even better, the 0.000001% jackpot), but the most realistic two possible choices are (effectively) more dead children or fewer dead children, in which case I'm gonna have to go with fewer dead children as being more awesome.

Thinking of that as the chosen course of action immediately made me feel a bit bitter or resentful--the feeling I get from, for instance, pondering living in a worse apartment so I can have more money to give to charity (a decision I was faced with a few months ago)--but a dead child is obviously less awesome than feelings of resentment. Ugh. This is starting to feel like a "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" sort of thing.

EDIT: When I contemplate assuming that the morality case is settled and choosing to continue pursuing this 1% chance, the choice is between spending a few more years as a hopeless gambler and doing something with better odds. Honestly, I can't pick which of these is more awesome. They both seem pretty sad to me (which is pretty ironic given the fact that I was feeling resentful over the idea of NOT continuing to be a gambler in the above paragraph). If it's truly a toss-up, then theoretically I should go with quitting, since it is definitely the better alternative in the binary choice outlined in the previous paragraph.

Then again... if I do quit, I'm sure I would often wonder "what would have happened if...?" but surely guarding against regret isn't a consideration to include in a rational decision-making process. I'm not haunted by a thought like this every time someone wins the lottery, for example. I feel like I could safely say "What would have happened? You would have wasted a few more years and then started the career you have now." Even so, why can't I let go? I guess that's a textbook form of akrasia, but that really only gives it a label; not what I'm supposed to do about it. Does this seem like I should make a concerted effort to overcome my akrasia in this instance? (I know, I'm a total mess!!!)

Another EDIT!: It occurs to me that the ambivalence I'm suffering is actually due to this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/1cv/extreme_risks_when_not_to_use_expected_utility/

"Would you prefer a 50% chance of gaining €10, one chance in a million off gaining €5 million, or a guaranteed €5? The standard position on Less Wrong is that the answer depends solely on the difference between cash and utility. If your utility scales less-than-linearly with money, you are risk averse and should choose the last option; if it scales more-than-linearly, you are risk-loving and should choose the second one. If we replaced €’s with utils in the example above, then it would simply be irrational to prefer one option over the others."

It's funny, because I was literally formulating this exact sort of scenario a few hours ago to describe my situation. Although I'm typically risk-averse, in this situation (perhaps because I value the field so highly), I'm willing to risk it. The idea that it's not, in fact, illogical to do so (albeit immoral, for the reasons stated above, but if I were willing to go along with that conclusion, I'd basically end up living like Diogenes, and that's just not going to happen), makes me willing to go ahead with it.

But please feel free to point out if and how my line of thinking has gone awry! :)

comment by zntneo · 2012-03-13T02:12:52.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

got a degree in psychology and a couple credits short of a minor in philosophy. I had a poor gpa due mostly to the fact that i started as a computer engineer and have some learning disabilities that i didn't realize then. I want to be able do something with my psych degree such as go to grad school to do research in psych but have no idea if i can make it. Also, currently i am a cashier who is looking for a tech job (i have an associates in information technology and 6 years of part time experience) but i can't seem to get one. Any help would be appreciated, I could use help both in figuring out what i want to do, how to conduct a job search and many other things.

comment by Giles · 2012-02-22T04:02:15.506Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Life goal is effective altruism / x-risk reduction. Requesting mentorship for

  • how to build the community (in Toronto, but you can be remote) and/or
  • someone way smarter and more accomplished than me who doesn't mind answering random stupid questions from time to time.

I have undergrad math/comp sci and I work as a computer programmer. I'm 27 but <1 year sane.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-01-04T00:45:31.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If anyone in the san jose area would like to workout but doesn't know how to start or needs motivation email me. You can get a membership or just day passes to the gym I go to and I can help.

comment by D_Malik · 2011-12-29T10:14:52.003Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm 17 and going to my final year of high school in January. I'm having some trouble making up my mind about what to do after high school and would appreciate some help with this.

I've skimmed a few books on career choice but they all just spout platitudes. I don't think I should do "What Interests Me" because I think I'd become bored of almost anything after a few weeks. I don't think I should do what I'm "talented" at because I doubt talents are specific enough to narrow down career-space enough. (Yes, a person might have high g and thus be good at computer programming, but that same high g would aid them as much with lots of other careers - why choose programming specifically?) Even if talents were specific enough, I don't think my self-assessments of what my talents are are even nearly accurate enough to base the next 50+ years of my life on them.

It's pretty obvious that most people have no idea what they're doing when they choose a career. So what should I base a career choice on?

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-12-29T17:02:06.154Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You may be in a different situation than I was, but I personally wish I had read Study Hacks or some of Cal Newport's books when I was in your situation. Lots of clear, actionable advice for building a remarkable college career, no platitudes. Email him at author [at] calnewport.com if you have a specific question, he'll answer you (eventually).

In other news, programming skills are massively valuable and rare in traditionally programming-free disciplines (government, biology, medicine, etc). Learn programming, but you're much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession.

Good luck! It can be stressful when you don't know what to do, but developing one's career can be great fun. You're building your legacy and learning how to make your mark. It's awesome!

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-01-01T01:41:13.503Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I happen to remember reading a couple of posts of yours, and you strike me as very capable guy.



Have you thought about trying to become a serial entrepreneur?

  • You won't likely get bored -- entrepreneurs typically have to play many roles since they are the 1st employees of the companies they start. If you're still afraid you'll get bored, you could make each company you start be in a different industry, getting a job in that industry before you start the company in order to acquire industry knowledge and spot inefficiencies. (Consider reading this book to learn about various industries.)

  • Being an entrepreneur is the archetypical example of a job in which you actually get paid according to how awesome you are.

  • Perhaps most importantly, if you make more money than you know what to do with, you can become a philanthropist and have a larger positive impact on the course of world history than is possible with most careers. (Even if you want to have a large positive impact on world history using some other method, such as by being a good politician, you'll likely find having a ton of money to be really helpful. The main world changing career that doesn't benefit highly from having a ton of money is the academic/public intellectual one, which has its own perilious "graduate student" advancement track.)

If you find this idea interests you, I recommend reading a few of the books on the personal MBA reading list. I think you'll be surprised by just how unintelligent and irrational the median entrepreneur is, including the median successful entrepreneur. As far as I can tell, the only thing all entrepreneurs have in common is fearlessness, which is a prerequisite (and quite possible to develop, I'm happy to elaborate on how I developed fearlessness in myself). Then the successful ones have things like intelligence, domain knowledge, and inclination to work hard.

Regarding programming in particular, it's a very useful skill to have regardless of whether you go into it as a career. Being able to write software will allow you to optimize your computer use, and learning is quite a mind expanding experience.

And based on my research from when I was choosing a major, software engineering is basically the best career achievable for someone who only has a 4 year degree. The combination of job outlook (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2905410), salary, working conditions, and interestingness of work is very hard to beat, especially if you have chops and you're willing to move to Silicon Valley. (The only downside is that keeping up with the constantly changing field can be difficult as you grow older.) My runner up choices would be mining engineers, who, based on my limited research, get paid a lot of money to travel the world and blow things up, and police officers, who make quite a bit of money and retire early with a pension in certain US localities.

Choosing a career for the next 50 years of your life now is a fallacy. For modern workers, midlife career changes are the norm, not the exception. If you really don't know what to do, choose the highest paying job you can find without upgrading your lifestyle so you'll have more options down the road.

comment by D_Malik · 2012-01-07T00:03:50.237Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry for the delayed reply. I've never seriously considered becoming an entrepreneur, so your post is very useful and may even significantly change the rest of my life. I need to do a lot more research about all this. Those links are also really helpful; Paul Graham's essay makes lots of sense.

My plan at the moment is to settle on some vague life plan. I'm not nearly competent enough yet to go off and start a business or get a job, so I think my plan at the moment, if said "vague life plan" is to become an entrepreneur, is to finish high school and then go to some university. While I'm doing that I'll be learning more about entrepreneurship and other useful skills, then decide where to go from there.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-01-07T04:18:25.399Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Great to hear that you found my advice useful!

comment by _ozymandias · 2011-12-29T23:33:26.694Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Very few people know what career they want when they're seventeen. Of those people, a significant proportion end up either doing a different job or displeased by their choice.

This is what I did; it may or may not work for you. Go to a college with a wide variety of class choices and highlight everything in the course book that looks interesting and that you have the prereqs for. Narrow it down to four or five classes by eliminating courses that occur in the same time block as another course you're more interested in, courses with dull or unintelligent teachers, or courses that come from disciplines you've already taken a lot of classes in. (Note: if you have general course requirements, take those courses.) That should give you some data to eliminate majors you're absolutely not interested in; for the rest, assuming you have not gotten an all-consuming obsession with one particular field, look at the BLS statistics to see which one has the best overall job outcomes (income, hours worked, unemployment risk, etc) and major in that one.

General warnings: unlike most people here, I am not a STEM major; my experience applies strictly to the social sciences and the humanities. I also have not attempted to get a job in this economy, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-01-01T01:54:43.296Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Related idea: look through the course catalog for the course prerequisite chains that are the longest (they will probably be for math, chemistry, and physics). Take the 1st course in each of the longest chains early on in your college career so you'll know right away if one of the long-chain majors is for you (as opposed to a few years later, when it will be too late to make the switch).

comment by Curiouskid · 2011-12-29T21:39:31.223Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you seen LessWrong for highschoolers?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-29T16:39:51.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've skimmed a few books on career choice but they all just spout platitudes.

Talk to your high school's guidance counselor. They should have a few aptitude tests that you might find useful (like this short one).

It's pretty obvious that most people have no idea what they're doing when they choose a career. So what should I base a career choice on?

Think of a career as the way in which you provide value to others. The most important word in that sentence is 'you, then 'others'. Figuring out what your personality is and what your mental skills are is the best springboard. (And mental skills are way more than "g"- there's a lot of variation in mental architecture among people.)

comment by D_Malik · 2012-01-06T21:56:34.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've taken tests like that in the past. They seem useful for narrowing things down, but what frustrates me is that they make recommendations based on things you shouldn't be using to make long-term recommendations. For instance, the test you linked to asks about level of interest in art, business, law, computers, etc.. I don't want to spend the next 50 years of my life in neuroscience because I happened to have a crush on biology in high-school.

I mentioned g because it's important for career choice and it seems unlikely to change much, unlike other things like social skills, programming skill, or self-control, which can be learned (and should be learned if some brief learning is needed for a long-term better career).