⚡ Good Life, Good Work

How to align your career with your personal values

Hi! You’re reading Reboot, a community imagining the future of tech, humanity, and power. We share book reviews, essays, and exclusive events with authors every week.

We don’t publish platitudes on “tech for good”: rather, we believe that tech is part of a system, and ‘good’ is an action, not a belief. If you share this mission, join us:

At its basic level, Reboot is a community organized around reading and writing about technology. But in the conversations I've had with event attendees, student fellows, and Readers Like You™️, the uniting thread has not been books, but rather a shared quest to align our interest in technology with our personal values and ethical frameworks. Reading and writing are mere conduits in this existential exploration.

In that vein, we spent our last fellowship session doing a values-driven career workshop. Today's newsletter will walk you through those exercises. I recommend setting aside 30-60 minutes to complete them.

(Also, if you'd be willing to offer one-off career advice to Reboot Student Fellows, please fill out this form!)

✨ how to map your values to your work

Authenticity. Achievement. Adventure. Authority.
Balance. Beauty. Belonging. Boldness.
Compassion. Challenge. Citizenship. Community.

And so on, and so forth. Words like these often feel like beautiful abstractions. Companies emblazon their "core values" on office walls; I read this list and feel inexplicably drawn to some words over others. Values exercises can feel woo-woo or self-indulgent. Why navel gaze when you can get shit done?

To be effective, values exercises require articulating what "the good life" means to you—a difficult and ultimately personal process. Rather than outsourcing these values decisions to your company or family or political tribe, you'll want to reflect honestly on your experiences. What environments gifted energy or drained it? At what moments have you felt the most dissonance from your peers?

The personal values you derive from these experiences become evaluative criteria for your life choices.

Today, we'll focus on how to align your career with your broader personal values, starting with these three steps:

  1. Identifying the values that matter most to you

  2. Understanding how values manifest in roles and organizations

  3. Ensuring your career continues to empower your values

case study: effective altruism

What does a strong set of values look like?

As a case study, we'll consider the Effective Altruism (EA) philosophy and movement, which promotes a clear-cut values framework and is especially influential in segments of the tech community.

80,000 Hours is the primary EA organization focused on career advising. Their extensive career guides make their hierarchy of values clear. The organization’s #1 value is maximizing social impact, with instrumental values such as personal fit and evidence-based reasoning that still serve the end goal of impact maximization.

Concretely, this means recommending jobs 1) in the world's most pressing problem areas 2) that align with your skill set and passions. A list of 80,000 Hours's particularly high-impact paths includes "AI safety technical researcher," "China specialist," "work in EA organizations," and "earning to give in a high-paying job." The organization also runs a popular job board:

Regardless of whether you identify with EA's core values, their commitment is admirable, and a large part of the movement’s appeal comes from providing members with clear-cut criteria for what good, meaningful work really means.

write down your values

What if you're not an EA, don't have a pre-filtered job board, and would prefer to start the process of ethical self-discovery from scratch?

In identifying the values that matter most, begin with the concrete. Spend 5-10 minutes writing down answers to the prompts below.

  • What was the worst job you've ever had, and why did it suck?

  • What was the best job you've ever had, and why was it great?

Don't try to over-rationalize your answers. Instead, be specific, honest, and pay attention to anecdotes that aroused strong visceral emotions (e.g. excitement, passion, frustration, guilt). You can also discuss these with a friend—it's often easier to tell what someone really cares about when listening to them talk.

Now, connect those concrete experiences to more abstract values (here's a list). I used the syntax “[Job event] showed me that the organization did / did not value [value].” For example:

  • My boss gave me wide latitude in choosing my project, which showed that she valued personal autonomy.

  • My coworkers made sexist jokes, which showed they did not value kindness or equity.

Once you have a list of values, you can begin prioritizing. In the abstract, you might care about a bunch of different things, but realistically, decisions are informed by just a few key factors.

In a document, sort your values into the following hierarchy, based on what you want most from your career/community:

  • 1-2 P0 values: must-haves, non-negotiables

  • 3-4 P1 values: important factors

  • Any number of P2s: nice to haves

Under each value, you can list past experiences that show why it matters to you. If you need an example, I'd be happy to send my personal values doc to anyone who sends me an email.

For your P0 and P1 values, you'll also want to brainstorm litmus tests: questions to assess whether a role/organization actually lives up to your value. For example, if you value diversity, two litmus tests might be: What is the gender and race breakdown of my team? What efforts is HR making to hire a more diverse workforce? These litmus tests become the rubric you can use to evaluate career decisions, whether in the interview phase or during a new role.

You'll also want to come up with negative litmus tests, or red lines to identify when your core values are being violated. For example, engineer Vinesh Kannan resigned from Google after the company fired Timnit Gebru. This crossed his personal red line of "retaliation against a teammate who stands up for something I believe in."

This document articulating your prioritized values and litmus tests acts as a living reminder of the things you care about. Your values will evolve with time and experience, so keep it somewhere accessible!

staying accountable

Finally, what gets you from abstract to actionable is devising systems of accountability that help you revisit your values constantly.

  1. Write down your values, litmus tests, and red lines before entering a job. I created a values worksheet that builds on top of this framework. You can make a copy of the document to fill out before, during, and after a new role.

  2. Form communities of accountability to talk through ethical challenges. These might be structured small groups that meet monthly, seeking mentors with shared values, or simply spending time with thoughtful people who will push you to stay principled (even if they don't share your exact values).

If this exercise helped you, shoot me an email! I'd love to hear what worked and what didn't.

🌀 microdoses

  • 🥁 Make it rain ETH

💝 closing note

Today's closing note is from Jordan, who helps out with Reboot Community:

"During my evening stroll, my brain wandered back to an article I read in 2013 which argued something to the effect of 'books don’t change anything these days; if you want to start a revolution, you’d do it on social media.' What’s a book that you think has the power to change the world?"

  • Cassidy (mentor, McMaster University): I come back a lot to Robert Putnam’s work (i.e. Bowling Alone and The Upswing). I don’t often recommend it to people given that it reads like a textbook sometimes, but it has definitely informed a lot of my thinking around the big issues related to the media and political participation and polarization.

  • Jasmine: The Democratic Paradox, or at least some other Chantal Mouffe works on agonism, because I think our current society fears pluralism and overvalues consensus. Here's a good summary of the book!

  • Jet (fellow, Yale-NUS 2024): Two books come into my mind that definitely changed the world—1. Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America by Donald Trump and 2. The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) by Xi Jinping—and definitely which I would never recommend.

In principle,

—Jasmine & Reboot team

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