I took a nearly $80k a year pay cut, but the satisfaction of my current project can't even compare to what I was doing before. I've never been as excited and motivated in my life to work with the team I'm on.
I feel neither the article nor this comment is relevant to the majority of people who use this site. 80k is roughly the average yearly salary of someone doing interface design work in my city.
Talking about how much less you make and how it's a relief rather than a burden is perhaps the most transparent version of humble-bragging conceivable.
"80k is roughly the average yearly salary of..."
I suppose you can interpret the post as humble-bragging. That’s not my intention, though. I just write about the things I’m experiencing, in hopes that what I observe/discover might be useful to others.
How is a pay cut bragging? I'm highlighting that I'm a lot happier following what I'm passionate about.
While I understand what you are saying, the significant amount is important to state because it helps support the point even more. Joe chose to take a pay cut equivalent to someone's salary (ie: MASSIVE) and is now working on exciting projects with fantastic people for the first time in his life. Instead of simply saying "money isn't everything guys!", he's hanging himself out there and giving us a real-world example with a real-world number.
How many of you would sacrifice 80K a year or the potential to make double what you do today?
Granted, I'm sure Joe still does just fine... but the point is that once you do hit a certain level, you find ways to spend extra money rather than save it or live a more humble lifestyle.
lol I'm so happy that you're privileged enough to humbly write and value-project about your privilege.
I suppose it’s your prerogative to be snarky and dismissive, if you choose. Fair enough. (That said, I’m not sure where the benefit is in it.)
For many years, I worked more hours than I’m proud of. Doing so helped our family cover payments, which was important. That said, it also took an toll on my health, happiness, and the relationship I have with my kids. Now that our kids are a bit older, and both my wife and I are working, we have a little more room to make certain life decisions. (For example, my wife chooses to work with refugees, earning far less than she could—because she thinks this work is important. I tend to agree with her.)
To your point, I am privileged—in the way that many middle-class people are privileged. I went to a decent school; I have a fine job; and my kids don’t go hungry. That said, my life is far from extravagant. From a quick look at your LinkedIn profile, it appears our socio-economic standings are probably quite similar.
Where we probably differ most is in age. From what I gather, you’re quite young; whereas, the few hairs I have left on my head are quickly turning grey. (Much like I was warned by those before me, this happened a lot faster than I thought it would.)
You might read my post as the ramblings of someone who has more than his share. That’s not really the case, though. It’s just a decision to put prioritize time with family, and projects that I find meaningful.
For you, that might not seem as important. That said, your perspective might change. On the other side of 40, time starts to seem increasingly valuable. When the time comes, you might find yourself asking if a four-day workweek might be worth the pay cut. Or, you might decide that your side-project is more important than your corporate gig. Or, you might sell your stuff, and spend a year on the road.
Alternately, you might just continue to troll these boards, and make snide comments. Who knows what the future will bring? ;-)
You're right — my comment was snarky and dismissive, and little was done by posting it. I appreciate you taking the time to respond to something otherwise completely uninviting.
I also wasn't expecting a response, so we can actually talk about the article.
Your points are well-written and make complete sense, and similarly, many of us make similar choices. For example, I choose to attend classes for a degree that I do not necessarily need, but makes me a better individual — in doing so, I sacrifice a better-paying job, and what would otherwise be billable hours.
Your article is certainly relatable, however directly or indirectly — but I can't help but wonder to what extent that's a function of your audience. It's shocking that in a field where we outsource what would otherwise be local jobs to a contractor in another hemisphere, for a tenth of the standard hourly rate, that you can write this article, and it can be well received, and one can even relate to it. However, that's a much bigger problem than just your article, and I shouldn't fault you or the article for problems of such systemic nature.
My initial impressions were based solely upon the title, and yes, they mellowed after reading, but the initial impression is still one of humblebragging. You make great points, but I hope that the initial offput isn't enough to stop potential readers, like myself, from recognizing them.
No worries, Wil. And thanks for the reply. :-)
Although I know there are reasons studios/agencies hire offshore designers, we’ve never done that (at our studio). Nevertheless, I think that trend is going to persist for certain types of work.
My take is that this is just part of what happens with a more interconnected global economy. It sucks for some folks here, but is probably beneficial to those in other places. I also feel there’s little we can do to change any of that.
However, what we can do, is change what we offer. Certain tasks are easier than others to outsource. One approach is to figure out which tasks are difficult to outsource—and focus on those. This isn’t easy, but it’s actually not that complicated either. If you want some ideas on how to do that, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Just book me for a session and I can lend a hand: https://officehours.io/people/karj
As for how folks read the post—that’s a toughy. I try to be as accurate as I can when I write these things, but words are often interpreted differently than I expect. (And sometimes I just botch the delivery.)
My hope is that readers will take a little time with these posts, and reflect on them for what they are. This won’t always happen, but it often does. Honestly, I only write this stuff for two reasons: 1) I like writing. It helps me process ideas, and make sense of them. 2) I figure someone else might find something relatable in them, or find a way to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.
If I took 30% off my salary, i would have to:
- move from my current rented room;
- sell my 2003, 300.000km Seat Ibiza (<3);
- goodbye beer fridays;
- goodbye after beer fridays;
- find a lawyer to defend myself against all the companies i started owing money (electricity, water, internet, gas, mobile phone, health insurance);
- find someone to pay the lawyer;
- find someone to pay to whom has payed the lawyer;
- start selling drugs
I'm exaggerating a little bit. But the point is.. If you earn 100k/year 30% could make no difference to you and your lifestyle. Now if you make 10k/year, that cut will have a huge impact: you will have to give up almost every off-work activity (i'm not mentioning those consumer goods, cause we can all live without them) and start making some "math exercises" to make that money survive till your next paycheck. To me that doesn't sound like more opportunities and happier life.
Despite that, I get what you're saying, I guess everyone would like to buy more time for ourselves/projects: but the price of time is not the same for everyone and unfortunately not everyone can afford it.
Money and lifestyle are not a linear proportion. I think that relation look more like a logarithmic curve: and at the lower scales, "a small 30% cut" is almost life changer.
I agree: some simply don’t have a choice. They live in poverty, or so close to the poverty line, that they need to do whatever they can to cover costs. That’s a shitty spot to be in, and precludes such a debate about whether to earn less and take more time for oneself.
On the other hand, many people do have a choice. They can cook at home instead of going to restaurants. They can buy clothing second hand. They can move to a less expensive city. They can go for a hike instead of to the movies. They can use their old iPhone, instead of upgrading every time a new one comes out. For many of us, there’s an opportunity to live on less—if we’re sufficiently motivated to do so. (I’m sort of fascinated with this topic, and found some interesting examples of people who’ve made deliberate decisions around their living situations, like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viv4Dwk1XYc)
I don’t mean to imply that others should make the same choices I have—quite to the contrary. I feel that each of us should think carefully about what matters to us, and then make decisions that best suit our personal needs. Admittedly, though, this takes some deal of contemplation, and sometimes restraint. The tough part is that a high-paced consumer culture tends to treat more as the primary solution—in spite of the fact that it often isn’t.
There’s some interesting research on this topic. The common finding seems to be that after a certain amount (around $50k/annually) income doesn’t have a great impact on happiness. Having enough money to not worry about money/shelter is hugely important. After that, it’s a diminishing returns scenario. (I’ve met many wealthy folks who’re miserable, and many middle-class people who’re quite content.)
We have an expression (portuguese) in my country that is: falar de barriga cheia, literally translates to "speak with a replete stomach". That's what i did. I fortunately have a choice.
I can't choose to buy the latest macbook/iphone but I can definitely choose to eat where and when i want, i have "my own" rented room to comfortably sleep and more important I have a job, a good one.. in Portugal, fuck me right?! That's something. So yeah i'm a privileged.
But I guess that's not the context of this discussion.
The truth is that i'm jealous. I consume most of my content from countries like usa/canada/uk/australia/sweden/norway (add missing rich countries here). Guess what's common between this countries: the average salary sounds pretty fucking principesque from my southern europe perspective (and it is not the worst perspective for sure). In the end you make good points, but my environment triggers my "yeah fuck you rich guy" spider sense much faster than my "hmm put yourself in his context and he actually make some good points". It's more or less like @Wil Nichols has said, the title doesn't help.
I've also read about that "turning point" of money/happiness, i tend to believe that is true, but at the time of writing i'm so far way from that line that line that i just ignore it. I wish i can send you an email soon telling: hey random stranger from the internet guess what? you and those articles were fucking right!
"But hey Renato, you've said you have the privilege of choice, just move to one these countries or apply to a remote-friendly company and live your dream of enjoying a principesque salary."
It's something that crosses my mind often. And it could happen in the future. But here's another truth: I love my job, "my" company and incomprehensibly my country. And love sometimes makes us do and believe in apparently stupid things. Only time will tell.
I appreciate that perspective. That said, I don’t think it’s as rosy in some other places as you might think.
In Vancouver (where I am) many people are under stress because the city is so severely unaffordable. A three-bedroom townhouse in our neighbourhood goes for around $900,000. A detached house starts at around $1,300,000. (This would be much higher on the west side of town.) In the past year, those prices went up ~30%. Renting is almost impossible, as the rental vacancy rate is 0.9%. Meanwhile, the median wage here is lower than in all other large Canadian cities.
So, yeah, a place like Vancouver looks great. However, many people are in fact under enormous pressure. A lot of people are leaving here, and I suspect the same is happening in San Francisco, London, and New York—because even if the job does pay well, the numbers often don’t work.
Yesterday, I listened to the Startup Podcast, while out for a run. In this one, they talked about Grooveshark (remember them?) and how they survived for a good while, just because the cost of doing business is Gainesville is so incredibly low.
My point is that you might in fact be in a better spot where you are, than in some of the places that sound good. In fact, I’m contemplating moving to a small town far from the design community. It might be harder to find projects there, but, the lower cost of living will probably make it more economically viable.
This is exactly the kind of experiment a person wouldn't do without telling absolutely everyone around him about it. I might be more positive about it had the author actually done this for a while before talking about it.
Personal cynicism aside, I would rather keep the 30% and force myself to put it into savings and totally ignore its existence. Having a healthy retirement fund is probably one of the best things you can actually do for your children.
I see it less like an experiment, and more as a choice.
I did something similar in 2000, when we started our studio. I went from a decently paying (for the time) production job to making very little ($6,000 for the year), so I could get the studio off the ground. It was lean for a stretch, but it allowed us the time we needed to find some clients, build our skills, and learn about the business.
Over the past ~20 years, I’ve gone up in pay, and I’ve gone down. Most times the change is only notable for a short period (regardless of whether it’s an increase or decrease). However, happiness/satisfaction on the job is something with more lasting impact.
As for socking money away, I agree: a healthy retirement fund is a good thing. However, there are problems with this approach.
The first, is that most people (in spite of good intentions) don’t actually do it. Maybe you’re the exception. I’m actually sort of curious about this: do you put 30% of your income into savings and ignore its existence?
The second, is that a lot of folks never get to retirement. Over the past few years, I’ve watched a number of friends die, suddenly. The time they had with their families was what they had to share.
Don’t get me wrong. If you believe that saving money for your retirement is the best thing you can do for your kids, you should probably do that. My choice, though, is to be present for my kids now.
Not the "best thing," but an important thing, as I noted.
Now for a horrid digression, since I thought about it. Family is also a privilege like anything else. It is something many of us choose to do, and in the eyes of the law is more or less a business transaction that happens to be deemed beneficial to the state. It is also "stuff" because a person or society chooses it and can benefit from it.
Because it is not absolutely required of a person, I can't apply romantic notions of "family is the most important thing, period" and "present, emotional bonds with family are always more important than anything else" as a default, Hollywood Pixar marketed ethos.
My point really is that family is a choice (I have one as well), and it is a different kind of "stuff" that one chooses to appoint their efforts and place value upon. So I just don't find anything particularly heroic about this endeavor of yours. You are simply choosing "this thing" over "that thing" and there's really no particular insight or enlightenment I can learn or ascribe to it.
From reading quite a few other responses here, you may very well correlate an engaging career and healthy salary with consumer culture or vain material wealth or absenteeism, but I just don't buy that Disney narrative because it's just not objectively true. Just maybe not good for you and your value system. Which you admit, and is your prerogative.
That all said, I hope this does work out for you. I really mean it.
You’re right. There’s nothing heroic about what I’m doing. I never said there was.
My purpose for writing this article wasn’t to claim I’m somehow special—because I’m not. Instead, it relates to the narrative we buy into, culturally. There’s a common belief that once one “arrive,” all things get better. This leaves a lot of people hoping that next raise, promotion, job, gig, whatever, will change their life for the better. (Even though it often doesn’t.)
On the other hand, there are things you can choose to do, right now that can make your life better. Most times this isn’t about waiting on an external force, but instead making some deliberate change for yourself. I really value time with my family, and having time to work on projects I have more autonomy with. To me, that’s worth the trade-off. For others, that won’t be the case.
As for a family being more ”stuff?” I’m not sure I follow you on that one.
I upvoted this story because it has some relateable parts in it. I would love to have the freedom to work on things I actually care about and that's what I'm working towards today.
I got a raise at the start of this year, but I'm not "ballin' out of control". It's allowed some perks for myself and my family, but I certainly don't feel the kind of privelege some people have. I know many people hate humble bragging, especially from rich white guys, but I do find it inspirational.
I’m glad you found some of the post relatable. :-)
As for having the freedom to work on things you care about? I think that just requires the right set of choices—and time. For example, I spent the first 7 months of 2015, working intense hours, so we could put aside some cash. It was a tough stretch, with no days off. However, it bought us time to work on http://www.officehours.io. Now, we’re at a spot at which we can either take on more client work and maintain our wages; or, take a pay cut, and spread out our runway a little longer. We opted for the latter.
It sounds like you’re already on your way with your project, so the above might be similar to what you’re doing too. In either event, it’s a bit of a juggle to transition to different types of work—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. :-)
As for raises, we never got to the “ballin’ out of control” stage, either (when I took more out of the company). In fact, that’s what I find so interesting about how money actually gets spent. It’s typically not on the big stuff, but rather the small, everyday purchases that make the difference. For example, most folks see a holiday as lavish, but think of a daily Starbucks latte as no big deal. Yet, over a year, the two cost roughly the same.
Privilege is a relative term. I think I’m sort of “middle class privileged.” I have the opportunity to choose less pay for more time. That said, it’s not like we live a lavish lifestyle. In fact, living in Vancouver means a relatively frugal lifestyle, even at the best of times (housing is very expensive here).
I suppose a part of my privilege relates to our situation at this exact moment. Five years ago, such a decision was out of the question. My wife was going to school, our kids were in daycare, and if I didn’t earn, we wouldn’t have been able to swing it.
Since then, our kids got older (now 7 and 9), my wife started working (not a high-paying job, but it’s something), and I cut a lot of our business expenses, freeing up some funds. We’re far from rich (very, very, very far from being rich) but we feel it’s important to make choices that we’re happy with.
That makes a lot of sense.
I definitely wouldn't have been able to support my family by myself a year ago, and my raise allowed my girlfriend to be a full-time mom to our newborn (2 weeks and a few days!) until she goes for her Masters degree next year. It seems like we're in similar situations, haha! My girlfriend will become a teacher after she finishes school and unfortunately, teaching doesn't pay well. She'll be doing something she loves to do though, and that's something we'll be happy with.
I think those early years with kids are the toughest. I remember 2008 being particularly difficult. My wife wasn’t working, rent was high, and studio work dried up (mostly due to the economic collapse). There were a few months where I didn’t bring home any pay, and we needed to use credit cards to keep afloat. It was difficult.
That said, it seems to get easier. As kids get older they need less constant supervision. Plus, once they get into school, daycare costs go down dramatically (we love our daycare provider, but it felt like we got a huge raise when we no longer have to pay that bill). And, once your girlfriend is working, it’ll be that much easier—even if it isn’t a highly paying job.
Congratulations on the newborn! That’s such an exciting time!
2008 was terrible. I couldn't find work so I taught myself how to design and code. Interesting that it's what I do for work now.
It was a brutal time—but, one way or another, most of us got through it. :-)
Really interesting read, thanks for sharing. Reminded me of a post (http://happierhuman.com/hedonic-treadmill/) that showed the 'science' behind hedonic adaptation.
Thanks for the link. :-)
Another good one: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy?language=en
Yeah OK I see where you are going with this. I see why many people instantly detect this as humble-bragging.
My take on this is that it comes down to what you value. For some, money is really important, others it is time.
I don't share your point of view, and would never consciously ask for an 'un-raise'. Or a pay-cut.
Lets be clear - you're talking about asking for less money for the same amount of work and effort.
Thats quite different to asking for less money, in exchange for less hours of paid work. Thats a different kettle of fish. Thats plain old flexible working hours.
I thought about this post this morning when I was driving to work with the sun dancing across the parks, listening to Tony Bennet, sitting on my heated leather seat in my new Jeep.
I worked bloody hard to get to this point, there were many days and nights without what I have now. Everything I have now is because of decisions and risks I've taken since I started with $0 after University. Nothing I have was for free, and nothing wasn't earned. I don't consider this a privilege, because I earn't it. So I feel I know the value of the money I am paid today.
I mean, Im privileged compared to many other groups of people in the world who have less, and for that Im grateful. But we're talking about being designers here and our immediate families.
I like to think about money not for what it can buy, but for what it can do.
This money I earn gets me to work safe, and home again. It keeps me warm in the cold winter, and protects me. It gives me more time with my new son and beautiful wife. More time with my family.
And if there's a surplus, Im keen to invest that for my son's future.
And because I earn what I earn, and appreciate it this way, it gives me fierce motivation to work better, faster and harder each day (in the same amount of hours). Im more confident, happier, and optimistic.
Ultimately, Im a better designer. I collaborate better, don't mind buying lunch or a few drinks for my peers.
Why exactly would I give 30% of that back?
As I noted in the post, it’s my company. So, I’m taking less money out of it, in order to afford myself more time (for family and our startup).
It sounds like you and I have experienced some similar things. We started our studio with no outside help/funding. We began without any clients, and we had limited experience. But, we worked our asses off—and, in time, got to a decent spot.
However, there were trade-offs as well. The most notable one was time with family. All those meetings, late nights, and business trips (I hated those) took a toll. When my youngest was 5, I realized that we really didn’t know one another. My wife would send me photos of the kids on hikes, and I’d be stuck in the office, because there was always more I could do.
Along the way, I reasoned that I just had to keep going. I felt that if I pushed harder, got the gigs, and kept them running, everything would work out—in the long run. It didn’t actually pan out that way, though. I was trading my time with my family for a mirage. In a service-based business work begets work. So, the more you do, the more you (typically) need to do.
I guess that’s my word of caution to you. I’ve been where you are, and what you say makes sense. But, damn those kids grow up fast. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get that time back.
As for the heated leather seats? It’s great that you like ‘em, but that’s just stuff.