Reverse-Engineering Your Life

May 14, 2013

Here’s an interesting article on the commentary site The Ümlaut, on a trend I’ve been noticing for a while. People are choosing to work less (or, at least, very differently). Not because they’re slackers, but because they’ve realized that they want to have a more rounded existence.

There’s also this huge change in the way we consume—we’re buying used instead of buying new, renting instead of buying, and sharing instead of owning in the first place. We’re drifting away from the urge to buy bigger and more expensive stuff.

Economist and author Tyler Cowen calls it being a “threshold earner,” someone who’s decided to “seek to earn a certain amount of money and no more.”

As Ümlaut writer Jerry Brito points out, it also helps that technological innovation has made the accoutrements of modern life much cheaper. IPads and smartphones cost hundreds of dollars, not thousands. Brands like Trader Joe’s, Zara and Uniqlo offer almost-luxury products for a fraction of the price.

“Accepting a threshold income—maybe as a journalist at a political magazine or an independent graphic artist—is easier when you know you’re not foregoing any amazing new improvements in well-being.

The same music, sports, movies, and HBO miniseries are available to threshold earners that are available to their high-income counterparts. The only difference might be the size of the screen they watch it on. Many persons are discovering, therefore, that above a certain income threshold, there is very little they ‘need’ to be happy.”

I'm seeing this more and more as I go around the country talking to our members. People are reverse-engineering their lives: They’re figuring out how much they need to earn, and reclaiming the rest of their waking hours for things that are important to them.

Instead of building their lives around a job, they’re building their jobs—gig by gig—around their life.

Sara Horowitz

As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.