Career Downsizing

Possibly the most difficult question is how to make a living in today’s world.
It has become exponentially harder with seemingly limitless options, career paths and job descriptions that didn’t even exist 5 years ago.

The freedom of choice is nice, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed (and there are studies showing we dislike having too many choices, and we’ll be less happy with whatever we pick).

Also, it seems that if you’re not “killing it” career-wise, it’s always your fault.
Can’t find a job? You probably haven’t applied enough. And you should’ve studied something else, why didn’t you go for STEM?
Your job is boring and depressing? Something’s wrong with you, try therapy. Then go find a better-paying job.
And why aren’t you starting a side hustle online, or making money selling your art? Look at this guy, he did that too and now he’s a millionaire!

There are two types of career advice that you’ll typically hear, and both of them have their limitations:

  1. Try harder and get the dream job (build technical skills and boost up your CV. Just try harder, leverage your network, and you’ll eventually land a great job).

    Here’s the problem, though: Well-paid and non-exploitative jobs are rare. The requirements for entry-level jobs have exploded, a Masters degree and 5 years of job experience seem to be the bare minimum. And wouldn’t wages be higher if skilled personnel was so rare?
    Also, some people just have it harder. Not everybody has a professional network, discrimination and nepotism still exist. Good luck if you’re old or if you have some illness. And sending out your applications and getting passed on over and over is scary and will obliterate your self-confidence and self-worth after a while. And most importantly perhaps: some people are just unemployable, they’re not built for the rigid corporate environment!
  2. Start a business (everybody has a unique skill or talent! There are millions of ways to become rich online and offline! Become the next music star or entrepreneur by creating content and being yourself!)
    While I do think more people should try things and start little businesses, I’m quite skeptical of the Gary Vee types who claim everybody can and should do it. Here’s the reality: it’s just too hard for most people. Most internet opportunities have been arbitraged away. 50 people already do what you want to do, they came earlier and there’s always someone better than you, and the internet is winner-take-all.
    Maybe a brick and mortar business is your best shot – but even a simple business like a hair salon comes with a buuunch of problems and costs you probably didn’t anticipate. Being your own boss can be scary – if you don’t work hard, there’s no money coming in. Good luck if you have (mental) health problems. And the current lockdown impressively showed us that you can lose it all if you’re unlucky.

What’s the solution, then?

I’m very hesitant to give oversimplified advice, because life is complex.
But here’s something I did, and you maybe haven’t thought about much because few people talk about it: Career downsizing. As cliche as that sounds, it’s about going from living to work to working to live.

Figure out how you want to live (there’s a good chance you need less money than you think), and see if you can find a way to make enough money to live like that. The less money you need for the life you want, the easier it is.
Conversely, the more money you need for your desired lifestyle, the more you have to build your CV and consider the Venn diagram of “what the job market looks for” vs “what you bring to the table”.

If you’re happy living in a tiny house in nature with your dog, you’ll have much more freedom and you don’t have to cater to the capitalistic demands of society: you can probably survive by doing some seasonal work, or maybe you’d like to write or create some YouTube videos about your life which could suffice to cover your bills. Having plenty of time, you could cook yourself and try foraging or gardening, this way you’ll need even less money.

The positive side-effect of career downsizing is that you’re very likely to end up less stressed and more content. Being able to get up when you want, not stressing over annoying bosses, clients and deadlines… just imagine the peace of mind you could have.

I got the idea for writing this while watching this week’s Unintentional ASMR pick about a handweaver from Ireland (who also happens to have an amazing voice), who summarizes it quite well: He doesn’t make a lot of money, but it’s not about that. “It’s about the quality of life, it’s about living somewhere I love, it’s about doing something I love. And as long as I can put bread on the table at the end of the week, I’m happy”.

Why don’t more people live like that, then?

Some people get really angry when hearing what I just said, and they’ll start listing reasons why they can’t downsize (maybe it’s the family and mortgages – sure, then it’s harder. But you chose those things, right?). And it’s harder if you’re from a 3rd world country, sure.

Still, I’m convinced that at least 10 to 20% of the population would enjoy living like that, as opposed to being in an overpriced apartment in a crowded, dirty city with a stressful full-time job. (It’s not for everyone, though. Lots of people want the big city life, or they love their work friends and the recognition they get at their jobs – good for them!)

What prevents us from career downsizing are our conditioning, social pressure and fear. And these are strong forces.
We’ve internalized our culture’s messaging of “you gotta earn a lot and spend a lot to live a good life”. For men especially, there’s the worry of not finding a partner without an impressive career.
Something in us is scared of downsizing and living a simple life where we have “just enough”. We compare ourselves too much and the “keeping up with the Joneses” thing kicks in. And finally, I think it’s fear and delusion – we can’t accept that we’ll die one day and that our lives are short. That’s why we act like we’ll live indefinitely, and hence we convince ourselves that we have to amass as many resources as possible.

Career downsizing doesn’t have to mean moving to the forest like Walden or becoming a hermit like Nietzsche. It could just be reducing your work hours, or switching to a part-time job that gives you more freedom and contentment.

Short plug: If you want to hear more (personal) thoughts on this topic as well as extra segments and ASMR recommendations, you can check out my Patreon-only ASMR Bedtime Show.

😴 What might help you find calm

Intentional ASMR Picks:

  • Let’s start with this high-quality unpredictable sleep exam by Starling. I thought the disco ball tapping was great
  • This one by PPOMO is some months old, but I just now watched it: Silicone ear cleaning (some of the sounds are almost too intense and tingly for sleeping, I think, but I loved it still)
  • Then the old-school “Gentlemen 2” collab by Atlas was amazing, it has great people like Fred or Zeitgeist contributing
  • And finally here’s me taking care of my cactus plants with lots of spraying and bottle shaking – I enjoyed it:)

💎 Hidden Gem:

This one’s quite niche, but hey I love small creators: Mer’s grocery store only has 150 subscribers, but I enjoyed the cool small store setting and the sounds. Not sure what the dog costume is about, but this candy store roleplay was nice

Unintentional ASMR Picks:

  • I loved this relaxing real-life Dollar Tree shopping trip by the soft spoken woman RyMingTahn (and with some nice crinkle sounds)
  • Here’s something I found super interesting but also relaxing: Why Bible Accurate Angels Are So Creepy by Hochelaga (great channel)
  • You probably know this classic already, but it’s worth a rewatch: Lita giving massages, accompanied by her angelic voice
  • I loved watching these three Irish artists and shop owners from Donegal talk about their craft. Especially the stonecarver and the handweaver have amazing voices