Tips For The Unrelenting Creative: Are You A Minimalist Or A Lifestyle-First Type Of Person?


Hi everyone,

Spring is here and so is the end of the academic year! I have been busy grading final project submissions and enjoying the downhill push towards the semester break. I hope all of you are able to get a vacation in the books before too long as the Summer months go quickly and I know that many of you have gone without a break for a long, long time.

Here’s to a downshift in your future!

Now, on to this week’s newsletter!

Are you a minimalist or a lifestyle-first type of person?

I remember having a discussion with a good friend after she completed law school from a major university. She explained that she took over $150,000 in student loans to get her law degree. Her post-graduation plan was simple: She was going to get a job at the best law firm she could that would pay her the most money. The type of law she practiced was secondary to her level of income. She had one goal, to pay off her student loans as quickly as possible. Her rationale was that she would sacrifice some material things early in her career so she could ultimately be more comfortable later in life.

The plan worked, she lived in an apartment with low rent, paid off her loans in just over three years, and immediately started putting her extra income towards retirement, a house, and vacations. Most importantly, the strong financial footing gave her a growing amount of flexibility to do things like serve on boards, donate to local charities and spend more time with her family. None of this would have been possible if she had gone further into debt in her 20s.

In my friend’s case, she chose to live a minimalist lifestyle until she dug herself out of debt in order to gain some financial stability. That way of living benefitted her deeply in the long run.

I chose a career rooted in stability right out of college, which provided me with financial stability and enabled me to live from a lifestyle-first perspective at the age of 25. Teaching elementary school general music enabled me to rent a nicer apartment, purchase a new car and invest in things that allowed me to continue to grow as an artist. I felt like a grown-up.

In theory, the plan made sense, in practice, I made a lot of mistakes (as usual). Even with money coming in the door, I should have been continuing to live a minimalist lifestyle in order to pay off debt and stabilize. Instead, I rented an apartment that was beyond what I should have been spending, I purchased a brand new car when I should have been paying off my student loans, and I went deeper into debt spending money on a lifestyle I couldn’t afford.

If I could give the 25-year old version of me some advice, I would have begged him to live as a minimalist in order to dig out before I pursued a lifestyle-first mindset.

Thoughts on why to live a minimalist lifestyle:

I often recommend that creatives live a minimalist lifestyle until they can get enough savings in the bank to cover at least six months’ worth of expenses. While six months might seem like a lot of money, having that much in the bank will allow you to have true flexibility when it comes to pursuing your creative work. In practice, that means setting a low food budget, continuing to drive your grandmother’s sedan even though you could technically afford a new car, and having roommates. This is not for the rest of your life, this is for right now, and it will give you some financial flexibility while you figure things out. There are a few advantages to living a minimalist lifestyle as a creative:

  1. A minimalist lifestyle is lower risk—Many of us are simply not comfortable taking on high amounts of financial risk in our lives, which often comes with a materialist lifestyle. Others are not in a position to dive into a flexible career, especially when family is involved or we have grown accustomed to spending the regular income associated with a stable work life.
  2. A minimalist lifestyle provides predictability—Without additional expenses each month, you can more easily predict how far your money will go and more confidently plan your monthly budget.
  3. A minimalist lifestyle allows you to stabilize your finances—Spending less allows you to dig out of debt faster. If you don’t have debt, it allows you to save more, which provides even more stability for you to take more risks down the road.
  4. A minimalist lifestyle builds a foundation for your future—The earlier you can start saving and investing for retirement, the more flexibility you will have later in life.

Thoughts on how to have a lifestyle first career:

While there are clear advantages to living a minimalist lifestyle as a creative, you might want to pursue a life and career that has more creature comforts. Here are a few things to consider when pursuing a lifestyle first career as a creative:

  1. A lifestyle first career is higher risk—If you are going to invest in a house, a new car, and take vacations, you’ll need to have a lot more money coming in the door in order to be comfortable with this type of lifestyle. In order to do this, you will need a combination of a high paying job, plus not have a lot of consumer debt (credit cards, student loans)
  2. Lifestyle first career seekers often pursue traditional 9-5 work—While maybe not your permanent plan, taking on a 9-5 job as a creative can enable you to gain a financial footing and stability so that you can make some larger purchases like a car or a home. The key here is that you will have regular, predictable income so that you can meet the needs of this higher-risk lifestyle.
  3. Lifestyle first career seekers often pursue meaning outside of work—In order to have some of the things you would like in your personal life (new car, house, etc.) you may need to take a job that you aren’t passionate about and instead pursue work that provides financial stability. The other side of predictability when you’re working in a 9-5 position is that you know when you’re NOT working. For many, this allows time for creative work, personal projects and family. Ironically, pursuing meaning in this way can be a great way to achieve creative flexibility.
  4. When you choose a lifestyle first career path, it’s hard to turn back—One of the biggest reasons to keep a minimalist lifestyle as a creative is because it is so difficult to dial back more expensive lifestyle choices. For every raise, new job with a better salary, or stabilizing work you gain, the more difficult it is to downshift to spending less, living in a smaller place, or purchasing a used car instead of a new one. Work to set reasonable budgets so you don’t over-extend yourself financially.

Regardless of whether you’re a minimalist or lifestyle-first type of person, the most important thing to do is come up with a plan of attack, check in on that plan every few months and get to work. In the long run, the more financially stable you become, the more likely you will be able to stick with your creative pursuits.


  • Build your online presence by finding your niche: The more specific I get with my online presence, the more traction I get building an audience. My typical instinct is to try to serve as many people as I can but time after time, being too general gets in the way of my success. In his blog Ungated, Rob Hardy lays out an incredible process for finding your niche!
  • Check out this case study on intellectual property rights: This brilliant thread by Mauv expertly lays out how Taylor Swift has gotten the best of her former record label in her pursuit to retain the rights of her music catalog. 
  • Stop overworking: The Pandemic has taken a toll on my work/life balance in ways I’m just now coming to realize. It turns out that waking up feet from my workspace is not conducive to a workflow rooted in taking breaks and I regularly put in long hours. To be clear, nobody is putting pressure on me to overwork but me. Without the process of traveling to and from work there is no clear start and stop to the day, which can be problematic. Long workdays can have a lasting toll on our overall quality of life as referenced in this recent NYC article, which makes an excellent case for us to stop working so hard.
  • Check out the career trends of 2021: Nobody is certain about how we will return to normal as we come out of the pandemic, however, this article does a great job of framing some of the things we might expect as we push through this year into uncharted territory.
  • Finally, this music by C.Tangana is fantastic!

Join This Newsletter And Invite Your Unrelenting Friends!

If you liked what you read here, I would be truly honored to have you join this newsletter by subscribing below!

Published by

Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Leave a Reply