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How much did I earn as a junior designer in 2002?

Why time is more important than money, even when the money is low.

I want to talk about money in the industry, both past and present, but from a slightly different perspective.

Don’t get me wrong:

Money is important, but we seem to give it more weight than it actually deserves.

Everyone wants to earn more money, and while obviously it’s possible to improve your financials, it’s not what you should be focusing on (at least not as much).

The fact that we desperately NEED more money is sadly driven by social media accounts (Instagram is the prime suspect here) showing (often rented) excess; we want to have the same things.

The luxury cars, the private jets, or at least that gold, brand new iPhone 12 Pro Max. It doesn’t matter you just bought an 11 Pro last year.

How much did I earn as a junior designer

We scroll through things like that DAILY. And we want more money to maybe afford some of these some day. (Photos from Unsplash)

And while these things don’t bring us true happiness, we lie to ourselves pretending that they do. We mostly tell ourselves that lie before we get the things, and then, eventually, we do get some of them. That leads to the need for MORE money and a lot less time to really enjoy life.

Once we get that dream car, it usually takes a few days before we start using it only for the intended purpose of getting from point A to point B. And sure it’s more luxurious, but you get used to it quickly — trust me.

Designers can be rich?

Chasing money, many designers go to larger companies, even knowing that the work there can be unfulfilling or uninspiring. The risk of going to a smaller startup, earning less, but having a blast designing away during a hackathon over a cold pizza slice seems to lose all its appeal.

How much did I earn as a junior designer

Me during a hackathon in Stockholm in 2013 — at 5AM I decided to write a short story over a cold pizza slice, as my team was asleep — some others, energy-drink fueled people still continued. But it was FUN!

I’m not going to pretend I have the key to a life of success and “fun”, because it’s different for everyone. I can only speak from my own experiences, and I’m currently exactly at that place. But the trick here is, that YOU define where that place is. Whether it’s a Ferrari, a Porsche, a used Toyota or your own two feet as your primary means of transportation. Or it can be anything in between.

How much did I earn as a junior designer

You pick your spot on this graph — and don’t let society (or Instagram feeds) tell you what you SHOULD pick.

My first real design job was in 2002

I started my first real web-design job, back in 2002. It was an internet startup — something very rare back then, right after the dotcom bubble had burst. I was designing and doing the HTML for a rather large and growing internet portal.

I earned the equivalent of 500 coca cola cans a month. Yeah, the cheap ones. It may be easier to visualize it without currency conversion and coca cola is like the definition of capitalism. A Cola can is slightly more expensive in Poland, than it is in the US.

How much did I earn as a junior designer

If I spent my entire salary on soda cans, that’s how many I would get each month.

Now the thing was that I was working for that really low wage and also spending a lot of time at work. I felt a bit trapped and unable to pursue my other hobbies.

I was in a band, had a nationwide poetry community, we were releasing books, doing shows and so on. It was creative and it was super fun.

So right there, after my very first year of working in the IT industry, I went to my boss and told him I want Fridays off work.

Now keep in mind that while now it’s a common practice, and some companies do 4-day work weeks. It even seems to work.

It wasn’t so hip back in 2002.

My argument was this, I will try to do more than 4 days of work in those 4 days. Not necessarily make up for the missing day, but nearly.

How much did I earn as a junior designer

20% reduction, but a lot more time.

Of course, this was connected to a pay cut. Now I was making 400 coca-cola cans a month, but I had 12 days each month to do creative things.

Those connections made there, those poems, short stories, concerts and everything I did back then contributed a lot more to who I am, than moving those large pixels around a CRT display.

Shift your mindset

Now my real reason for not doing currency conversion here was to show you one thing. If all you cared about was drinking soda, that wage would be enough to drink yourself into a sugar coma every day. (16 cans per day?)

How much did I earn as a junior designer

That’s one can every waking hour.

Of course, we have other — hopefully bigger — dreams for our lives. But most of them are influenced by that greener grass on the other side of the fence. If we stop looking across, we may just realise how beautiful it is right here, on our side.

You don’t need those luxury cars, yachts, and golden watches to be happy. Achieving them is rarely connected with true happiness. More often it’s all about being overworked, stressed, anxious and depressed. Not even being able to enjoy what you’ve earned.

To get that shiny object you usually need to let go of a part of your soul.

But it’s all up to you

You can either chase the shiny or enjoy the life you have knowing that happiness is not in things. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ambitious. By all means, strive to achieve greatness!

Be a great designer!

You can easily make thousands of soda cans per month or tens of thousands in some countries. But the job must be fun to be fulfiling, and it must be about something more than money when you start getting enough of it to live a good life.

That moment of fulfillment and joy will happen way sooner if you realise what’s important in this life for you.

Unless it’s a golden yacht with silk sails. Then it may take you a while.

One way to make a big change in your life is to get a lot faster at what you do, and then just charging per project. That way you reclaim the “hours” of your life and you can use them however you wish.

But there are many other ways too. Just explore and find yours.

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