Monetizing a Lifestyle: The Minimalists Lean In

Best friends and partners in commerce Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus gave a talk this week at the Barnard Career Center. They introduced themselves as The Minimalists and proceeded to preach a philosophy of living that they seemed to think they invented out of thin air. At its core, minimalism is about a simpler life with less material possessions, a freer schedule, and a greater focus on What Really Matters. The relative terms in that sentence, of course, refer to a contrast with classic Western notions of success on a monetary scale.

Students dismayed by the achievement treadmill of academic and corporate cultures, motivated by a series of campus suicides to try and achieve some level of balance and basic mental health, or simply lured by the promise of free Insomnia Cookies flocked to the talk in droves, effectively joining the community of 4 million seekers who follow Fields Millburn and Nicodemus’ highly lucrative blog.  

In a not-so-surprising contortion of the stated purpose of minimalism, it soon became clear that the Career Center representatives were really interested in the way in which The Minimalists used their internet savvy and oddly antiseptic personal narratives, including the now ubiquitous death-of-mother-and-divorce-of-wife-causes-young-white-man-to-engage-in-critical-thinking-for-first-time-ever storyline, to capitalize on the discontentment, sadness, and hunger for meaning that prevail in capitalist societies.

The panel asked the speakers questions such as “how did you manage to get people to spend money to learn how to spend less money?” and “what advice do you have for young people looking to become professional minimalists?”

The Minimalists seemed to welcome this line of inquiry, directing interested people to their podcast, TED talk, publishing house, blog, Netflix documentary, books, and $125/hour mentoring service. “We help people live more meaningful lives,” Fields Millburn told Jester, “For a price, of course.”

Nicodemus jumped in, speaking around a mouthful of Insomnia cookie, “It’s all about filling that inner void, you know? We’re taught by society to believe that we need all this stuff– the fancy car, the clothes, the vacation house, the high stress job. Really all you need is a way to play the game while pretending to operate outside of the game entirely.”

Student responses varied, with Sarah Marson ’18 saying, “I feel really inspired to clean out my closet” and her friend Jolie Harnett ’17 asserting that, “I just don’t know that I want to engage in the kind of relentless branding and slavery to social media that comes with being a lifestyle guru.”

Other students maintained that they were unclear as to how to logistically achieve a career simultaneously inside and outside of traditional personal marketing and corporate structures. Still more students were seen stashing three to four cookies in a napkin and making a beeline out of the Career Center.

Five minutes after the talk, a job description and application form for a Minimalist Internship for Summer 2017 became available on NACElink.

By: Cary Chapman

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