How being a freelancer makes your life longer

Freelancer by Alejandro Escamilla

Half of 2017 has gone already. How did that happen, literally everyone seems to be asking? Many people have taken to Twitter to voice their distaste:

It’s almost a cliche to say that the older we get, the faster time seems to pass. But it’s true.

Subjective time

Between 2014-16, we went on holiday to the same house in Almeria, Spain, for three years in a row. I can honestly say the first time we went for 10 days, it seemed like an eternity. The third time we went for a fortnight and the time passed too quickly.

Now, at the beginning of July 2017, at the end of six months in which I have moved to Australia, lived in three houses, worked three different jobs and, finally, settled into freelance life, I’m wondering how it is possible ONLY six months have passed. My subjective time is slower than yours – and I’ve reached the ripe old age of 38.

Science backs up my anecdotal claims.

Science of time perception

Neuroscientist and writer David Eagleman pushed people off a 15-storey-high platform and then asked them to estimate how long they had fallen for. (They survived, because health and safety – and a net.) The participants on average estimated the time they had fallen for to be a third more than the reality.

Eagleman writes in an essay on this very subject on Edge:

In a critical situation, a walnut-size area of the brain called the amygdala kicks into high gear, commandeering the resources of the rest of the brain and forcing everything to attend to the situation at hand. When the amygdala gets involved, memories are laid down by a secondary memory system, providing the later flashbulb memories of post-traumatic stress disorder. So in a dire situation, your brain may lay down memories in a way that makes them “stick” better. Upon replay, the higher density of data would make the event appear to last longer. This may be why time seems to speed up as you age: you develop more compressed representations of events, and the memories to be read out are correspondingly impoverished. When you are a child, and everything is novel, the richness of the memory gives the impression of increased time passage—for example, when looking back at the end of a childhood summer.

We can’t extend our lives – yet. Even if we could, by the time we reached the age of 200, can you imagine how quickly a year would appear to fly by?

What we can do is make the lives we are leading appear to last longer in our memories by seeking out novel experiences and paying attention to them when they are happening. Yes, that probably means spending less time on Facebook, perhaps getting into mindfulness and meditation. Definitely go on a different holiday every year. But that only accounts for a couple of weeks of your life. What about the rest?

You can see where I’m going here. What’s the professional lifestyle that is closest to being a child? One in which (almost) every day is a new experience? Yes, freelancers are the children of the professional world.

When you are a freelancer, everything is novel – and there are plenty of critical situations when you have zero job security. Both of these will have your amygdala working overtime to lay down dense, sticky memories.

Photo: Alejandro Escamilla / Unsplash.


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