My little sister called me out in the comments yesterday (which is awesome) and she's got me thinking about the practical challenges of living these principles I've been going on and on about over the past year.
To summarize, my position is this: the American Dream of "good grades and good college and a good job and a good salary and good benefits and a good retirement" is broken. Once upon a time we could get rich by doing what we were told. Not any more. It's gone forever. Now we have to create our own value, do our own work, think for ourselves, and invent our own opportunities. (To use Seth Godin's term, we're transitioning from an Industrial Economy to a Connection Economy.)
Erin suggested that although this is a nice view of the world, it's just not practical. You have to have a job, and you have to go to college so they'll give you one.
I thought about this all day yesterday and I've decided to really try and tackle the issue, to address practicality of this position, to dig into what it really looks like to live in the Connection Economy. Is it a real alternative, or just an idealistic daydream?
This week I'm going to write a series of posts about life in the Connection Economy: How do you pay your bills? What if the thing you love to do doesn't pay well, or doesn't pay at all? Where do you live? What do you eat?
These posts will not, of course, address the particular circumstances of every American. I hope that they will, though, illuminate a few universal principles that we can all use to build our lives in the Connection Economy.
So, here's the line up I have in mind:
- Monday - Intro + "The Game of Being Alive"
- Tuesday - "The 22K Lifestyle"
- Wednesday - "20% Sell Out"
- Thursday - "Tiny Houses"
- Friday - "The Abundance of Shared Costs"
Now for today's insight.
"The Game of Being Alive"
As living creatures, we are supremely preoccupied with ensuring our survival and as modern creatures, we've equated "I have a job" with "my survival is ensured".
We're obsessed with having a job. If you ask someone one question and they answer you in one sentence, this is likely to be the exchange:
First person: "So, what do you do?" Second person: "I'm a insert job title here."
We love having a job because it means that we will 1) never go hungry, 2) never be homeless.
We encourage our friends and family to get a job because we want them to also be able to eliminate the possibility that they will ever be hungry or homeless. This is the first step for an adult: get a job, ensure your survival. Playing music is fine, but do that after you get a job. Volunteering for a local politician - also fine, and you should do that after you get a job. Spending time with your grandparents? Exercising? Painting? Growing a garden? All good, all to be done after you've completely ensured your survival.
Most human beings that have existed over the past 200,000 years have spent their whole lives fending off hunger and cold. It was never an option for them to get it pre-packaged in a 40 year career. Every day they woke up and thought: today, I find food and shelter. They had to live their lives right in the middle of that struggle, right up against it. They loved and laughed and painted and played - all while they struggled, desperately, to stay alive.
I'm tickled to death to have been born at a time in history and in a part of the world where survival is easily ensured. I don't intend to waste that gift, either: I happily participate in agriculture, capitalism and the rule of law. I'm excited that the actuary table gives me pretty good odds of reaching 80. That's awesome.
I also don't want my fear of hunger and cold to utterly run my life. If that fear still runs my life, then what's the point of all this progress?
I don't have any work lined up after September of this year, and I refuse to let that fill me with fear. I've got food and housing locked up for a solid 6 months, which is more than most of my ancestors could say at any point in their lives.
Being well fed and warm is a huge blessing, one that shouldn't be ignored or thrown away carelessly.
At a certain point, though, battling for survival is what makes us living creatures. It's part of what makes us human. It's the game of being alive.
I think we could all benefit from allowing a little baby version of that survival game into our everyday lives - especially if doing so lets us pursue our dreams.