There are plenty of things that we’re born into and forced to figure out how to manage. Learning language, social connection, and, of course, money.
Living in a Western culture necessitates dealing with money. It’s like an arranged marriage but even more cemented than that—you can walk away from a marriage, even if doing so creates enormous turbulence, but you can’t walk away from money.
We all know that—scratch that, we’re all taught that having more money bumps you into in a higher social caste and brings all the associated benefits. Literal obesity won’t earn you accolades, but “cash obesity” certainly does.
I entered college as a music major, and, the first week of classes, met with my advisor. He looked me in the eye and told me that a music degree and fifty cents would get me a cup of coffee. My first week. I was eighteen years old, and this was my first step onto the conveyor belt of financial competition and obligation. I stuck with the music program for a year and a half but eventually switched schools and settled into a journalism degree. More viable opportunities in that field, yes? There would be, or there could be, but that voice in the back of my mind was making noises. Do I want this for the long haul? Do I want the life of a journalist? It partially satisfied my desire to write, but it was lacking something important. Passion. The poetry of the soul.
Also known as meaning.
At twenty-five, I graduated with a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and a minor in music. I sat back, stared at my official-looking degree, took a deep breath, and thought, Well, guess I’ll be poor the rest of my life.
For me, it was the beginning of “meaning over money,” and it was a singular moment that shaped my decisions for the next three decades.
All the job opportunities and decisions over the last thirty years have gone in favor of meaning rather than the managerial position or fat bank account. I’m not going to say that there haven’t been times I was ruffled by money shortages or even swallowed by despair, but that voice in the back of my mind could not be extinguished. At the height of financial panic, I began to realize that the cash itself was a byproduct, secondary to what was exponentially more valuable and meaningful: social connection. I understood, with blinding clarity, how true the values gleaned from my younger days were. Nothing in this life—including money—means anything without social connection.
I realized that social connection IS money. It is the human-to-human currency that can eventually generate green currency.
2008. The housing bubble burst, and the Great Recession roared through the global banking system. The Big Short. I saw ragged street peddlers being replaced by well-groomed people in middle-class attire. I heard the stories of friends whose houses were being foreclosed. I read the news articles about layoffs—thousands of people being let go and set adrift. I felt the global panic and depression and mounting anger.
First, I was “forced into freelancing,” and then I watched the death agony of my entire industry, which meant I was not only unemployed, I was unemployable. The despair over finances turned to panic. Then it got worse.
A sea change was taking place in my psyche, one that I call “the unraveling of the corporate mindset.” I knew for the first time what it felt like to be financially adrift. Unhinged, unaffiliated, unprotected, having no idea where “job security” was going to show up or how or when or how long it would last.
I was positive of exactly one thing: I had to build my social currency. I moved back to the city where I had the most social connections and went to work at building my network.
There’s nothing new about how “who you know” is tied to employment and money—it had just never been so stunningly clear. It was time to do whatever it took to (a) keep the bills paid and (b) socialize, socialize, socialize. Meet people—anybody, everybody. Dive into the groups that I hadn’t before, attend the type of gatherings I hadn’t before, and most of all, build friendships. It’s a slow process, one cup of coffee at a time, but it’s working.
The biggest change that this trial by fire brought was a new definition of wealth. I gave up “the corporate mindset” and the familiar “American Success Stories”—rags to riches, self-made millionaire, climbing the corporate ladder, “making it,” and all the rest. I decided to live the mantra from one of my favorite movies, Fight Club, and let that which does not matter truly slide.
Opulence doesn’t matter (not that it ever ready did for me). That American Success story doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except that which truly matters. It’s scribbled on a piece of paper and tacked onto the bulletin board in my home office: “Good times with good friends and good people.” Crazy fun memories, great experiences, adventures, collaboration, laughter, and play. Doing as much good, having as much fun, and giving and receiving as much love as possible. These are what matter to me.
This is my currency, and in that light, I’m filthy rich.
Lori Stephens, pNLP, CCP, WPCC is a writer, editor, publisher, Certified NLP Practitioner, Whole Person Life Coach, and the founder of ROAR Life Coaching. She specializes in Exit Strategy Coaching—helping people who are ready to quit a soul-crushing job, walk away from a toxic relationship, exit a repressive social or religious group, come out as their true sexual or gender orientation, or in some other way claim their true path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.