The concept of “social capital” is gaining momentum as we enter the second decade in the 21st century. It boils down to the idea that the work you do should be meaningful to you and (hopefully) to society. The idea seems to be catching on with both “millennials” (those workers in their 20s) and baby boomers.
While the idea sounds good in theory, in practice it often means earning less income. And there’s the rub: how can you do well, in terms of earnings, by doing good? The answer is simple to understand but challenging to implement: live within your means.
The millennials have an inherent advantage over everyone else. As they are often just starting their careers, they have the early opportunity—if they take it—to consciously choose their lifestyle. If they are wise, they will set their living standards after they’ve found work that satisfies their souls. Once their pay level is known, then they can adjust their living expenses to match their income levels.
Contrast that approach to many of us in our 40s and beyond who’ve pursued “bigger and better” jobs (with ever higher levels of pay) in order to support our “bigger and better” lifestyles—bigger houses, newer cars, splashy vacations, latest media gadgets, etc. We may have unknowingly become financial supporters of our things, instead of the reverse. We’re working for our possessions, instead of our possessions supporting us.
And to provide the income necessary to maintain our current level of living (who would ever consider “downsizing” their standard of living, after all?), we take jobs that offer more money but less meaning. And we get burned out, call in “sick” more often, and need ever better vacations. To find meaning, we try more stuff that costs more money. The master becomes the servant.
How do we break the cycle? The millennials already have a good jump start, if they are foresighted enough to make good choices. For the rest of us, it may take an economic downturn like we went through from 2009 to 2011. Maybe now is the time to really downsize our stuff, and if we’ve lost jobs, to choose more meaningful work when the economy gets better. And to adjust our post-recession lifestyles to match our new incomes, instead of the reverse. Less stuff, more enjoyable work. Doesn’t that have a good ring to it?
Or perhaps if you’re nearing retirement, your opportunity is to leave your career job and take on work that you’ve always wanted to, that will give your life significance and meaning. That sounds pretty good too. I don’t know about you, but this social capital idea is starting to make more sense. Anyone else ready to make a change on purpose?