There are lots of great things about growing up in America. But there is one tough one that I’ve been reflecting on: our culture likes to ascribe our identity and our worth based on what our job is and how much money it comes with. One of the problems with this is that there are many people who create things or do things in our society that are extremely valuable, but our culture does not value them. Say, for instance, painting or making music or protecting the environment or raising a child.
A second problem is that what our society ascribes monetary value to now is based on what it values at this moment in time, for example volume of output and efficiency. Those of us creating work for the future–a future where we will need to bring manufacturing closer to home, or need to be more careful about using natural resources–will struggle a heck of a lot while the things that our culture values catch up with our vision.
The third problem is that many of us will get stuck in the trap of looking to our culture to find our worth: those of us who are creating visions that belong to our future will feel that we aren’t valuable. The result is beautiful, creative visionaries who think that they don’t have value and that’s a problem. We need them to wake up everyday and build the future, unfettered by their own self-doubt.
This is not a new problem. Take, for instance, Madeleine Vionnet, the woman who invented bias cut clothing designs. Before she had her own fashion house she worked at a fashion house where the sellers refused to sell her work when it looked different from other fashions of the time. They said nobody wanted to buy it. It was too different. Yet overtime she became one of the most famous dressmakers of all time, an extremely innovative and influential designer whose mark on fashion is still alive with us today.
But how the heck did she hang in there in the meantime? How did she have faith that she was on the right track, that she shouldn’t just give up because no one wanted what she was passionate about?
How have the creative, impactful innovators stuck with it through all the naysayers, all the periods of broke-ass living, and found the faith to keep going with it in spite of what a weirdo they were compared to their peers.
How do we reclaim our value from our culture?
Well, unfortunately Madeleine Vionnet cannot answer for us because her time has passed, but I thought I would drum up a list of ideas here to help us encourage each other.
Find your community
Maybe the big spenders aren’t dropping serious coin on your work (yet!) but I bet there is a community out there who loves to jam with you on niche innovators in sewing or a novel design detail you’ve come up with or a set of chords you’re experimenting with. Your community exists in real life and online. Build it up and make sure you see them regularly. They will feed you when your creative job isn’t.
Are you tired of hearing about this one yet? Nonetheless, meditation helps us separate the thoughts we’ve imported from who we are. It is really important to help us separate our actual, precious value to each other and the world, from all the crap society has told us about what it takes to be valuable. Hint: It does not include owning a smart watch!
Be vigilant about rejecting the idea that your value is tied to how you earn $$
As American creatives we have to be super-vigilant about rejecting ideas about our self-worth derived from what we are currently doing to pay bills. Notice when you judge yourself and judge others and start letting it go. My favorite composer, Philip Glass, was a plumber even when he was getting written up in the New York Times. Nobody can convince me that this man is not valuable. (More on this next week when I talk about the different types of value you can get from your job.)
BUT take the money you spend seriously as a way of ascribing value to businesses, creatives, causes.
Though we could stand to take less seriously how our identity relates to how we earn money, how we spend money is something to be taken seriously. Do you like the world Amazon is building? How about that artist or gardening store in your community? When you give them money, you give them power. Yep, that’s the world we live in. This is not a call for perfection, just a reminder to be mindful of the impact you’re having with every $4 latte or $25 shirt. You give them your money, you give them that much more power to impact the world we live in.
The work itself–so alive and exciting that it has it’s own energy
I am increasingly wondering about this one. We keep working, in spite of the struggle, or the fact that there is no clear payoff on our horizon or big moment when we are going to get “discovered” because the work itself pushes and pulls us forward. We are in such a wild love affair with it that we have no choice but to continue traveling the road.
What do you think? Other ideas? I LOVE your comments. Pls share in comments below! We need all the help we can get!