Saturday, May 22, 2010

The New Economy

Despite what the politicians and pundits say, I don't think we are in the midst of an economic "recovery." The word recovery implies going back to a previous condition. When you recover from a cold, you go back to the condition of health you were in before you caught the virus. After you've recovered, you continue on with your life as you did before you got sick.

But what is happening with the economy right now is much more profound than a recovery. We are not going to go back to the same life we had before. When you get past the headlines about bank bailouts, mortgage defaults and unemployment figures, you can sense that there is something deeper and more personal going on.  I would describe it as a process of economic rethinking. And the more that time goes by and the more uncertain the future seems to be, the more it is dawning on people that we are heading into a new version of what we call "the economy."

What this New Economy will look like, I can't tell you. All I can see is that there are some big questions we have to ask ourselves as we move in that direction. We have to have the courage to challenge our beliefs about money and work before we can move ahead. Here are some of those questions:

  • Is there really any value in "hard" work? Do you believe that work should involve some amount of suffering or sacrifice? Recognizing that what one person considers hard work is another person's dream job, I'm not talking about the perceived difficulty of a job. I'm talking about defining hard work as being something one resents doing because it feels like struggle or hardship or bondage; doing something one has to do, not something one wants to do. How often have you seen that pay off - I mean, literally? Isn't the stress of going against one's own good greater than the stress of the actual work? 
  • Do you believe that without hard work you cannot (or should not) get ahead? Do you resent people like Bill Gates, who dropped out of college to do the kind of work he loved doing, and went on to become a billionaire? Or do you see that pursuing what you love guides you onto the path of wealth? 
  • Are there alternatives to the typical life path of going to school, getting an education in order to get a good job, working for 30+ years, then retiring? What might those alternatives look like? 
  • What kind of work-life balance suits you? Some people thrive on being busy and 40+ hours a week on the job is no problem for them. Others are burned out by a 20 hour work week. If no one made a moral judgment about your choice, what would your preference be?
  • Speaking of moral judgment, do you believe that work is "good" and leisure is "bad?" If so, why?
  • If it develops that a college degree is not necessarily a ticket to a good income, would you go to (or would you have gone to) college? Or encourage/expect your children to go? If you saw a college education as preparation for life, but not necessarily for a job, what difference would that have made in what you chose to study?
  • What do you wish you had known about work and money before you graduated from high school? 
  • If you are approaching retirement age, what is your opinion of the 401K system? Is it providing you with what feels like a secure financial basis for retirement? Do you understand the plan your broker/advisor has laid out for you? Do you feel like your retirement has been hijacked by Wall Street? Do you ever wonder if there might not be a better way to secure your retirement? If so, what might that be?

Over the past few years, I have asked myself these questions. I don't think I've been alone, as more people have found themselves unemployed or underemployed. One of the advantages of having more time available, is that there's more time for reflection. I don't think there are right or wrong answers to these questions. There are only our answers. We each get to choose for ourselves. The choices we make will shape the future of this New Economy. Regardless of what the government, banks and Wall Street do, we will decide what comes next. What kind of future do you want? Now is the time to dream it.

Update on 10/13/10: I just found a related article, titled The Silent Rise of The New Pioneers, on Christine Livingston's blog, A Different Kind of Work. She lives and works in the UK. And she writes from her perspective as a coach with years of corporate experience prior to starting her own business. Her observations are well worth a read!

For more on this subject, you might also want to read this post, "Nobody Needs a Job," which offers ideas for generating income beyond jobs alone.