Capitalism sends us out, like buzzing bees, to source, serve, and consume. Day after day, year after year. Ad nauseam.
Out in this great hive we are overworked (and underpaid), and studies show that it is biting into our quality of sleep, time with families, hobbies, activities, health, and adrenal glands.
The average American worker has less vacation time, state and federal holidays, personal days, and maternity or paternity leave, while we work more hours and have less workplace rights and social benefits than our counterparts in most advanced countries in the world. Bummer!
At the same time, the US has the highest rates of per capita consumption and waste, with only five percent of the world’s population accounting for four to five times that share of resource use and waste production. Among other factors, perhaps this overworking society is both a symptom and a cause of such driven over-consumption?
The balance has been tipped, with real consequences—environmentally, socially, physiologically, economically, and existentially. This issue deserves our attention so that balance can be restored, in our own lives, with those we care about, in the organizations and businesses we work with, and in our larger culture, country, and world.
No one is going to look back from their deathbed and wish that they had put in more hours at the office.
In this article I will explore the work/life balance issue, and ways to recast and improve our relationships to money, as well as ways to use it less often. I also discuss how entrepreneurship can be a force for good, and I include a list of helpful resources to create meaningful businesses. But first, a bit about your past.
The Roots of Working Together
We were, more or less, a socialist-leaning species when you look at our long history. If a group of hunters goes out and only one person makes a kill, the whole tribe eats. Likewise, childcare, the preparation of meals and shelter, the fashioning of items, the development of and participation in cultural activities, were all responsibilities and enjoyments shared throughout the whole tribe. This makes more sense when you know and care about everyone in your group, which was usually no more than 50 people.
Not all property was shared—there were still personal artifacts that individuals fashioned, earned, or received as gifts. Most of the general resources, however, from materials to each other’s labor, cooperation, and actual care, were made available and shared throughout the group.
In human history and in our genetic relatives, there have always been “alpha” individuals who, at times or in areas, take on leadership roles. But this power was not absolute—it could shift based on the situation and the response of the tribe. In this way, decisions that affected the group were still made by the group, and many tribes that have been studied, as well as our close cousins, the Bonobos, show a much better balance between the sexes, too.
This may all sound pretty Utopian. But it is all in our nature. It was what we and our ancestors were built for and what allowed us to survive for millions of years. When the forever-familiar jungles gave way to the sparse grasslands, our ancestors could not compete with the speed, senses, and built-in hunting tools that the big cats and dogs of the world possessed, so nature doubled us down on big brains, developing technology, and group dynamics instead.
Like fingers of a hand, humans joined together to carve out a safer place in the wilderness. With this deep background of social reliance, it is no wonder so many people are living in or yearning to live in communities today. We thrive best together, and this is still wired very deeply within us. When you feel that you and your work are serving a group and a cause greater than yourself, it matches your programming and feels like you are fulfilling your purpose.
Only in the past 12,000 or so years have humans transitioned from this closely reliant tribal structure into the “civilization” model. From small villages in the fertile crescent, burgeoning crop yields created population boosts, land and animals were divided up for care, and we began to have wider disparity in our living quarters, labor, property, resources, wealth, and power.
If the history of the cosmos were condensed into a year-long calendar, the entire experiment of this type of human civilization would take place only in the last few seconds. What is to blame for things going so out of balance so quickly, and can we steer it in a better direction?
Is the Market System to Blame?
In intentional communities, people often come up with alternative ways to share resources and responsibilities, to achieve, among other things, a better balance of work and life, more self-sufficiency, and a smaller ecological footprint. While there are unique and difficult challenges to living in community and nurturing it to thrive, the net result is typically much more reminiscent of some of the best parts of our communal heritage.
Because completely participatory planning and distribution of goods and services can not be so easily, effectively, and equitably applied to the greater population at large, there has to be some system available to move goods and services around, and a way we can all choose to equitably access, contribute to, and be rewarded from it.
Ideally this market system should be as free and as fair as possible. We all know that is not currently the case. Many regulations and laws need to be improved, wages increased, subsidies axed or reallocated, institutions and monetary policies reformed, and financial influences over our politics neutralized. It is a large bill, but we don’t want plutocracy, where corporate influence runs over the middle class, the environment, all sensible regulations, and social safety nets. This means we have to participate to influence what becomes important, who represents our interests, and what actually gets done.
To reduce the environmental downsides of production and consumption, some concerted changes are needed to address waste issues: for example, harvesting clean energy and being more efficient in its use, producing more organic food locally, widespread 3D printing, and switching to greener materials, such as compostable packaging, plant-based plastics, and concrete that sequesters carbon while it is made. These are all in the pipeline, and we can accelerate them.
Given these types of improvements, which are all possible if the will of the people is actualized, the free market might not be so often villainized by the greener thinkers out there.
The most often demonized aspect of capitalism is money. However, it is not money itself that is an enemy of freedom, ethics, health, happiness, or sustainability. Money, in its essence, is just a form of communication. Just as we ascribe abstract value to words, intonations, and symbols to convey ideas and feelings, we also ascribe value to an agreed-upon medium to use as a bartering and planning tool. Anything beyond that is culturally or personally applied.
Money is inherently a technology for us to use, not a system which must make us out to be the tools. Like all technology, money can be used for different purposes depending on the intention behind it. A hammer can build a house, or it can tear it down. Do not believe in its power to define or restrain you, and do not be afraid of obtaining or wielding it. Treat it like a game if that makes it easier to define and progress with. In order to leverage your hard work and to practice financial discipline, build a habit of saving a certain fixed percentage you decide upon, every single time there is income.
Like love, breathing, conversations, and intentions, money is an energy that we give and receive in our relationships to the world. It is karmic in that way. It is ultimately not the use of money that is the concern, but what one trades to obtain it, and what it supports.
To help put a regulator on your work/life balance, an important axiom worth keeping in mind is “Do not prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities.” Make life about what matters most, and have the courage to draw the line where you will not compromise your health, sanity, relationships, morals, self-respect, or creative energy in exchange for more income or power.
While the western world focuses so intently on the amount of money earned, truly wealthy people know that financial well-being is only one aspect that contributes to a life well lived.
Alternatives to Money
Even though money can be viewed, earned, and spent in positive ways, it is also nice to reduce our reliance on it whenever possible. Some of the following are facilitated by the internet, while some of these alternatives to money are millennia old.
Self-Sufficiency: An individual, family, community, region, etc. can produce their own food, energy, materials, and medicines, thereby reducing dependency, cutting down on transportation, and ideally decreasing costs while increasing quality and satisfaction.
Skill Shares: Use a bulletin board in a common space for people to post, in two columns: what they are looking for, and what they can provide, from materials to skilled assistance.
Gift Circles: These are similar to skill shares. A group gets together and goes around the circle three times. The first time you state something you are looking for, and anyone can chime in to give you that. The second time around you offer some things you have to give, and anyone can jump on the offer. The third time each person shares about a recent gifting exchange and how it worked out.
Time Banks: This online version of the skill share allows even more flexibility in bartering. You register on the site and post what type of help you are looking for and what type of help you can offer. For each task that you do for someone else—say, fixing a computer, gardening, lessons, babysitting, etc.—you receive a credit online which you can then redeem for any other task.
Local Currency: Many cities and towns have started local currencies which encourage the cycling of value within a local economy. This encourages people to spend locally, and some act as loyalty benefits by having favorable exchange rates. For example, one can exchange 10 US Dollars for 11 “B-Notes,” which can be spent at over 200 local businesses in Baltimore.
Ride Sharing: Sites like Rideshare.org, Craigslist, Uber, and Lyft have given carpooling and peer-to-peer taxi services a real presence. (Check out BlaBlaCar.com and Carpooling.com if you’re in Europe.) Sites like Getaround and Relay Rides are like Zipcar but person-to-person, letting you rent out vehicles through the safety of online reviews and a third-party site.
Traveling: Next time you plan a trip, consider volunteering at an organic farm. Under an arrangement typically called WWOOFing, you exchange a few hours per day for a free place to stay and sometimes even three meals a day. This is a great way to meet people, to learn more about and gain appreciation for the locale, and to pick up some organic gardening and other skills along the way. With plenty of notice, you can also volunteer to share your skills with an intentional community through the Directory on ic.org. Or contact like-minded travelers and hosts through Couchsurfing.com. For a private room that is much cheaper than a hotel, rent directly from someone on AirBnB.com, Hospitality Club, HomeAway, Roomorama, One Fine Stay, or Bed and Fed.
Tool Libraries: This is an easy one to start in your neighborhood so that multiple people have access to good garden and power tools. People can start by each donating tools, or paying to start up or to use the library, so that high quality tools are acquired, organized, and well maintained.
Rental or Sharing Networks: There are many sites to share or rent property temporarily from others nearby. Examples are Share Some Sugar, Neighbor Row, The Sharehood, Frents, Zilok, Rentoid, Ecomodo, Hire Things, StreetBank, Toolzdo, and RentStuff.
Free Stuff: Hand-me-downs, donations, re-purposing, plus FreeCycle and Craigslist Free section. There is also Giftflow, Ziilch, Exchango, and Freally.
Creativity: Enjoy and appreciate the simple and subtle things. Do things which do not cost money or require consumption. Take a hike, write a letter, learn something mind-blowing!
Intentional Communities: Many communities incorporate the elements discussed above and many more, in order to live without the need for a constant exchange of currency.
For when money is needed, one positive way to earn and exchange it is to start or help out a business or organization that you believe provides something of real value to the world.
I believe strongly in the power of entrepreneurship wielded wisely to improve our way of life, and to transform and spread technology, ideas, and opportunities. An entrepreneur is a sort of alchemist who combs the earth for just the right ingredients, combines them in just the right way, and then through will, skill, and magic transforms them into something valuable in the world.
Entrepreneurs see creativity all around them. Most things and systems around us have been designed by someone, and so can be re-imagined and redesigned. An entrepreneur sees opportunity where others see problems, and is willing to take risks, do experiments, and take action to set something right. It is an approach to the world that believes the answers are out there if you ask the right questions, that hard work and studying pay off, and that doing what is different or hard is sometimes the best and only way.
It is a view which interprets mistakes and detours as lessons and bridges towards greater understanding and awareness. It is knowing that in order to make a bigger impact and to make more money you have to serve more people and provide more value to the world.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Business culture is evolving to care more about making positive social impacts. Some companies are espousing the “Triple Bottom Line”—which measures success not just on the level of Profit achieved, but also on the happiness of its People, and the impact on the Planet.
Social Enterprise is growing rapidly, and many master’s studies, investment groups, and accelerator programs are being built around the idea that business can do well by doing good.
Certified “B Corporations” are constructed to use the power of business to solve environmental and social issues. As an example, in addition to working as the Business, Website, and Advertising Manager for Communities and FIC, I also work as a Baltimore Representative for an online farmers’ market and grocery store called Relay Foods. Relay Foods was the first B Corp Certified grocer, and delivers local groceries to Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. They market goods for local farmers and pay them four times what stores do, while advocating for healthier eating, building awareness about the importance of local food systems, and reducing environmental impact through lower food miles and a fraction of the food waste. (To try it out and get $30 off an order of groceries, go here: www.RelayFoods.com/friend/47xpbt.)
Models like this are designed to address hugely important problems in our world—in this case convenient affordable access to high quality local fresh food. We need similar breakthrough models to supply energy and materials, medicines and fuels, and services which help to educate, train, heal, and empower people. Dream large, do your research and planning, and create the future! Entrepreneurship is not easy, but it is needed, and much can be learned along the way!
I have been working on various entrepreneurial pursuits most of my life. In elementary school I was selling candy, doing yard sales, and hawking lemonade on the bike trail. Since then I have bought and sold used goods online, started a website called OrganicMechanic.com dedicated to furthering green technology, and have worked for a number of small and large businesses and nonprofits to help create brands and offerings, to define strategy for new opportunities, and to market to wider audiences. The following is a list of some resources I found use from along the way, which may help you and your crew in your entrepreneurial pursuits.
Good luck! It happens when preparation meets opportunity!
E-Myth Revisited, 80:20 Principle, 4 Hour Workweek, The Lean Startup, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Choose to Be Rich, Millionaire Mind, Tribal Leadership, Rework, Made to Stick, 1 Minute Manager, How to Win Friends & Influence People, Business @ the Speed of Thought
MasterPlans.com, LivePlan.com, Equitynet.com, and score.org or SBA.gov for advice
Find Partners and Cofounders:
PartnerUp.com, FindaFounder.com, LinkedIn.com, CoFoundersLab.com, Startuply.com, StartupWeekend.org, Meetup.com
YCombinator, Advise.me, idealab.com, VentureArchetypes.com, The Unreasonable Institute, Techstars.org, io.theapplicants.com, Ventures.io, 500Startups, ProFoundersCapital.com
Kickstarter, IndieGogo, Fund A Geek, GatheringofAngels.com, BusinessFinance.com, GoFundMe.com, StartSomeGood
LegalShield (contact me for more info), LegalZoom, NoLo books, Harvard Business Services
Elance.com, scriptilabs.com, odesk.com, freelancer.com, Fiverr.com, 99Designs
WebsiteGrader, Hubspot, LongTailPro, ReportLinker, Yoast.com
Communications and Administration:
Skype, Google Voice, Google Hangouts, Grasshopper ($10/month for custom 1-800 number), EarthClassMail (virtual mailbox and address service), Scribd (online ebook/pdf/document storage/sharing), Google Apps, Google Docs, Comm100 (free chat system), MailChimp (email marketing), Freshbooks (invoicing system), Doodle.com (group scheduling tool)
Christopher Kindig grew up near and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Christopher majored in Psychology at Texas A&M, and founded a green technology company, OrganicMechanic.com, in 2005. He now also serves as the Business, Website, and Advertising Manager for Communities and the Foundation for Intentional Community, and is a Sales Representative for Baltimore’s first online farmers’ market by delivery, RelayFoods.com. Christopher loves growing, cooking, and eating fresh food, traveling, yoga, hiking, nature, good people, intellectual inquiry, stimulating conversation, and long walks, especially with his lovely wife.