Our Manifesto on Work
For years, work has been the thing we do in a cubicle, under fluorescent lights, from nine until five, away from our families.
It has meant spending our precious days building a vision not our own.
It has meant hierarchy— a triangle pointing up, a structure of power trickling down, barely reaching the bottom.
It has meant cultivating our talents, shaping ourselves into skilled foot soldiers, who march toward someone else’s dream, building another’s vision of Rome and leaving ours far behind.
We have been grateful for the direct deposit every two weeks, the health insurance, the 401k contributions. But I’d like to invite us to consider the consequence of lingering in this zone of perceived safety.
The consequence, as I see it, is this: that a select few people — historically speaking, primarily straight, white men — have determined what our world looks like.
Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Elon Musk.
These men have determined the form and function of the technology that shapes our lives and the brands that color our experience of it. They determined how we travel (and therefore how travel impacts our planet), how we purchase products (and from whom), how we stay connected to one another (and how much of our days are dedicated to making sure we are, in fact, connected), how we are entertained (and what types of stories are deemed worthy of entertainment.)
When you start a company, you have the potential to shape the planet and the way humans live on it. You have the ability to alleviate human suffering or amplify it, to build things that connect us in a space of love or things that further divide us.
When you start a company, you have a hand in designing the future.
It’s not just the business owners who have this impact. So too do the politicians, the poets, the directors, the novelists, the activists, the scientists. So too does anyone who dares to say – here is my offering toward a brighter future for us all.
An Addendum to Capitalism
I keep thinking that we’re all solving the wrong problems. Actually problem. Singular.
So many of us, when we start businesses are solving for our own salaries. Some, the expansive view ones, are solving for a whole company’s worth of salaries. But then this is what our days become — a chase of a hundred thousand dollars. So we keep teaching the workshops on Instagram while the planet fills with plastic and the polar bears go extinct and we keep children in cages at the border and a shooters enter two synagogues.
Three years ago when people were trying to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump, they cited his experience in business. If he can run a big company like that, he can probably run the country. And if we look at simply the economics of it in isolation, they probably think he has succeeded. Joblessness at a low, stock market at a record high and climbing further than any economist expected it to climb. But I wish we cared about different metrics.
I think that is what Kim means when she says bigger, which she always clarifies by saying, I don’t mean bigger, bigger. I think she means, not this thing larger in size but a different, more important thing altogether. A rejection of this hand-me down model and a reimagination of a better way.
But as long as we keep valorizing billionaires, we’ll keep creating a culture where everyone’s primary goal is to be a billionaire. And, as we all know, if you just work hard enough (and come from enough privilege and exploit enough people), you can become a billionaire just like them.
Maybe this is where Andrew Yang enters? I know he’s thinking about Universal Basic Income from the perspective of automation — the fact that human jobs will become fewer and more far between in the decade to come and that we need to steady our economy for that. But what if we thought about it a little differently? What if we realized that until our basic needs are cared for (and a little bit of comfort is solved for too) we can’t dream up the solutions the future needs of us? What if we realized it wasn’t just prevention of joblessness it solved for but something much larger?
This is the reason that art grants were created, after all. They knew that artists can’t create the work the world needs from them while they are concerned about paying their mortgage. No, they’ll keep going to the Liberty Mutual office and taking those sales calls at Google and running marketing campaigns for BMW, helping them sell more hunks of metal— they won’t be painting, that’s for sure. But what if we created the art grant equivalent for future-designers. What if we made sure everyone’s needs were cared for, so they could dream about a more collaborative version of our political system or a more supportive version of motherhood and maternal health? What if we created a symposium of people to think about the crises so many Salvadoran and Honduran and Guatemalan people are facing in their countries that are driving them toward the US in hopes of life without fear in the first place, instead of focusing on whether or not we build a wall to keep them out?
Maybe I’m naive, but I worry this particular version of the capitalist system isn’t working for us now. And no one seems to be catching it. No one seems to be willing to say, this chase for purely profit is hurting more than it’s helping. It’s time to create space for something else too. Not an abandonment of capitalism but an addendum to it.
Last night I was at a party talking to a woman whose eyes kept darting everywhere else as she sought someone more important to talk to. I told her about Eredità when she asked what I ‘do’ — a publicist always wants to know how you fit into their schema for success. Are you someone who might hire them or are you someone they might write to five times a day, hoping you’ll tell the story of someone paying their salary? It’s exhausting. Of course she didn’t understand it when I said we tell stories, host events, and create objects focused on love and life’s work and craftsmanship and art. ‘But how do you make money?’ she wanted to know. A bold question to ask of a stranger. But I obliged, understanding the question she was really asking was much larger — I feel duped, she was saying, in some small way. I was told I needed to be all this and do all this and live in this particular world to pay my way, but you, you are focused on the things I want to be focused on, and somehow you make a living of it? But how?
I smiled and obliged her, telling her about our gatherings and our publications, our consulting work and the books I edit. Ah, she said, eyes still darting. And what does success look like? — Did she want me to say we’d sell to a big media company, get a big payout, and I’d buy my black house? But no, that’s not it, not for me. So I smiled again and answered honestly. Joy. Now she looked like she was dying to get away.
I am, clearly, still thinking about her this morning. I realize she has been conditioned to see the world through a certain kaleidoscope. So when she holds it up to her eyes, everything turns blue, even herself. And yet, she’s been indoctrinated so completely that she has forgotten she’s holding a kaleidoscope at all. She thinks she is looking out with clear eyes and seeing what IS. It’s like Christopher Robin again. Slowly we become seeped in a particular world of commerce. A world with its own language, it’s own manner of speaking, it’s own manner of holding a relationship, it’s own method of sorting and seeing value in people. But what we don’t seem to realize is that this world makes us boring. We feel proud that we’ve learned how to behave in a way that we believe will make us fit in in the money-making world. But goodness, then we start acting like money-makers our whole life, and we forget how to talk to one another straight from our heart. We forget how to see things as they are — saturated in joy, sprinkled with easy laughter, only about love, always about love. But these things drift from our awareness sometime after college, and we don’t even notice, so proud we are of ourselves for learning to dress as they do and walk as they do, morphing into another cog in the commercial machine.
This is why ‘retirement’ is so hard for so many. We have to undo it again — thirty years of conditioning. We have to relearn how to move slowly, how to notice the smell of jasmine in the morning fog. We have to realize we’re holding a kaleidoscope up and be brave enough to set it down, not knowing what we, or the world, will look like when we look out with unaltered eyes.