When you fill up forms these days, there is usually a field for “occupation.” But if you reach far enough in your memory to grade school, you will remember another word–livelihood–that seems to evoke a more rural meaning (as in “The chief means of livelihood among early Filipinos were fishing and farming”). Occupation sounds more urbane. Cooler. But when you consider their root words, guess which one implies the idea of thriving and flourishing, and which one implies merely something to fill time with, to keep one’s hands busy until retirement?
I love the following lines from Nancy Nordenson on livelihood:
“Far from my high school daydreams about the future, I am on a search for daily meaning as well as for daily bread, for living rather than dying. I want to cast my net on the side of astonishment…. I want to find God at work in me and through me. I want livelihood.
Livelihood: the word gathers up and bundles together the simultaneous longings for meaning, satisfaction, and provision. In the fullest sense of the word, livelihood means the way of one’s life; it means the sustenance to make that way possible; it means both body and soul are fully alive thanks to what has been earned or received by grace. On one level we make our livelihood; on another level we keep our eyes open and find it. –Nancy J. Nordenson
It is easy to deplore market capitalism and “modern city life” and the many ways they depersonalize people, but most of us who are well-to-do enough to bother about this concern actually live in the thick of them. (Or maybe it’s just that the other less urban voices are not as loud.) We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and grocery stores; we take for granted such conveniences as taxis, toothbrushes, and Internet connection; and we choose jobs based on what we believe are the best that employers can offer. And often the employers, incidentally, are multinationals.
Our condition refuses easy dismissal. We have to pay more attention to this than just the occasional comment about idealism as being something for the young.
We may decry the obsession over the next best thing in gadgets and technology, but that is simply an effect of the all-too-familiar drive, year on year, to make products and services better, faster, more efficient in the companies where you and I work. As Norman Lear stated, “Maximizing shareholder value is the central disease of our time.” And even if your job is not in a multinational, it’s likely that the fruit of your labor is still part of this whole system.
In what ways should we engage in our culture? Just how should ordinary folks like us “cultivate the talents entrusted to them” while being “in the world but not of it”? How do we “render unto Cesar” without forgetting to “consider the lilies”? There must be some way to have better balance. Or to at least get a better perspective.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a good long chat with a friend who used to be a housemate and who is now engaged in his own business. I was encouraged by his stories of challenge and keeping the faith, as well as his interest in exploring technology to serve real needs, particularly around mobile apps, website development to support local services, and similar opportunities.
I hope this article from Fast Company would inspire him to continue looking for good ideas and have the resolve to turn them to reality. Here’s to you!
People need help saving themselves from themselves, and that presents a business opportunity. What if payroll companies offered “contingent paychecks,” dispersing your earnings only if you met the conditions you’d specified (e.g., taking four hours of Spanish lessons or watching Schindler’s List)? Or imagine that someone set up a national Opt Out of Fat registry, and if you signed up, restaurants would deny your requests for nachos and grocery stores would refuse to scan your Oreos. Might people pay for that?
We admit these ideas are a bit far-fetched and perhaps likely to end in bloodshed. But Milkman has offered more practical suggestions, such as cleverly bundling wants and shoulds. For instance, exercising is a should, so what if your gym offered to receive your magazine subscriptions? That way, to read the new Vanity Fair (a want), you’d have to drop by the gym. Or what if Blockbuster offered you a free tub of popcorn (a want) for every documentary (a should) that you rented?
It’s a compelling idea: Might the future of business lie in encouraging shoulds rather than indulging wants? Could corporations help us bring out our better selves? We hope so. But let’s face it — our wants are powerful and stubborn. Cheetos will not go quietly into the night.