I'm better at wanting to write than actually writing. I think this is, in part, due to the fact that lately, every single time I think about laying down my thoughts on a specific subject, I find myself in constant battle with this inner urge to chose non-technical subjects. Which, is both surprising and scary for me. But eventually, the mind will do what the mind wants, thus this article talking about various forms of currency.
The TL;DR is quite simple. On a personal macro scale (and no, I'm not interested in further debating other categories), I believe there are four major forms of currency in the modern world. Money (printed, electronic in the form of X digits bank accounts or even bitcoin, etc.), status (social or professional), time and happiness. Now, it's extremely hard to have all of them. And having more of one currency usually comes at the expense of others. But I think we're voluntarily focusing on the wrong ones, which, in my opinion, is one of the biggest problems of this consumerist society. Simply put, we should try to avoid contexts where we get more of the first two (money and status) and less of the other ones (time and happiness).
Now, that's easy to put into words. In practice, however, there are multiple nuances. And subjectivity. I can only speak to myself in terms of the importance of the various forms of currency. To someone else, things might look different. It's not a problem if, to you, social status is more important than it is to me, for example. But there is a problem when it becomes too important to yourself, to such extent actually, that it will make you insatiably trade time and happiness to get more status.
One bad news, reiterated in the conclusions of various studies performed over time, is the fact that we, as humans, realise late in life that we made such tradeoffs and that we focused on the wrong things for too much time. This "I wish I would have ..." phrase, seems to be a general consensus and a hard lesson to digest. Personally, I want to reach old age without this "I feel sorry" attitude.
Let's talk about each currency in particular.
Money makes the world go round. And when you say currency, this is what people usually think of. A necessary thing due to the nature of our evolution as a society, money (which apparently have been around since 3000 BCE) are being used as a basic exchange medium for all other commodities. From housing and transportation to eating habits and traveling, everything that belongs to this consumerist world can be quantified in terms of money. It is so ingrained in the culture of the modern society, that you simply can't do jack shit without money.
Personally, I think money is extremely important, necessary and practical. I'm referring here to money in the numismatic sense (as a common exchange medium), not necessarily as an artefact controlled by governments and banks (I don't agree with that and, as a side note, I'm actually very excited about what blockchain technology is proposing for the global financial system).
Without money, you can't satisfy the first two levels of Maslow's pyramid. Which is bad. In this regard, I see money being absolutely necessary. And apart from common goods (from paying rent to the sushi platter I can't refuse), for me, money plays an important role as a token that can purchase experiences. I want to have enough money to be able to afford physical and social security (eating, staying healthy, having a rooftop above my head, having clothes to wear, afford going out with friends) and to be able to buy experiences (holidays in Prague with my better half and my family, for example).
But anything on top of that, will, most likely, steal away from other forms of currency (time or happiness), and not provide enough compensation in monetary value. Actually, according to this study, for optimum happiness levels, you can limit yourself to a max of $75.000 a year (in the US that is, but you can correlate that with other countries).
The problems with money, I think, stem from two different directions. One is given by the consumerist, fast-paced, full of advertisements world we live in. Gadgets go out of date fast, clothes are now released in a 52 seasons per year cycle (fast fashion) and the things you own convey social status. This makes us fall in love with things and ignore people. Add social media into the mix and you've got the perfect recipe for selling fake images of ourselves and a life of pursuing matter over substance.
The second one is tied to the poor (almost non-existent) financial education we receive as we mature. People don't know how to make and handle money. For most of us, our daily jobs represent the primary method to earn money. But in the face of constant advertising and the idea that owning more is the surest path to happiness, our uneducated brains concede the fight and so we end up spending more and in turn, having to work to produce more. This vicious cycle will never end and you can interrupt it only by consolidating and improving your financial education (this is a huge topic in itself and countless books have been written on this subject).
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer. (Jim Carrey)
Status seems to be what crowns the human being from a valuation perspective nowadays. It is what we get (a.k.a. feel) when we wear expensive clothes, drive luxurious cars, buy high-end mansions or fill top management positions. Status seems to be so important because it's constantly associated with respect, fulfilment and success. And these are all feelings we desire (upper levels of Maslow's pyramid).
However, I find that to be only partly true. In practice, status also seeds envy among peers and can easily degenerate into something far worse on the emotional scale (for example hate). Respect should not be imposed, it should be earned (and this has nothing to do with how expensive your watch is), fulfilment should be more of an internal metric than an external one and success should stop be measured only in relationship with the things one owns.
The biggest problem with the need to have an important status is that it's an egocentric emotion. It's internal and speaks volumes about who you are and how you value yourself and less (definitely way less than you think) about how others perceive you. The idea that your personal, human value is somehow determined by certain objects or a quantifiable, material exponent, is completely fucked up. Yet this seems to be the basis of how the social hierarchy works.
In regards to this form of currency, I can only say that I think status is something you build over time and not buy. Whether it's social or professional, in my opinion, it's something that you have to slowly construct and it usually comes as a by-product of doing good, quality work, helping out your peers, staying open, vulnerable and loving and just being the best version of yourself all around.
To me, this is the most valuable form of currency there is. Partly because time give you the ability to create other currencies like happiness for example.
There's something astonishing about time that, in my opinion, makes it so important. If I have $1 and I give it to you, you can, in the future, return that. The economic cycle, based on supply and demand, implies that money is an ever-circulating commodity. With time, however, that is no longer applicable. If I grant you an hour from my personal time, that is something I will never get back. I voluntarily chose to concede my rights to spend that aforementioned hour however I want and instead, go out for a coffee and some nice chat with you.
People often seem to forget that. The time (especially the well spent one), is hard to quantify. Can you attach a monetary value to an hour spent with your loved one, discussing plans related to your next holiday together? How about a conference talk, where a speaker decides he/she wants to "give away" 45 minutes and deliver valuable information to an interested audience?
I think we overlook the importance of time also because, when we decide to grant it, we often don't make the best use of it. We don't focus on the actual preciousness of it, we're too distracted and less immersed in the moment and it's hard to attach metrics to time. My personal advice here is simple. Seek out time as your main currency and make the most of it. Build long-lasting relationships with peers, cherish your friends and family, cultivate a sense of purpose and help the community by being involved in the greater good. Multiple studies show that this is actually the way to a better, happier and more fulfilled life. After all, time is limited. And way shorter than you think, especially when you put it in a visual form.
Which brings me to ...
The ultimate goal. We all want to be happy, right? But somehow, this seems to be a topic we haven't really figured it out yet, or at least, not entirely.
I believe happiness is subjective up to a point. Although multiple studies converge to the same idea, that happiness is strongly linked to quality human relationships, I think we all have a little room to juggle with this idea. After all, there have been examples of people, throughout history, to whom happiness was directly linked to a very important personal mission (think Einstein or Tesla) and less to peer connections.
My point here is that you should define your own happiness and pursue it straight away. Don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't do. But there's a catch. You also have to own it. Own the decision and try, to the best of your knowledge, to predict future possible regrets. As long as you're contempt with the choices you make (which are subjective as previously mentioned), you will be happy.
I want to end by putting the aforementioned ideas in a professional context. And this is something I see a lot in my industry and it saddens me beyond belief.
I work in the IT vertical. An ever competing field, where you have to stay up-to-date with the changes or risk quickly becoming "obsolete", especially from a technical perspective. The pressure is enormous, which in turn, is a justification (but not a good one, in my opinion), for what happens.
In this industry, I often see people chasing money and status at the expense of time. Sometimes even when they're not ready for them. We change jobs if (sometimes only if) we get a 20% salary increase or a different (read better) position inside the new company. We forgo ideas such as building helpful, quality products for our users or becoming better (really better, nut just by status) professionals if we have the opportunity to jump ship for some extra bucks.
I think this is harmful, builds a false sense of recognition and value and does not scale in the long run. I have countless examples on this point. The goals we should pursue should be far nobler than this (I would like to state though, that selling yourself less than you actually worth is also bad).
So be wary the next time someone (or some company) offers you money and status at the expense of time and happiness. My personal belief is that you will end up regretting it later.