Choosing between money and meaning
When did it become the middle class dream to quit your well paid job and open up a little artisan coffee shop in the slightly dingy part of town? I can’t count the number of people who have confessed this secret fantasy to me recently, and I know one person who has bitten the bullet to make it happen. It’s easy to see the allure. Especially for Generation Y (of which I am just on the verge) who have grown up with the expectation that work should be a rewarding and empowering pursuit, not a ball and chain around your neck.
This is partly because the wealthy western world is moving higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s no longer enough for jobs to provide money, security and status. Now many of us are looking for careers which help us grow as people and reach our full potential. And that doesn’t just mean stimulating our brains, but our heart and soul aswell. In 1980 21% of British people felt the need to “fulfil myself as an individual by being more creative” whereas in 2012 this has risen to a staggering 61% (NVision). Creativity is no longer the sole domain of bohemians. “Making stuff” has gone mainstream. “Making a difference” is building momentum.
London now feels to me to be a city divided (for aspiring professionals at least) into those who chase money and those who chase meaning. Success looks different depending on where you fall on this spectrum. And I see two parallel cities sitting side by side. There is the city of bankers and lawyers, whose astronomical wages allow them to exist on a higher plane to their once-while peers. And there is the city of the aspiring bloggers/fashionistas/tech start-ups/foodies/social entrepreneurs, rich in education and taste but priced out of ever owning their flat. They’re cycling to work partly for health and environmental reasons, partly because the tube is too expensive.
One of the reasons I decided to go into advertising was because it felt like I could have the best of both of these worlds. A career where you could make a bit of money while also fulfilling your intellectual and creative ambition. Of course what you realise once you’re in, is that you will inevitably still have to make that choice, at least once in your career. You’ll have to be honest with yourself: which is more important to you, money or meaning? Do you take the high paying job with the status boosting title and accept that the work will not be that exciting or ground-breaking. Or do you punt for the innovative hotshop where the drive is high, client budgets are low, output is near invisible and wages are modest. Most people will fall somewhere between the two. The ultimate dream is to have both creativity and commerce, but is that an impossible ask, or an outcome limited to the lucky few?
Perhaps we should take lessons from Hollywood. They don’t choose money or meaning, they alternate. The smartest actors do the big -budget box-office smash to earn enough money and credibility to invest into their indie project, which in turn gains the Oscars and kudos to drum up the next bankable role. That’s how George, Brad and Johnny roll. Less idealism, more pragmatism. Oprah Winfrey, the original celebrity sage sums it up best:
“You CAN have it all. You just can’t have it all at once”