Musings inspired by the book, Middle-Class Lifeboat: Careers and Life Choices for Navigating a Changing Economy, by Paul and Sarah Edwards. The Sentient Citizen invites you to bring your thoughtful voice online to start a discussion at http://thesentientcitizen.wordpress.com.
I remember standing in the second floor Gothic-influenced main hallway of my urban high school being censured for my conformity by a preppy-turned-punk classmate. Something about my electric yellow socks, copious rubber bracelets, and black tinted blush had elicited an accusation of “being fake.” I felt my confidence shrink as she strutted away in her somehow more credible asymmetric haircut and attitude-oozing leather jacket. The resounding silence left in her wake witnessed the voluntary relinquishing of my self-respect in the name of blind self-preservation. I didn’t trust my judgment that I had been unfairly treated. I believed her aggression hypocritical, but I second-guessed myself (it was high school after all), and so handed her an uncontested win in that round of the Darwinian sport that is high school.
This month’s read, Middle-Class Lifeboat: Careers and Life Choices for Navigating a Changing Economy, nudged me onto this maudlin path of retrospection. Like my teenage Self, we believe ourselves to be determined individualists – we have rights to say what we believe, rights to believe what we choose, and rights to defend our rights. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We laugh in the face of adversity. If you’re not already questioning this myth yourself (think corporate and Main Street bailouts), authors Paul and Sarah Edwards challenge this notion with a history lesson. They remind us that as recently as a hundred years ago people used to choose leisure time over extra income. They chose to work less, want less, spend less. That is until calculating executives did the math: leisure time = less work; less work = less money; less money = lost sales. And the birthing of an insatiable consumer society was on. The American citizenry is languishing at the same point of departure occupied by my teenage Self years ago. Do we continue to passively give away our lives for the dubious promises of corporate advertising departments? Individualists indeed.
Despite my philosophical read of it, the authors have written a pragmatic book that whenever possible breaks down into bite-sized chunks the sometimes-intimidating ideas and activities geared toward taking back some control of your own life. Jam-packed with resourceful tidbits, Middle-Class Lifeboat reads like a reference book of baby steps toward greater satisfaction and ambitious life altering experiments. The Learn More sections at the end of every chapter are divine. And I found unexpected morsels to whet the appetite of the soul seeking a hit of empowerment. Tender delicacies like the fact that the US is the only developed nation that taxes its citizens living abroad and the fact that the creation of money is not the prerogative of the government. (There are 9,000+ alternative community currencies in circulation around the world today. (p. 527))
Staying true to approachability, the book is written in four parts. The first contains chapter 1 only and is an affirming acknowledgment that life really has gotten harder for the middle-class.
Part II, Safeguard You Livelihood, recommends self-employment as a way to create another income stream, perhaps along side a corporate paycheck. The rest of Part II offers up chapters 2, 3, and 4, outlining needed services that play nicely with the self-employed. Using an 8-point criteria the authors rate each career option using their “durability scale,” little flexed biceps denoting how well the option fared.
Part III, Safeguarding Your Quality of Life, contains chapters 5 through 13 and challenges the reader to evaluate the level of satisfaction obtained from your lifestyle. A practical person might be inclined to skip this section; many of the ideas feel like dreams. The authors admit that these ideas are not quick fix solutions. I encourage you to leaf through these chapters anyway. Let the experiences of people who’ve tried them percolate in the back of your mind. Perhaps someday something will take hold and you will find yourself on a path of adventure and greater fulfillment. I was surprised at where I arrived in my own mental journey; perhaps the seed was planted and harvest will come in due time.
Part IV, Safeguarding Your Ability to Afford the Life You Seek, comprises chapters 14 and 15. For this author, the most powerful portion of the book is Chapter 14, Getting Out of the Money Game. It embodies the economic voice of The Sentient Citizen. In other words, “…shifting our personal perspective from “pay as you go” to “how can I help” goes a long way toward making life simpler and easier.” (p. 511) In no way preachy or pedantic, the authors ask you to consider your middle-class life the way it is lived now. Are you really living a life or just working to pay for a life unlived?
To be a determined American individualist in these modern times takes the audacity to meet instead of compete with The Joneses, to defy billions of dollars spent on advertising, and to risk failure or foolishness to create a trusted community. You’ll find actions to take to this end in this hopeful book.
Share your experience of reading this book online at http://thesentientcitizen.wordpress.com.
Stay tuned next month as The Sentient Citizen reads on…