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Multiplicity of Currencies

Multiplicity of Currencies

The economics of creativity, resources, and energy

Generally, people tend to attribute currency to money and financial transaction. If we peel away the superficial layers of modern life we all must navigate, we may become aware of more types of currency and exchange. Contemplation and practice of this awareness can enrich our activities and relationships in ways we may not anticipate. Whether we work in the private, public, or corporate sector — even in artistic and creative fields — we can enhance our experiences professionally and personally.

currency (noun) 1 a : circulation as a medium of exchange — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

We already know that in the current economic paradigm, we all work in exchange for paper onto which an abstract yet tangible value is attributed. That value is dependent on the current market value and demand (vs. supply) of goods, services, real estate, etc. This is by no means meant to serve as an economics lesson, nor am I an individual from whom one would want such a lesson. However, it is important to explore the essence of our conditioned modes of exchange.

Personally, I can only speak from experience in creative fields. I have been a full-time musician in New York City since 2003. Before that, jobs I had outside my field were mostly in the restaurant or construction industries. I decided right before Christmas 2003 to quit my job as a waiter in Manhattan. I had become really good at that job, was making a lot of money, and completely miserable. I had moved to New York in 2002 — a move I had known I would make since as far back as I remember — to pursue music in what I perceived to be the center of the cultural universe.

At this time, I realized the most important — and nonrenewable — resource available is time, and I didn’t want to continue wasting mine. I had some money saved up, so I knew whatever the case, I would be ok for a few months. From then on, I navigated the landscapes of jam sessions, concerts, and Craig’s List making connections, getting guitar students, and working on performance opportunities. The lessons I learned along the way I could not have learned in any school. I ended up in situations — where I would have never seen myself before — that nourished and enriched my musicianship. I made lifelong connections and partnerships that allowed a career to blossom beyond imagination. I learned — and am still learning — that money is only one possible result of many forms of currency and exchange. Heart is everything. Trusting your convictions is key. Seizing one’s precious time is absolutely crucial.

“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”

— Alan Watts

In the music business, many of us struggle with being compensated financially for what we feel we are worth or corresponding to the amount of work, effort, and skill that goes into each project or job. Because of this, most people who dream of being full-time have difficulty establishing their own path while navigating through this reality of timeless altered creative states and down-to-earth, pragmatic survival concerns. This is, however, where the true struggle lies and what separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Getting to the point, I have discovered — and this may seem glaringly obvious to some — that there are myriad types of currency available to us to work with. None are mutually exclusive, which can and do interact with each other. Some more concrete exchange scenarios can involve barter (something crucial to thriving in the creative fields) and sharing information and resources. Now we can decide if our interactions will be staunchly quid pro quo or if we can get creative and play with it.

For instance, you may need me to play guitar on your recording and not have money to pay my established rate. All may not be lost. I might see if you have something else I need — resources, equipment, or work exchange, and we can set up a clean quid pro quo transaction. Or we can decide we want a long-term relationship, and maybe I will just do you a solid and ask you to pay it forward or keep me in mind for something down the road. This would be a long-term long-game approach and likely only be reserved for projects you are interested in beyond immediate compensation.

If we look at the first word from the above definition of currency — circulation — we may get a more holistic view of what can be. If you are like me and believe we are here to give, build, and contribute, then circulation is key. Fundamentally, we are giving — and hopefully also receiving — energy. If we approach it from the point of view of a circular flow of this energy, giving to others can be experienced as equally giving to oneself. The joy you can experience from another’s joy is absolutely priceless. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in high-paying situations where there is little to no joy and everyone involved is totally uptight. I have also been in low-paying situations where joy is flowing. There is comradery and also chemistry. Having experienced plenty of both, I would choose the latter over the former any day.

Building relationships is all about circulation. And life is all about relationships. Perhaps it can be beneficial to practice being active and present — generous and gracious — all as part of the same circular flow. We all want to receive. We all want love, attention, friendship, money, validation, stuff.

What if all we have to cultivate is that awareness of circulation? What if it’s all about giving and giving it ALL? It’s an interesting supposition considering we cannot take any material accumulations with us when we die. We can only leave what we were. We leave feelings, memories, deeds, constructions, works, etc., and maybe that’s the only currency worth participating in.

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