Guest Post: Why You Should NOT Work In The Gift Economy

 

by Mirror Living

January 2015

 

Occasionally on this wild path of working in the gift economy, I’ve been approached almost with a sense of reverence. Some souls are deeply touched, moved to tears by me doing this so publicly. It confirms their own insights into alternative pricing models, the ruin that is our current economic system and the myth of money and debt. It gives a sense of possibility for those of us who’ve felt like outsiders, freaks and rejects of society our entire lives. It echoes the journey of the heart’s deepest wisdom and the more beautiful world we can create together.

Many are certain mainstream pricing and business models are not for them. Or they’ve tried it for short periods of time and it’s been a difficult and overwhelming road leading to retreat or blame of the system or themselves. A sense of powerlessness and inadequacy is evident. When someone comes to me for help and they tell me they work in the gift, my heart sinks a little for I cannot recommend running a business this way initially. I don’t teach people to work in the gift because I don’t yet know it’s possible. For me the ride thus far has been crazy-making, humbling and incredibly challenging (just like working in the mainstream economy is) with the very idea of alternative economies still being confronting to the majority. There’s a familiar, comfortable weight of security in the way things have always been done. There are mammoth amounts of fear and complacency that first need to be met within the self and then met with love in others before we can embrace what it means to truly work in the spirit of the gift.

There’s also an assumption (the illusion of good marketing if you will), that because I’m doing this visibly and I’m seen regularly in both pixels and real world events and because I present myself in a professional manner, I must be successful working in the gift. And if I’m successful, then you will be too. (I’m doing OK but definitely not making as much money as I was in regular ol’ business. Also, for the first time since I left home at age 17, my partner is paying my rent so I no longer have the responsibility of having to earning enough to keep a roof over our heads. I am also debt-free.)

I define the gift economy simply – a model of the movement within society of necessary goods and services wherein human relationships are valued above all else, one in which money no longer determines the existence of relationship. Money may still be used as part of the gift economy but it’s presence (or absence) does not define the relationship (unlike in the dominant economy). It’s a movement from accumulation and separation toward generosity and the natural reciprocity that arises in the face of a gift freely given. Models like pay what you want / pay what it’s worth pricing, you decide invoicing and by donation are all interpretations of the gift economy and attempt to capture the essence of the pure gift economy found in traditional cultures. For me, the gift economy does not include barter and trade models that seek agreement on value before the transaction can occur.

Before transitioning into the gift economy 6 months ago, income earned via business in the current economic model paid my way 100% for more than 4 years. Without looking at the nitty gritty of exactly what the number of zeros I made annually add up to, from a survival perspective I was running a “successful” business. This journey has been (and continues to be) one of the most intense and liberating spiritual paths I could possibly imagine. It’s not for the faint-hearted or for those who want quick and easy money. There have been years of hard work, long hours, multiple failures and disappointments, challenges, depressions and crippling self-doubt. Money issues shoved in my face. Putting things out there and getting no results, not being noticed, not being seen, not being responded to. Measuring achievements against others and believing with every cell in my body that of course, it’s obvious, I’m just not good enough and never will be. Drowning in unworthiness. Attempting to change who I am (yup, even going so far as to wear makeup and collared shirts. blech!) to better fit in. I’ve tried to sell, played the game, manipulated, become obsessed with money and woken in sweaty panics at 3.00 am. I’ve felt desperate, alone and ashamed of how little I have to show for the time, effort and energy I’ve put in. I’ve been scarred and have let fear dictate action (all this despite being a devoted yogini and dedicated-to-consciousness-and-higher-states love bunny). I’ve been human.

Alongside this, there’s been unspeakable thrills of putting out offers and overnight making rent for the next month. Sold out courses. Coaching sessions booked for weeks in advance. Beautiful feedback on blog posts and emails. Co-creative opportunities flowing in. Published print and online articles. Being sought out from word of mouth glowing referrals. The sense of one’s power that comes from taking action, showing up every day and seeing direct correlations between said actions and results. Knowing you’re the master of your own destiny. Moments of Awe. Radiant insights beyond this realm. I’ve cried many a tear of gratitude and received many an unsolicited testimonial of soppy thanks. I’ve seen and known the omnipotence of Source in my business and life. Witnessed miracles, coincidences, gifts of such incredible abundance I’m humbled and brought to my knees by the beauty and glory of it all. I’ve tasted heaven and know it is within. I’ve been spirit.

This has only been possible because of a willingness to step into the world as it is, not how I would like it to be. To look at business from every perspective, honour and identify what I don’t like about the mainstream economy and how most run their businesses and make choices that come from an empowered and embodied place that’s here, now and grounded in the third dimension.

The three reasons below outline why you should NOT work in the gift economy. The opinions contained here are strong (partly because I wish someone had been as straight with me when I first started working in the gift instead of having to messily hash it out on my own! But then again, maybe they did but I just couldn’t hear them…?). The pointers below are written specially for those new to business and for those who want to make enough money doing what they love in the world. 

1. Working in the gift economy can reinforce and perpetuate separation, creating an Us vs Them mentality

Many of us carry core wounding from lifetimes of feeling like an alien, of looking at the world around us and seeing nothing but deceit, unconsciousness and violence against each other and the earth. Many of us have exited in a variety of ways: into drugs, eastern spiritual, metaphysical and artistic paths and communal living with greater and lesser degrees of peace and lasting happiness. If less than lasting happiness has been your experience, I urge you to sit with and hold any part that wants to escape from this economy, judge or pull down society gently. Society and the economy is messed up, it’s true. But it’s no more messed up than our own internal processes. Pushing against it, avoiding it, shaming or blaming it is not an effective strategy for transformation or success in business in any kind of economy. It creates separation. 

And if our beautiful, profound and magnificent education is preventing us from engaging in the world as it is, we are contributing to separation on this planet. 

This may sound harsh but I’ve seen this truth repeatedly. I’ve also tried separation as a path more than almost any one else I know. It’s painful and it doesn’t work. Because we have to keep coming back into society as it is now. We have to engage in the economy. We have to invest in certain things to live in even rudimentary levels of comfort. We have to make decisions for sustainability that are more about the lesser of two evils than about real solutions. We have to interact with family and people who live here, in society. 

We can no longer avoid a world that doesn’t appear to value love and vulnerability. We can no longer afford to keep ourselves apart from others because of superior concepts of consciousness, inclusive economies and dedication to saving the planet. We can no longer judge others for their apparent lack of understanding of a view so radical and confronting to the norm they can’t even see it. Until we know every person who surrounds us is us, despite their convictions and choices demonstrating degrees of light / dark, willingness and ignorance we will not have a business from the heart (regardless of how pure our motives are of working in the gift and alternative economies). Instead, we are moving from fear, reaction and separation. I’m pretty sure this is not the kind of world we dream of.

2. You won’t learn the language of the world (and the world is where the money is)

One thing I know for sure is that if you step onto this path of the gift economy you will be judged as naive, potentially loopy, silly, and a crackpot hippie by many. Folks may be polite and supportive to your face but some part of them will be doubting you and your motivations, wondering what the catch is. Or people will be confused and won’t book in or buy because of this. Probably not your friends, for they love and understand you but in the wider community you will be likely be disregarded as someone who is too radical and far out to be serious about much of anything. This is reality (however narrow and sad it may be). This is how we live in the west. Our primary way of defining and determining interactions (outside of family and friends) is fiscal. Money determines the value, worth, breadth and depth of relationships and if you challenge this overtly you will be labelled, discounted and discarded. Your audience will be limited or worse, may become so far left-of-centre as to appear non-existent (I saw this clearly in a recent exploration “Working In the Gift Economy 7: The Experiment May Be Over). 

This is not how to make enough money doing what you love in the world :-(

I know many gifted individuals sharing their offerings in low-key, off-the-grid kind of ways working in alternative and gift economies. Some are amazing examples of how these models work effectively (in small, highly local, cloistered permaculture communities). Others are struggling with ideals they haven’t yet been able to actualise (without withdrawing from society and heading to the hills) or dealing with depressing internal conflicts around self-worth and integrity in making money, enoughness and survival. Many I know working in alternative economies have very low confidence in who they are (see core wounding above). They don’t know their message or what they stand for. They’re unable to talk clearly about what they do or invite people to experience it or communicate the value of their offerings. They cannot share from a pristine place of exactly what their service will help with, exactly who it’s for and exactly how much it costs. They haven’t learned how and because of this, are unable to attract clients and create enough income. They may then become disillusioned and leave before the energy of business can transform. Or shelve dreams entirely, holding onto stories of inadequacy for years ahead, go get jobs or opt-out of society to live in ashrams because it’s easier than running a business and facing fear and money every day. It’s easier to avoid learning a new language than to be yourself in the world as it is.

Before I started in business and had to learn the language of the world, I was steeped in separation (I didn’t know it at the time. I thought my heart was so wide open in divine angelic love, rainbows would pave every step of my way!). Learning this language, at even a basic level, has shown me a true connection that cannot be threatened by environment and noise. It’s taught me compassion for others and the world of mind, thought, judgement and comparison within my self. 

If you step into the gift economy without first having met and mastered communication, your experience and ability to serve others will be less. It’s likely you’ll tire rapidly of the hard work required to explain what you do because it’s not in terms people can easily understand. You may give up, believing you’ve failed and this is the real tragedy. There are way, WAY too many soft, caring, intelligent, talented, extraordinary people of the heart NOT doing what they love, NOT being seen because they haven’t yet found a creative and conscious way of being in business and marketing or they’ve given up looking. Their messages of self-healing and self-responsibility are not being heard or contributing to the wellbeing of the earth because of illiteracy.

3. A vital part of your own self-development and personal evolution will be neglected 

Our souls of course, are perfect, innocent and complete and need nothing to be done ever but if you’re feeling a call to share your voice, save the planet and make a difference, THIS is the next stage of evolution being asked. It’s not about changing who you are at your core or “playing the game”. It’s not about forcing our sacred geometrical shapes into a square holes, conforming or compromising. It’s about understanding reality and meeting it with love. For self and for others. A love that proves you understand the realities of busy lives lived from values that, although different from yours, are no less valid, necessary and meaningful. A love that’s willing to listen and be moved by the universe because you’re here for a reason. You’re not somewhere else, living in a close-knit traditional culture where they value the gift economy as essential to daily life. You’re here.

If we skip over the mainstream economy we will fail to understand fully the depth of conditioning and cultural influences inherent in both ourselves and our clients (no matter how conscious and aware we might be) therefor true communication and self-knowledge is limited as is a felt, direct experience of oneness and connection. If we bypass the mainstream economy without knowing it well enough to get a sense of our own power and right to exist, we also risk bypassing our potential and feeling like perennial outsiders. If we miss the learning contained within the structure of the mainstream economy to work in alternative economies, we are preventing and short-changing our own evolution.

Running a business in the dominant economy teaches us about the nature of the Self and Mind. It will show us how magnificent and infinite we really are. It leads to an understanding of truth, value, worth, community, presence, perception, trust, commitment, surrender and deep communion of the heart. And once we know these things, we can do it our own way for conscious business is an intimate and personal path to enlightenment.

*******

This article is not intended as direction to never enter into alternative economies (that would also be a tragedy! The earth needs this! We need you! The dominant paradigm must be challenged by the passionate rebels among us!) rather let it be an organic transition that comes from a foundation of (at least) a basic level of competence in business in the current economy. Let it come from solid ground and from service to the whole. Let it come from realisation.

So how do we do both? Step onto the path of business in the current economy while remaining rooted in the heart’s desire to be of service? It’s an ongoing exploration, constantly moving, flowing. There’s no wrong way or right way. Only your way. The answer isn’t important, it’s the asking of the question that matters most. And a willingness to keep on asking the question as new information, experiences, challenges and learning come your way. To return often in the midst of chaotic effort to ask, “How can I be of service? How can I give?” In this way, gift economy values are anchored and become the norm. In this way we slowly but permanently shift the dominant paradigm by bringing more light to business. We become the gift.

Below are 9 ways of working in the spirit of the gift while running a business in the present economy. It’s imperative to know your limits and know your self and be gentle in the face of other’s misunderstandings for this is truly a radical path. If we are not, the gift economy may be reduced to just another fancy marketing strategy designed to influence perception instead of a deep honouring of the sacred breath of life we’ve been given. I hope your heart finds solace and inspiration here and practical ways to express the spirit of the gift through your business. 

1. Have deeply loving customer service as your primary priority. 

I’ve been shocked at the level of service many businesses seem content with and I’ve been shocked by how poorly I’ve been treated as a paying customer at times. Your clients will have similar experiences. They will notice and appreciate your willingness to listen and understand their story. This is a gift in a world where many successful businesses don’t honour, value and respect customers and their money. You may feel that being kind and loving to every person who walks in the door is always present but this question asks you how you can bring even more caring and connection to every exchange on every level. 

2. Offer one of your services “by donation” or “in the spirit of the gift”. 

Getting clear on what you’re happy to give and what is definitely a paid service will help you identify where to start with what to give. You might have a weekly community yoga class for $5 or a monthly community get together, satsang, movie night, devotional music performance or something else. This way, you’ll always have an option for folks who want to connect with you but cannot afford full price. This way you’ll be nourished and inspired to continue giving when natural gratitude arises from your clients and students. If you’re a healer, consider forming a small group with other local practitioners to share regular, community giving back days – one afternoon every month or so where everyone offers low-cost sessions and treatments in one location. 

3. Give expansive time frames for instalment plans.

Many businesses do not do this, leaving little room for flow and negotiation. I’ve even heard flexible approaches denigrated by teachers of spiritual entrepreneurs as “betraying the many to give special treatment to the few”. There are good reasons for this but the reality remains in the life of a small business owner –  there have been 7 different higher-end programs and courses over the past 5 years I wouldn’t have been able to participate in were it not for the generosity and understanding of the facilitators. This is not about special treatment, it’s about responding to the realities of life. I remain forever grateful for the love the facilitators showed me and I’ve referred many clients to them because of this. Don’t offer extensions immediately – honour your own commitment to cash flow and covering expenses first but have this as a quiet option. Wait until you are approached personally. If someone really wants your services and they cannot find a way to make it happen financially right now, they will take action to connect with you. Trust them and trust their process. See what your heart and intuition say when the situation arises. Always be flexible when you can for it is a gift.

4. Ask for feedback and deal with all complaints and issues in a loving way. 

Ask your clients for their honest feedback – how can you improve? What worked for you? What didn’t work for you? Many businesses lack even a primitive platform for feedback and so are missing valuable ways to connect and deepen in relationship with their clients. Have a loving and supportive refund policy. Tell folks what it is and why it exists. Let them know refunds and credits are possibly in extreme circumstances. Assess these on an individual basis instead of having one blanket policy that is enforced regardless of the individual situation. If you don’t want to refund them, that’s totally OK but what can you offer to make them feel just a little better? How can you be supportive of them instead of dismissive (like so many business) if they are dissatisfied? How can you listen to the feedback they are giving you? This is a gift.

5. Be open to giving when your heart is called. 

If your heart really wants to work with someone but you know they cannot afford it, see if you can still help them while supporting yourself and the reality of your needs simultaneously. Can you give them mini sessions? Invite them to the community events? Give them a referral to a government service? Call them on a phone for a brief chat once a month or so? Whatever your heart feels to give. There are no rules and no limitations. Just make sure that it’s a genuine YES from your heart and that you’re not giving with any sense of obligation or rescuing as this can lead to resentment. And if you notice resentment building in relation to this particular client, let them know you can no longer keep supporting them as a gift. They will certainly understand and may have some ideas and suggestions themselves (perhaps they can give to you in some other way? Perhaps their situation has changed from when your relationship first began and they may now be able to pay you for your time?). 

6. Share interesting, excellent, informative and transformational stuff online. 

Share things that are of genuine value and bring more love to the world. Do not just talk about all the amazing things you’re doing in your business on social media. Give. Give. Give. Honour another practitioner. Honour your own teachers. Share a story of how much a certain book or practice has changed your life. Tell a story that’s restored faith in humanity. Celebrate a client. If you look, there are a 1000 ways to give and combat the narcissism that mediums like facebook create. This takes skill, time and thought to develop and helps negate the quick-look-at-me, blaring, hyped-up messages that are the norm online. Over time, people will notice the depth, stillness and integrity shared and associate it with you. This is a gift.

7. Be integral in giving as much as you can be. 

Do not give in order to get all the time. This is a deeply transformative and passionate enquiry that only you can find the answer to. Only you know the deeper motivation behind your giving and the purity of your intentions. It’s OK in business to give to get from time to time. In fact, giving to get is what business and marketing is all about. It’s the truth. Know when you’re giving to get and celebrate this, make this OK for yourself, understand that giving to get is the way of the current economy and of the society we find ourselves in. Giving to get is also how traditional gift economies work in the purest sense (tribal members give to get positive regard and public accolade for example. Or they give because their generosity ensures they will also be supported in the future when they need help). Don’t always give to get though or before you know it, every decision you make in business and life will be determined by what you will get out of it and this does not feel good. Give for no reason other than because you can occasionally. Give because it feels amazing to be of service especially when there is no hope of return. 

8. Give referrals. 

If you cannot help someone do your best to find another excellent teacher or practitioner to send them to. Don’t do this for an affiliate or referral fee as it changes the energetic. Do it because this other person is genuinely more skilled in a particular area then you are or because you personally have benefitted from and love their products or services. Do it because you want to help. Do it because you cannot benefit from this immediately. This is a gift and it shows you care deeply about another’s path and that you’re willing to take time to find out enough about them and their issues to give them something genuinely worthwhile.

9. Support a local charity or cause.

Is there a cause you’re inspired by and want to support? Some businesses choose to donate a set amount from every dollar earned or product sold. Others host fundraising community events for a cause or recent natural disaster. Perhaps you can find time to volunteer personally with hands-on work in your local community on a regular basis (reading to children or people in aged care homes for example) – this is my favourite option because of its immediacy. Guaranteed, it’s one of the fasted ways to bliss and you’ll leave your time volunteering uplifted and with a ton of new energy to devote to your business and life. Think about something that truly benefits those around you and how money you earn through your business could support this.

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Working in the gift economy is one path of many to enlightened relationships with each other and the Earth. Mainstream business is another and if you’re wanting to make enough money doing what you love, it’s the only one I recommend (at this current point of personal and planetary evolution anyway). Stepping into the gift and alternative economies as a reaction to what we see around us (and judge as destructive and ignorant) is an incomplete approach. At this point, it’s a utopian dream for many who live in cities and gift economy teachings are destined to enter lives, inspire greatly and then depart once reality kicks in (sometimes leaving a trail of lost and disappointed bodies behind). Keep going, keep giving in ways that feel good, keep living in service, keep sharing from your heart but be honest about where you and where the world are at. Come from a place grounded in the current reality and the love that’s already and always here. You and I right now are crumbling walls of separation and changing what it means to be in business.

Love, Mirror

MIRROR LIVING SHORT BIO

Mirror Living - Business From The HeartDevoted yogini, gift economist, love bunny, living room dancer and closet songwriter madly in awe of any practice that takes us from our heads to our hearts. Mirror teaches authentic marketing for yoga teachers and healers and digs playing with puppets, swimming naked, crystal singing bowls and anything that even vaguely hints at offering the tiniest taste of divinity… Come join the community –www.businessfromtheheart.com or on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/mira.living

 
 

About Tad

  • dedes

    Beautiful and thoughtful, Mirror Living. I would add one additional point… since our current modes of commerce are fundamentally destroying the biosphere on such a large scale, it is important that conscious entrepreneurs understand how they work so that we can step into our role of transforming these systems. Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” There are some truly beautiful experiments underway, but I have yet to observe one that is truly effortless in the face of the existing, hostile, ecosystem. Perhaps (as important as giving to charity) we can find a way to support these experiments– as among them are the seeds of “the new reality” for humankind.
    For those adept at navigating the existing system, one can play a bridge role–perhaps channel discretionary resource to the pioneers, and offering more conscious ways of being to those working and playing in the current dominant system, thus creating the desire for “a new reality”. All of us can take heart that an entire hostile ecosystem can transform very quickly if a new organism creates the conditions for its success, operates in the background at first, and replicates its success using abundant (usually waste) elements from the dominant system. –Denise R.

  • Charo Pinilla

    Tad, thanks for sharing this article. I’ve resonated deeply with many of the ideas Mirror shares here. Rejecting those aspects of the world that we dislike and disapprove won’t be really useful in creating the transformation we all dream of. It’s only by embracing the darkeness that we can truly trasmute it into light, and sure money and traditional biz practices have a lot of darkness in them, I also think the change can only come from inside those old structures, and for that we need to be part of them, while being lead from our hearts.
    Charo

  • Natalie Kent

    I love this Mirror, especially the 9 ways of working in the gift economy, very insightful! There is so much to learn on this path and it’s so useful to have your guidance. Thank you.

  • Ben Angel

    You may or may not have heard of the Pareto principle. The 80/20 principle. For example, on average 20% of your customers bring in 80% of your income. That 20% of our time is used to bring 80% of results. We use 20% of the things we buy and the other 80% end up in the bin or on a shelf.

    Fortunately hippies are not in the consumerism trap. They can live an eco existence and can save a lot of money. People can share tasks. They have already reversed the Pareto principle in their favour.

    However when it comes to business it can be very useful to see where you are putting your efforts. Were you expending 80% of your effort on a 20% result? Who are your best clients? It may help to do a tree chart.

    To make your plans work be creative and have fun. Think of all the differnt ways of advertising. Learn by other peoples mistakes, not just your own. Be inspired by others,

    I hope Jae Sabol of One Community Global can give you inspiration. http://www.onecommunityglobal.org/

    Next World TV may well also interest you

    http://www.nextworldtv.com/

    Peace, love, hope and success

  • Very well articulated, and I definitely think that rooting our business in the “practical” economy has a lot of merit. We are serving people that are part of this economy, so we need to communicate to them in a way that they can understand in order for us to full serve them.

    In my own work, I believe that business – something very day-to-day and practical – can be a framework for attaining our highest potential. When we are out of alignment with our truth, strength, value and vision, the misalignment is reflected in our business – often times as revenue – which makes it a perfect mirror to show us if our actions are actually taking you closer to our fullest expression of our potential, and our truth.

  • Hi Denise!

    Thank you. Your words and insight mean so much to me.

    Check.

    #10 of how to work in the spirit of the gift:
    Support any experimental system that allows us to step outside the current economy and create movement of necessary goods and services on our own terms. Join a Time Banking community… LETS… Barter Card… Bitcoin or other alternative….

    To being the bridges!

  • Thank you, Charo! So glad we’re not alone on this path of leading from the heart…

  • Ditto my beautiful friend!

  • Absolutely agree, Ling. It’s not always an easy mirror to look in but very accurate. It hides nothing and gives us the answer to go deeper always :-)

  • Ben Angel

    How it´s possible to build very cheap houses. Or even free ones. https://www.youtube.com/embed/o8ZAJjPCal4

  • Natalie Kent

    I wholeheartedly agree that bridging is the key! Any approach that shakes up the status quo by disengaging in the money system of control and creating livelihood on our own terms. Thank you Denise and Mirror for your clear insight.

  • Ben Angel

    It is possible to succeed on word of mouth. If you have something unusual and people like what you have to offer people will recommend you.

  • The profit obsession and many other obsessions are about to condemn mankind to extinction.

    It seems that you are saying that we should collaborate to cause mankind’s extinction because it’s what everyone is doing and if we don’t participate to cause mankind’s extinction we create separation.

    Sure I want to be separated by people who want to commit suicide on a collective scale.

    How can I be with them.

    I know that, deep down, despite their profound brainwashing, they want to live.

    But if they keep doing what they do, mankind goes extinct.

    We have quite lost our survival instinct, you know.

    Sure, if I tell them, they will say that I’m crazy.

    But the truly crazy thing to do would be to collaborate with them to destroy this wonderful species, the human species, that, when sane, can create wonders.