Arianna Huffington is right: We are a nation in need of The Third Metric Revolution. It’s so very true that money and power are poor measures of success. There’s no question we will find greater happiness through a focus on well-being, wisdom, wonder and opportunities to give back. In my view, the most essential well-being for women, especially, is the financial security that can be found through a flexible approach to lifelong work.
The Third Metric has fundamental roots in the tenet that money cannot buy happiness. Money is a double-edged sword, though: it cannot buy happiness; it can buy financial security. The key is to avoid what might be called financial absurdity — working 24/7 and elbowing your power-hungry way to the top — in constant pursuit of all that is flashier, bigger and better. That’s selling your soul to the devil. But making sure you always have the baseline ability to generate an income leads to lifelong peace and well-being.
When I say financial security, I’m talking about your ability to comfortably pay monthly expenses, send your children to college, withstand of all of life’s “you never knows” (job loss, divorce, financial support of aging parents, illness, etc.), and save enough money for retirement. These are what most would consider basic necessities — and when these needs cannot be met, there’s no stress like the worry of being financially insecure.
Too often, women limit their professional fulfillment and financial security by assuming there is only one very traditional way to work. Women who are out of breath as they fight their way up the corporate ladder and at-home mothers who see nothing more than a rigid workforce can find solace in the fact that work comes in many forms. Work is not just commuting two hours a day to a 60-hour-a-week, chained-to-your-desk job.
Depending on your changing needs and life situations, you can generate a large or small income and steadily insure against life’s twists and turns. There are full-time jobs that allow partial or complete telecommuting; part-time jobs that require a few hours or a few days per week; long-term consulting assignments; entrepreneurial ventures and freelance work you rustle up here and there. Work structures and commitments can shift as various life stages come and go.
Even in a difficult job market, women have choices and options for work that enhance, rather than jeopardize, well-being. There’s no need to stay in a job that saps every ounce of your energy. There’s no need to stay out of the workforce — often for a decade or more — for fear of life-consuming work. Women are resourceful human beings who can find a way to make some kind of work work. My 9 Lives for Women blog message to smart women is always: “Find the Work that Fits Your Life”. Though corporate giants are often tightly wrapped in bureaucratic red tape, there are many, many small to mid-size companies that have the freedom to hire in flexible ways.
For most women — even those who can afford today to live in affluent communities — it’s wise to generate some income from graduation day straight through retirement years. Not everyone wants to “lean in” to the C-suite or run the United States. But there is a universal need to lean in to financial security. Many women still rely too heavily on spousal earnings — even when plenty of husbands or their jobs disappear. Women often don’t do the math, seek out financial advisors or really face the facts about whether their current household income can fund a retirement that could last 30 years or more.
As I see it, The Third Metric is a wake-up call about personal and financial health. Arianna tells the story of her own wake-up call that came when she fainted from work stress and lack of sleep. She found a better work/life structure and she’s a big sleep advocate now — even incorporating “nap rooms” in the offices of The Huffington Post. It’s undeniable that loosening your grip on your smartphone, being in the moment with your children and replacing multi-tasking with uni-tasking leads to greater well-being. Knowing that you will be financially secure for tomorrow after tomorrow is another surefire way to sleep well tonight, too.
This post was originally published on The Huffington Post, as part of a series produced in conjunction with their women’s conference, “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power,” which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric
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