An Honest Look at the Personal Finance Crisis: Elizabeth White (Transcript)

Last year, a good friend of mine asked me if I would help her with some organization work. I assumed she meant community organizing along the lines of what President Obama did in Chicago. She meant organizing somebody’s closet. I said, “I’m not doing that.” She said, “Get off your throne. Money is green.”

It’s not easy being part of the advance team that is ushering in this new era of work and living. First is always hardest. First is before there are networks and pathways and role models before there are policies and ways to show us how to go forward.

We’re in the middle of a seismic shift, and we’re going to have to find bridgework to get us through. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime; bridgework is what we do while we’re trying to figure out what is next. Bridgework is also letting go of this notion that our worth and our value depend on our income and our titles and our jobs.

Bridgework can look crazy or cool depending on how you were rolling when your personal financial crisis hit. I have friends with PhDs who are working at the Container Store or driving Uber or Lyft, and then I have other friends who are partnering with other boomers and doing really cool entrepreneurial ventures.

Bridgework doesn’t mean that we don’t want to build on our past careers, that we don’t want meaningful work. We do. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime while we’re figuring out what is next.

I’ve also learned to think strategy not failure when I’m sort of processing all these things that I don’t want to do. And I say that that’s an approach that I would invite you to consider as well.

So if you need to move in with your brother to make ends meet, call him. If you need to take in a boarder to help you pay your mortgage or pay your rent, do it. If you need to get food stamps, get the darn food stamps.

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AARP says only a third of older adults who are eligible actually get them. Do what you need to do to go another round. Know that there are millions of us. Come out of the shadows. Cut back, small up; think strategy, not failure; get off your throne and find the bridgework to get your through the lean times.

As a country, we have achieved longevity, investing billions of dollars in the diagnosis, treatment and management of disease. It’s not enough to just live a long time. We want to live well. We haven’t invested nearly as much in the physical infrastructure to ensure that that happens.

We need now a new way of thinking about what it means to be old in America. And we need guidance and ideas about how to live a richly textured life on a much more modest income.

So I am calling on change agents and social entrepreneurs, artists and elders and impact investors. I’m calling on developers and disrupters of the status quo. We need you to help us imagine how to invest in the services and products and infrastructure that will support our dignity, our independence and our well-being in these many, many decades that we’re going to live.

My journey has taken me from a place of fear and shame to one of humility and understanding. I’m ready now to link shields with others, to fight this fight, and I’m inviting you to join me.

Thank you.


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