Have you ever spent four full days thinking about museums? Most people think about museums for a few hours every year, yet museum folks necessarily think about them every day. Me, I think about them about three or four hours a day because I am Project Manager for a virtual museum for about two hours a day (and then my brain can’t just let go.) Museums are excellent at preserving the past. Many people live their lives based on habits developed in the past. The past is something to understand so we can learn and only repeat the good parts of history. Moving onto a better future means actively not repeating the bad parts. Money’s future is changing and so shall I.
Prepare for a long string of words and acronyms. For the last four days I attended the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums conference as the Project Manager for the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum project, also known as AAM2014 and HCLE. If you want to read what it was like head out to twitter and check our twitter handle, @HCLEmuseum, and the hashtag #AAM2014. Four days of hanging out with thousands of museum professionals who know the difference between curating and archiving – and are willing to debate the nuances that they may see as enormous. I learned a lot by hanging out with the crowd.
Museums are repositories for history, whether that history is from nature millions of years ago, civilizations millennia old, social issues from the last few decades, or art from last week. Or in HCLE’s case, how education changed as computers came into our classrooms and lives.
The balancing act is between properly preserving the past while making the collections relevant to people in the present so they can enjoy a better future. Vaults are great for preservation, but lousy for access. Hands-on exhibits are great for relevance, but can ruin irreplaceable artifacts.
I witnessed a different type of preservation that is reluctant to change, that also persists in personal finance. Cultures, plans, expectations can be extrapolations or continuations of history and experiences. Museums are continuing to adjust to the dramatic decrease in direct government funding that began twenty or thirty years ago. Instead of tax dollars directly being funneled to well-established institutions, almost everyone is required to spend large percentages of their resources applying for grant money with a minority chance of success. Long term plans have shifted from decades to years because funding is less certain and is delivered in smaller chunks for shorter periods; even while the process of acquiring it has lengthened. Adaptation is happening by necessity, but the remembrance of easier days is hard to ignore. I suspect the change will continue to change.
Personal finance is going through similar changes. Once upon a time, though really for only a short period in our history, the norm was stable employment, steadily rising home prices, reasonably steady investment returns, a promise of comfortable retirement, and an expectation of a better life for the next generation, ad infinitum. Committing to a career made sense. Buying a big house made sense. Locking money away in tax-deferred portfolios made sense. Becoming expert in one skill rather than knowing a lot about a little made sense. To those of you who have had all of those assumptions remain valid, congratulations. To the rest, well, adaption is the only viable option, eh? (You Are Not Your Job)
The scary bit is that, even when you recognize the need for change, there is no guarantee which adaptation is best. One lesson from history is that the future has never been readily predicted, except in hindsight. Another lesson from history is that the more things change the more they stay the same, but standing still is usually the worst option.
One lesson from HCLE is that change is becoming more dramatic, is happening more quickly, and at least in education requires continual adaption.
We are having to learn new ways to live with each new technology, crisis, and insight into our interconnectivity.
This blog would become phenomenally successful if I had all the answers and was infallible. Know of any blogs that fit that description? I am, however, fortunate enough to work with two organizations that unexpectedly intersect: HCLE and my next largest client New Road Map Foundation,
an organization advocating personal values-based personal finance. New Road Map’s arena covers the current economy, economic changes, and how individuals can take personal responsibility for their finances. The confluence of ideas convinces me that the changes we’re about to experience have no precedence, only allusions and metaphors.
The things that probably won’t change will be “Spend less than you make.” “Invest the rest.”
The things that may change will be the definitions of Spend, Make, Invest, and even You. Spending may be more related to time than money. Have you heard about time banks? Making may be more related to time and talent rather than income. Investing may be more related to networking (hello social media) than buying stocks or land. You may be the plural instead of the singular. If so, personal finance plans will be more about the person or the community than the finance. If so, institutions like museums may find bigger challenges that shifting from direct funds to grant proposals.
All I know for sure is that, as I pass through my financial turmoil, the greatest lesson I’ve learned has been to study the past, adapt to change, and be flexible about my future.