3/20/15

Business, Work & Community

I'm thinking you might like a feat of analysis?; a brainstorm of reasoning?; or maybe just a mash-up of somewhat related thoughts? In any case, for a random essay, I will now attempt to explicate the relationship as I see it between business, work and community (if you think I'm crazy, don't - I'm having a good time with this). I think about this quite a lot, as I am passionate about combining these three concepts into my daily life. That said, you would be correct to assume that I have a hard time in the current economy, which seeks to divorce work life from home life.

Communities arose over time and are able to adapt to fulfill fundamental needs: companionship, protection, food, clothing, housing, child care, senior care, health care, education, transportation, entertainment and utilities. Communities generate the businesses and services necessary to accommodate these needs; communities also provide the workforces that businesses need to open and thrive. The people, the businesses and the labor are a self-sustaining system - in a word, the economy. I suppose that seems like an obvious conclusion, but this is the first time I've spelled it out for myself logically. I find two things about this intriguing: first, the idea that the larger "economy" started out as a small "community" which relies as much or more on social interactions as it does on fiscal transactions; and second, the revolutionary changes that the corporate form of business has had on both the community and the economy. Business used to exist for the well-being of community, but in the present world takes advantage of community - especially as urban populations swell and rural ones shrink.

The last three years wreaked havoc on my creative ambitions due to an exhausting and unfulfilling job. Three months ago, however, I started working at a brand new coffee shop/cafe/art gallery in Northeast Minneapolis called Mojo, with a very vague suspicion that here I would find the kickstart I was seeking for my creativity. I work at restaurants & cafes; I always will - I'm in the industry for life, but I have an inherent (from my dad) need to derive a deeper satisfaction from my work than just fulfilling the job duties. I desire to work in an environment that fosters creativity and genuinely accommodates meaningful, humanitarian interaction. This all seems a bit philosophical, but when put into practice requires only the social skills we all learn (hopefully) while growing up combined with the specific skill-sets we learn during grade school, college and job training. Work and life need not be mutually exclusive, and I believe there was a time not long ago when the predominant business model encapsulated these two aims: to be a part of the fabric of community; and do so by offering goods and/or services aimed at augmenting that community. I understand, however, that working for someone else most often takes one's own goals and dreams out of the equation, separating them from the work day. Because of this, if you work forty hours a week, you spend about one-third of your time awake accomplishing your employer's goals. Two-thirds of your time remain to achieve your own goals, and raise a family, and dedicate time for free-time, romance or recreation. The full-time work schedule was not established with your best interests in mind... it was created out of a nefarious scheme to render the workforce subservient to the corporate leaders, which has led to a change in our spending habits. Full-time employees, especially if they are also parents, have less time and energy off the job to shop for and cook food (much less grow their own), make their own clothes, fix their own cars and houses, or fellowship with family and friends. We now strive to achieve a certain level of disposable income in order to buy the goods and serves we no longer view as attainable on our own. The attitude of Americans becoming rampant and unwitting consumers has been a hot topic for a decade, yet the cultural penchant to consume has been meticulously calculated by the business sector.

Now I'll step off the soap box and come back to Mojo Coffee Gallery. You might initially think of the song lyric "mojo risin'" from The Doors, or the groovy connotation of the word used by Mike Meyers in the "Austin Powers" movies. In this context, however, the word mojo is used quite spiritually to conjure an image of passion and a desire to affect people through the performance of art and the immediacy of good food. I've perused the definitions of "mojo" and learned that the original word means a small cloth bag worn around the neck that carries a magical charm in it used to attract good luck or love, or to ward off evil spirits. Newer meanings of mojo relate more to personal charisma or confidence; having a quality that distinguishes a person apart from others; the essence of one's style. This is the idea that Mojo Coffee Gallery is built on: that a business can still have a soul. The story of how Mojo came to be involves a group of people attempting to create a space to reconnect community, art and business. I'm excited to see Mojo develop and I'm hopeful that this kind of place can still exist and thrive.