Can you see me?
Maybe it’s easier now. Now that your job isn’t so secure and the economy isn’t doing so well and the money isn’t flowing in.
That’s usually how discovery makes its entrance. It likes to follow elimination.
When you watch the news, can you feel me come and go? Can you see how politicians and news networks trade me? How, at the end of the day, I am the currency that the government will manufacture $2 trillion to keep? The currency that businesses want. The currency the stock market needs.
Still not seeing it?
OK. Let’s try a riddle. Here goes…
“Everyone needs me and everyone has me. Some have more than others.
The amount you have can be determined by the family you were born into, the color of your skin, your level of experience in what you are doing, your sex and even your sexual orientation.
You can gain or lose me quickly.
The amount of me that you feel you have can change in relation to how much the people around you have. If you are with people who have a lot of me, you will feel like you have little. If you are with people who have little of me, you will feel like you have a lot.
What am I?”
It’s possible that your answer was money. And you’d be right. Money checks all the boxes.
But I am not Money. I am Confidence, Money’s invisible cousin. You can go through the riddle again. You’ll find that I also check the boxes.
And the reason that there are so many similarities between me and my cousin Money is because we’re both from the same family.
We’re both Currencies.
The only real difference between the two of us is that I am completely invisible. I am not a currency you count and save and stack. I am a currency you feel.
Hard for you to believe in an invisible currency? Then ask yourself this:
How much of the money you receive do you actually physically touch?
Now I am not the most important of the Currencies — that honor goes to Father Time — but I’m definitely more important than Money. In fact, in the currency cycle of life, money comes after I do. It exists because I exist.
And unlike my cousin Money, you have the ability to create me whenever you want.
Ok, let me see what I can do.
Confidence and Money
When you hear the word “currency” your first thoughts are probably of money. Of dollars and Euros and pesos.
But the truth is that anything can technically be a currency.
Before the government-backed currencies you use now, people traded gold and silver coins. In Africa, tribal groups used large copper and bronze bracelets called Manillas as their form of money.
Before coins and metal objects, it was physical things that had a real-world use value. Things that were always in demand and easy to trade. Things like salt and fur pelts. In fact, at the peak of the fur trade in Canada, fur pelts were not only a currency but also the unit of measure used by the Hudson Bay Company to keep their books.
But the history of currencies isn’t important. The important thing is that you see that just about anything can be a currency. As long as there is enough confidence and belief in what is being traded, as long as people believe it has value, then anything can be a currency.
The current monetary system, the FIAT system, exists because of your unique human ability to believe in things beyond yourself. Because of your imagination. Because of your ability to mentally place value in things that you cannot physically touch, see and smell.
When your employer deposits $2,000 into your checking account, you know that their bank is not sending a magical elf in a magical car with $2,000 physical dollars to your bank.
The transaction is digital. Numbers on screens and in clouds.
And it’s all possible because you, your employer and your respective banks all buy in. Because you believe that seeing +$2,000 on a computer screen is the same as having $2,000 placed in your hand. And because you believe that having $2,000 in your hand is actually worth something.
To be honest, without Confidence, money ain’t shit. It is literally worthless.
Here’s a story to illustrate this point.
Imagine that you are trekking through a jungle. You hear what sounds like a waterfall and decide to wander off the path in search of it. You slap and hack your way through the wildlife and, with one final pull of your hands, part the branches to reveal a majestic, multi-tiered waterfall.
And then you see it. Right along the left edge of one of the larger pools created by the waterfall. A tiger, calmly drinking water. The tiger looks up and spots you. It changes its body position and begins to growl.
All of a sudden, you are face to face with a tiger that is very ready to kill you.
And then, in a stroke of good fortune, the heavens open and God himself comes down and decides to help. He says he will give you one of three things to help you in your time of need.
Five pounds of steak, three pounds of pure steel shaped however you’d like or $1,000,000 cash.
What would you choose?
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what you would choose. All that matters is that we agree that you probably ain’t choosing the $1,000,000.
And why not? The cash is easily the most valuable of the three options, right?
And it’s because the tiger doesn’t believe in money. In the raw, natural, physical world money has no use value. The tiger can’t eat it or drink it, so what does the tiger care about $1,000,000? And without confidence, without a shared belief in the value of $1,000,00, all that cash becomes exposed for what it really is:
A bunch of paper that smells funny.
In the weeks that Congress spent trying to figure out how to boost the national economy, one wild idea put forth by US Representative Rashida Tlaib was to have the US Mint create two $1 trillion coins from pure platinum. The idea was that the US Treasury would buy the coins from the mint at face value and the US Mint, now $2 trillion richer, would then be able to distribute their newfound wealth to US businesses and citizens.
“But,” you ask “how can a single platinum coin be worth $1 trillion?”
Good question, now we’re getting there.
It is all because of belief.
The costs to produce a quarter, a $1 bill and a $100 bill are about the same. According to the US Federal Reserve, a $1 bill costs $0.05 to produce, a quarter $0.08 and a $100 bill about $0.14.
Here is a chart showing the costs compared to the perceived market value. Blue is costs and orange is market value:
So why, if it costs more to make a quarter than it does a $1 bill, is the $1 bill worth 4X more?
Or why, if it costs the about the same as it does to produce a quarter, is the $100 worth 400X more?
Because we all agree on it.
Look at Bitcoin. Ever wonder how can one “coin” from an invisible currency that runs on a digital network few people truly understand be worth more than $9,000?
Because enough people believe in Bitcoin. Enough people have confidence in cryptocurrency and in the capabilities and security of the technology that powers Bitcoin’s network.
So can you see now?
Can you see how, without Confidence, those paper currencies you love so much go all Venezualan Bolivar and people begin using money for paper mache.
Yea, you might not be able to see me or touch me… but so what.
Remember, with currencies, it’s all about believing.
So, why does it matter that you see confidence as a currency? Why is it important that you see the effect that confidence has on money?
Because right now, confidence is the currency that we need more than anything. The world’s governments are doing their part to make sure there is enough money. But the silent killer of this pandemic is not the virus as much as it is the uncertainty the virus has brought with it.
“Do I have the virus?” “Am I asymptomatic?” “ Will I lose my job?” “How long will this shutdown last?”
The world is in a serious Confidence deficit. And it’s going to be up to the masses to balance out the ledger.
“But,” you ask, “how can I create confidence?”
Just follow the government’s lead.
Do you want to know how the US government came up with the $2 trillion for the recent America CARES stimulus package? They made it up. Congress passed a bill and sent instructions to the Federal Reserve, our government’s bank, who then went into their computer and with a few clicks, manufactured $2 trillion USD.
Don’t believe me?
Here is a fantastic clip from 2009 with former head of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernake explaining how the US Federal Reserve “simply used the computer to mark up the size of the account,” in order to fund a stimulus package:
For those who might be wondering, “Where did the Federal Reserve get the $1.5 trillion they just committed to injecting?”— Stephanie Kelton (@StephanieKelton) March 12, 2020
A blast from the past explanation of how it all works. 💻 pic.twitter.com/wCQUwni8El
Thankfully, the same is true for confidence. When we need it, we can make it up.
Humans are strange creatures. We have these wonderful brains. These brains that have the power to invent and believe in abstract things like money. Brains that allow us to receive and filter and decipher information at warp speed.
And yet, for whatever reason, we love to direct the power of our brains toward the negative.
Scientists refer to this phenomenon as our “negativity bias.” Our negativity bias is what leads us to put more value in negative information than we do positive information. It is why it’s easier for us to remember an insult than it is to remember a compliment.
It’s why the majority of the news we read about and see is negative. Media companies know that we are naturally drawn to negativity. That we’ll click on an article talking about what is wrong with the world before we’ll click on an article talking about what’s good about it.
So the first step to manufacturing confidence is to not indulge your negativity bias too much. To check yourself and to watch what you are reading and saying to others.
It’s OK to accept that this is a serious situation with very real consequences. But it is not OK to over-indulge your negativity bias in hypothetical “maybes” and “it’s possible” and “what if’s” about how many people will die and how long the shutdown will last and what the long-term economic ramifications will be.
This is what every single person’s reaction should be to questions about this pandemic:
Because the truth is that you don’t know shit. Nobody does.
So stop spreading stories about what could happen or what you heard might happen. Stop using the expression “Stay safe,” at the end of emails and when you exit people’s company. Stop talking about what you “heard.”
Focus on today. Focus on what you have right now and what you can do with the only time any of us are ever given in life. The present.
Analyze your situation for what it is, not what it might be or could, and only worry when it is time to worry.
The second step is to remember who the fuck you (and we) are.
We are the ones who removed ourselves from the food chain. We are the only creatures who have flown to the moon and dove to the depths of the sea and invented vehicles that allow us to move across land faster than a cheetah, all without even using our legs.
Take some comfort in our track record.
We have, time and again, bounced back from wars and pandemics and natural disasters. In fact, the last time we had a pandemic, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919, we bounced right back into the Roaring 20’s.
This is a difficult time. But know that we are going to be alright. That we will bounce back. It’s what we humans do.
And after you give us some credit, take some time to do the same for yourself.
Take some time to think back on all of the challenges and difficulties that you have overcome in your life. The times when your future was uncertain. And then remember that you made it. That you figured it out.
Step three is to stop diminishing what you do.
We all have a tendency to live in our own heads. To become preoccupied with our own reality.
Which is fine. It’s normal. But it leads us to subconsciously under-value ourselves and what we can do by overestimating how many people can do the same things we can.
We assume that because we can do this and because we have had that experience, that so too has the majority of the population.
“I can do it, so obviously everyone else can right?”
A few weeks ago, I spoke at a marketing conference. The night before I spoke, I was worried. I felt like I was under-qualified and what I was going to say was obvious and not worth people’s time.
But I spoke anyway. And after my speech, no fewer than two dozen people came up to me to let me know how eye-opening my speech had been for them. About how much they had learned.
After the conference, I was talking with a good friend who was also the host of the summit. I asked him if these summits ever rejuvenated his confidence in the work he was doing. If he felt more valuable afterwards.
“Totally,” he said. “Totally man. It’s crazy how much we undervalue ourselves. How much we take what we know and what we can do for granted.”
Don’t take yourself for granted. You have value. Your random skills have value. And the internet is making it easier and easier to monetize them.
Here’s an example that might help you see the bigger picture. When I was preparing my presentation for the conference, I decided to search for someone to help beautify my presentation. What I found AMAZED me.
Did you know there are people on the site www.upwork.com, charging more than $100/ HOUR (hour!!) to edit Powerpoint presentations. And not only are they charging it, they are getting it (I underlined the rate and circled the total amount earned on the site below):
Believe that even if you lose your job and governments stop giving out money like it’s Halloween, your experiences and abilities have value in the market.
Step four, watch your mouth.
Confidence is most often manufactured in what we say. Be mindful of the conversations you have. Be mindful of the information you are choosing to share with other people.
You can choose to talk about the number of new cases and how many people have died each day.
Or you can choose to talk about the hundreds of thousands of people who have recovered. You can talk about how there are signs that Italy’s quarantine is working and that the number of new cases might be on the decline.
You can talk about the fact that the survival rate for this virus is likely over 98%. Or how it’s possible, considering how long China covered this up and how quickly this virus spreads and how so many people seem to be asymptomatic, that way more people have already been infected. That the mortality rate might actually be much lower. It might not. It might be higher. But will we ever really know?
You can choose to focus on how hospitals are running out of equipment and the immense stress that nurses and doctors are working under.
Or you can choose to talk about how society is STEPPING UP. About how beautiful it is that we are all literally pausing our lives for the collective good. About what a unifying experience this is.
You can choose to talk about how people are hand-knitting masks and delivering free meals and setting up food drives. About how MIT professors and students just released the plans for a ventilator that can be manufactured for less than $100. About how we are already adapting. About how we are finding new ways to communicate and work together and adjust to this new norm.
You can choose to talk about the long-term financial impact that this might have on the economy.
Or you can choose to talk about how it’s possible that historically, this might go down as a three-month economic pause. A time when credit card payments and loans were deferred and governments gave people a little money and we all hunkered down and took a collective break from being, doing and going.
You can choose to think about all the money you aren’t making.
Or you can choose to talk about all the money you’re saving. About how this could serve as a great budgeting exercise for you.
You can choose to talk about how bored you are and how being laid off sucks.
Or you can talk about how we have all have gained a tremendous amount of life’s most valuable currency:
Time to think and read and plan and be with family. Time to peel back the layers of bullshit that get thrown upon us and to remember what is truly important in life.
You can talk about how this shutdown might last for months. Or you can talk about how spring is upon us and studies have shown that coronaviruses are weakened by warmer weather.
You get to choose. Will it be confidence, or fear, that comes out of your mouth?
Step five is to show confidence.
Times are tight for a lot of people. But they ain’t tight for everyone.
For those of you who are still working and who have some disposable income, now is not your time to start pinching pennies.
Assess your situation. Have you really lost that much money? Are things that bad? If not, then look for ways to use some of your money to support those around you.
Order take-out from your favorite restaurants. Tip a little bit more than normal. When you do go to shop, make an effort to seek out local businesses. The corporations will be fine. Now is when your community needs you more than ever.
Now, you don’t have to believe any of this. You can choose to reject the idea that confidence is a currency. You can choose to be cynical and to prepare for the worst and to indulge yourself in hypotheticals.
But this pandemic is going to end. And 99.5% of us are going to be responsible for moving on when it does.
And the key to moving on is the same as the key to creating currencies:
It’s all about what you choose to believe.
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