When it comes to upward mobility, many believe that the surefire path to success lies in promotions, raises, and bonuses. The more money, the better, right? Sure, an increase in salary and more money to add to your account helps increase your financial status, but that’s not the only—or even most important—goal to achieve. Far too many rely on acquiring financial capital, completely ignoring the power that lies in social capital.
According to Investopedia, the world’s leading financial education site, social capital refers to the connections between individuals and entities that can be economically valuable. Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not always what you know, but who you know”? That’s social capital in action. The “what you know” qualifies you to submit your résumé; the “who you know” is what’ll make you a shoo-in. The “what you know” qualifies you to speak to an audience of your peers; “who you know” could place you as a keynote speaker at a national conference.
Too often, we spend all of our efforts making sure bills are paid and money is saved. Think of your routine: Do you clock in, work hard, clock out, and then collect your check at the end of each pay period? If so, great; you’re doing a great job at this thing called “adulting.” But what are you doing to build social capital? Are you looking to build connections with your superiors when given the chance? At lunchtime, when colleagues invite you to grab a bite at the new restaurant, do you opt to eat your packed lunch at your desk?
For some, this is a standard practice of not mixing work and play. Work is where you pay your bills, and after 5 pm is when you’re free to play—with family and friends. And while this ideology is common and understandable, what many don’t see is the opportunity to build social capital. Countless opportunities to develop a strong network of professionals from various walks of life pass you by when you decide to keep your colleagues at bay. Lunch at the new restaurant could result in running into the company’s CEO, who then offers to join the team for a round of drinks. From there arises an opportunity to share interests and establish common ground, and before you know it, you’re invited to play golf or volunteer at the local shelter on the weekends. You’re actively building social capital.
It doesn’t begin and end with the workplace, either. Everything we’ve experienced, goals we’ve achieved, and friendships built and lost along our life’s path become what clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay, Phd. considers “identity capital.” Those aforementioned things all serve as building blocks of sorts, working together to build a full, well-rounded individual with a wealth of experience to bring to the proverbial table. It’s the “what you know” to the aforementioned “who you know.”
The author of The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now, Dr. Jay defines identity capital as “the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships.” It’s the summation of who we associate with, the jobs we take, and the relationships we build, among other things. At its core, our identity capital is what helps us relate to others, create loose connections, and ultimately build our social capital.
This requires a level of transparency and a willingness to learn about others’ identity capital. Networking, as daunting a task as it may be, is a prime opportunity to share bits of your identity capital in exchange for a tidbit of someone else’s. It’s how you, a businessman, may find common ground with an entertainer who’s vowed to never wear a business suit.
So, how and when can you use your identity capital to build social capital?
Richmond offers no shortage of events and organizations whose sole mission is to help build social capital.
For example, local chambers of commerce not only connect local businesses in the area, but everyone from interns to CEOs are brought to an equal level through networking happy hours, lunch & learns, and various chamber events.
The Central Virginia African American Chamber of Commerce provides a directory for local Black businesses, yes, but through their monthly networking events, the CVAACC bridges the gap between your office desk and Black professionals across the city of Richmond. From the restaurant industry to office supply retailers, your increased social capital is only a conversation away.
Eventbrite, the world’s largest event sharing platform, is also an incredible resource that aggregates opportunities to forge connections and network with people whose paths you’d otherwise never cross. In Richmond alone, the site boasts dozens of networking opportunities that may be customized to meet your specific areas of interest. For the month of September alone, Eventbrite offers nearly 70 networking events, catering to everyone from women of color in leadership to people looking to enter into the food industry. Again, when it comes to building social capital, Richmond’s committed to its residents and local professionals.
In life, we’re all afforded opportunities to learn, grow, and experience this world in unique ways. Those life lessons aren’t just stories we save for our grandchildren when we’re old and grey. No, it’s all a part of our identity, and the more identity we gather, the more we have to offer our neighbor. Let’s strive to challenge what we’ve thought to be success, and instead re-shift our focus on the capital that’s not in the form of green in our hand or zeros in our account. If you commit to building it, social capital will take you further than the almighty dollar ever could