What’s in a Word?

I have mixed feelings about the word “philanthropist.”

For me, the word brings up images of men in tuxedos and women in gowns and pearls walking down grand staircases at elaborate charity benefits. Perhaps Hollywood movie images have hijacked the word in my brain. But it makes me uncomfortable to call myself a philanthropist.

I found similar discomfort with “activist,” a word a journalist used to describe what I have become since leaving my investment industry role this summer. I was mildly amused, as I’ve never participated in a protest or demonstration. While I know the word has a much broader meaning, my face within a crowd of protestors was the only immediate visual my brain offered.

I have long disliked the word “retired,” since I believe it gives people an expected sequence for stages of adulthood ending at a magical pot of gold. This ideology has been furthered by the investment industry, which finds it much easier to develop products when serving standardized investor needs.

My philosophy is to balance travel and adventure into my healthy working years. I can’t imagine a day where (assuming good health) I would just stop contributing to the world and my family.

So when I am asked if I have retired, I share my long-held beliefs, and ask for suggestions for better words. As has become very clear to my husband, I don’t need an office, a boss, or the prospect of a higher bonus to have me deeply engaged in work I truly enjoy.

In stepping back and thinking about my personal reaction to everyday words, my only conclusion is that I am very true to my “enthusiast” and “epicure” personality type. I don’t like feeling constrained, stereotyped or labeled.

Lest you think I have an aversion to all descriptive words, I’ve found a few controversial words to my liking as I’ve expanded my personal definitions.

Between Beyonce and Emma Watson, there has been a lot of press about the word “feminist.” So here’s Hollywood influence yet again, this time, making me more comfortable with a word. I find myself wanting to support Emma, and feeling that the Millennials might be the last generation to cite the phrase “gender equality.” The economics of wealth transfer and decision-making over the next two decades make the disappearance of this phrase inevitable.

I also have a newfound liking for “investor.” In fact, it is now one of the favorite words I like to use to describe myself.

Having been a young adult in the era of movies like “Wall Street,” the term “investor” seemed synonymous with financier and greed. The definition in my quick Google search today yielded:

“An investor is someone who provides (or invests) money or other resources for an enterprise, such as a corporation, with the expectation of financial or other gain.”

This current definition is broader and matches my own version of what it means to be an investor. While I continue to have “traditional” investments, I now consciously include four buckets in describing my investments:

– Time. Dedicating my ideas, leadership, and social capital to those people and scalable enterprises I believe in.

– Charitable Giving. Donating funds to initiatives and enterprises I believe will change the world we live in. I believe educating girls is among world’s best investments.

– Micro-Lending. Building a portfolio of zero-interest loans to entrepreneurs around the world, recycling the repayments to new borrowers. Kiva.org is an incredible platform for this.

– Impact Investing. Finding ways to invest my money in enterprises that earn investment returns and impact the world. The fact that it’s not yet easy to do means that I can also contribute with my knowledge of the intermediary investment space.

With an unprecedented earning and transfer of wealth to Millennials and women over the next two decades, I can’t help but believe that this new definition of investing—which includes financial and other forms of returns—will become the norm.

I hope that financial advisors and investment platforms similarly broaden their view.

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