chasing the carrot...

(originally published on MySpace)

If status is stupid & irrelevant, why do we chase it?

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis." ~ Fight Club

We are societally programmed to chase the dangling carrot of status. The media has convinced us that COOLNESS is our goal, and to acquire a lofty position of social status among our peers, we must meet as many of the requisite criteria as possible - a checklist of coolness. We will find the unconditional love and acceptance we crave if only we will mold our identities around the whims of advertisers.

Society tells us: cool people drive imported cars. They drink overpriced, gourmet coffee and overpriced, gourmet beers. They eat overpriced, organic food. They listen to the latest hip music on their iPods. They wear trendy clothes and dine in trendy restaurants. Blah, blah, blah.

Advertisers sublimate that we can only be happy if we consume specific brands or follow certain trends. We ignorantly buy it, literally and figuratively: We buy into the notion that our peers are worthy of our adulation. We appoint them the judge, jury, and executioner of coolness. We strive to keep up with our peers. We elevate their opinions and allow their perceptions to dictate our thoughts and become our motivations. I once heard it said that we buy stuff we don't want with money we don't have to impress people we really don't like. And while we do this in the name of status, we never admit such. We just keep drinking the Kool-Aid, forking over our plastic and repeating the process, all in the hopes that we will find acceptance and love. But it's all a mirage.

The trouble is, most of the time we aren't even aware that we are brainwashed. You think you're immune? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you -really- outside the realm of external influences?
  2. Are any of your lifestyle choices (your personal style, the sites you visit, the books you read, the shows you watch or the music you listen to in the car you drive & where you live) - are any of these yours alone, or have the opinions of another influenced your decisions?
  3. Who would you be if you had not been influenced by outside sources? Would your choices be different? Would you be the same person, or someone entirely different?

Every day, our choices determine our identities. What I wear sends a message about who I am. For example: I'm not a slave to fashion. I am perfectly content to wear jeans, black turtlenecks & clogs every day for the rest of my life. I choose substance over style. Zero external influence there.

How I decorate defines me, too: the majority of my home furnishings came from the big blue & yellow Swedish empire. Not because that lifestyle was immortalized in Fight Club, but because the IKEA stuff fit my budget when I moved back here from Chicago and New England before that. Again, peer influence took a back seat to fiscal concerns.

But if money was no object, would I drive a different car? Would I live somewhere else? Would I be more charitable or more selfish?

These are the things I pondered tonight while walking around in the arts district after dinner with friends.

My lifestyle drastically changed three years ago. Back then, I ran with the "cool" crowd, lived in the "cool" neighborhood, drove a "cool" car and wasted exorbitant amounts of money in a misguided attempt to buy happiness. I liked my lifestyle. I liked the status that came with the acquisition of material possessions. I liked the admiration I received from my so-called friends. My coolness opened many doors. Life was a non-stop party.

But I was miserable...and couldn't figure out why. I threw more money at the problem, but to no avail. Nothing quenched the insatiable desire.

Three years ago, everything changed. My material possessions crumbled before my eyes. I was left empty and humbled. That's when I realized I was a status addict.

It's taken three years to shake off the ill-fitting cloak of false identity I wore. I allowed external, superficial things to shape the image I projected. I chased acceptance by people whose opinions didn't matter. It's taken three years to stop chasing the dangling carrot. But that doesn't mean the longing is gone for good. Occasionally, it returns and I wonder, "Why can't I have this back?"

Tonight I watched the "cool" people. Some guy wearing trendy shoes and a name-brand, embroidered logo fleece jacket carried himself past me with an air of self-importance. He was a human peacock, quite sure of his worth and flaunting it for all to see. And for the first time, I didn't envy him (or his beautiful wife or their lovely, yuppie-esque 2.5 children) - no, I felt sad. Here is an otherwise intelligent guy who is basically just a brainwashed sucker. He thinks he's something special because he looks like all of his friends who wear the same labels and drive the same cars. He's a cookie-cutter social status-climber looking for validation in the same places I did. It's pitiful. He keeps drinking the Kool-Aid. So am I better off because I realized the error of my snobbish ways, or is he better off because he's content in his delusion?

That's just my two cents' worth on materialism...