I was listening to yet another Tim Ferriss podcast, this time his guest on podcast #576 was Morgan Housel. This was a great listen, and of course I recommend you check it out. There was one particular story that stuck out to me, and I thought I would take the couple of sentences that Morgan stated and expand on them as best I could. He was sharing a story of when he was working as a valet, and he noticed the trend that when someone rolled up in really expensive car, he barely noticed the driver, his attention was focused on the car itself. I laughed aloud when he said this, as even though I had never thought about it in this context, I instantly recognized that I do the same thing. Maybe most people do, which is why I wanted to expand on this idea.
Here a thought to consider if the above statement is true: Does the car, or any other status symbol item like this really accomplish the goal? People do not run to you as the car owner to learn how much in charity contributions you did last year, or what your secret to success is. For 99% of the people that see you in that car, they probably think “Lucky Bastard” and are envious of the ride you get to tool around in. If your goal was to make others jealous, instantly make assumptions about you, assume you are less than a nice person, etc. then mission accomplished. But in most cases people buy status items for one of two reasons:
To show the world that they “made it”, that (ideally) all their hard work has paid off.
To cover the fact that they are not quite playing at that really rich level, but they want others to think so.
In either example, here is the REAL question to ask in relation to this: WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT OTHERS THINK? I have been around some very wealthy people and others who are faking it, and you can tell the difference without too much trouble if you are paying attention. Many of the people who are truly wealthy are driving used Jeeps and cars they’ve had for a while. They live in nice homes, but many do not buy the mansion on the top of the hill. They want to blend in, they DO NOT want to flaunt their wealth and deal with being treated differently or have people want to befriend them BECAUSE they are rich. They crave normalcy, privacy, and all the things that everyone else takes for granted. Ironically, most “average” people don’t appreciate the anonymity they live in. They are desperate to trade places with the rich and famous, while many of the rich and famous are jealous of their ability to do everyday things without being bothered.
I can tell you that in my younger days I was definitely in love with the idea of being rich and famous. I thought that if I was, people would love and respect me for it; only later did I learn that the opposite is usually true. In today’s world, everyone has a camera in their pocket and would happily record any famous person interaction with a photo. Ideally people are asking you for permission to take a picture, but this doesn’t always happen. Many will snap a pic without their knowledge or in some cases interrupt whatever the famous person is doing to get a picture with them. As the famous person, you are now obligated to make a choice and say yes or no to the request. None of us want to hear that dreaded word “No” to a request, especially if this is a once in a lifetime chance to get close to someone you admire. If the famous person says yes, others may follow suit and now a walk through the mall has become a task of taking photos with fans. Yes, they are famous and some of their social and even financial status has to be directly attributed to fans. But they are human beings too, and they have a life to live that doesn’t want to be put on hold at the request of everyone else.
Think of it this way, if your email inbox represented “you” and every incoming email that you got represents a request from a fan for a picture that needs to be posed for or sign an autograph, that would be your life. All day, every day in some cases, this would be your life. Super famous people can’t even go to a restaurant with their spouse without having people interrupt them. And the first time you say no to someone, you’re a jerk and they will blast you on social media about it. I was just speaking with my cousin about this kind of stuff recently, and he gave a perfect example that illustrates this. Long story short, he and his son were in Florida for Spring Training baseball and they ended up in the elevator with a player from his son’s favorite team. My cousin was very cordial and held the elevator for this player and his girlfriend for them to get on. The girlfriend thanked him and was politely chatting with him, but the player turned his back to them and didn’t want to be bothered. It was rude, to say the least, but imagine the feeling that 11 year old kid felt to have someone he idolizes treat him in this manner. My cousin s still mad about it to this day.
Now, flip to the other side of this story, and be the baseball player for a moment. Maybe he just left the practice field, signing a bunch of autographs on the way out. He is tired, they ran sprints at the end of practice. The coach was riding him about dogging it in the workout, even though he thought he put in a good effort. He got a speeding ticket on the way to the hotel, and all he wants to do is get to his room and relax. And now two fans end up in the elevator with him and want to chat. Can you see why someone may not be super receptive to one more conversation?
Now, this doesn’t excuse treating others poorly. I have seen people get yelled at for things that clearly were not their fault, and I have seen great examples of human kindness just as often. I always signal when making a turn and I wave people in when merging. But I am also the guy who is quick to yell at someone for “being stupid” and cutting me off in traffic or tying up a line I am standing in. I try my best, but, on occasion, and I am jerk as well. It is human nature unless you have really worked on this to a large degree or just have a completely passive personality. Do I think that makes me a hypocrite? No, I think it makes me human, and I try my best to get better at it. But I slip up just like everyone else does, and everyone else slips up just like me. It is the way of the world, and we all need to keep this in mind when interacting with others. As the old saying goes: “Everyone is fighting a battle you are not aware of” and, man, is that ever true. Be as kind as you can as often as you can.
So, back to that person driving the fancy car that many are envious of, apply what I just said to that scenario. Maybe that guy is mortgaged to the hilt, trying to keep a once successful business afloat and desperately trying to save his marriage. Still want to trade places? Maybe they have a lawsuit against the company they own, or they were the top grossing salesperson for several years and got canned last week despite putting up the numbers. Let’s go real dark and add this into the mix: Their father just passed away, or worse, a child in their family. You never know what someone is dealing with in their life, so don’t let that car fool you. They may be paying $1300 a month for lease payments on a car they really can’t afford, just trying to look like they can. Do you still feel the same way about that car and the person driving it?
My point is this: Don’t assume that someone is “set for life without a care in the world” because of the car they drive, the Rolex on their wrist, or the address where they reside. I spoke to a homeless man once who was wearing a fancy watch; it was his father’s and the last thing he owned that had any value whatsoever. It was the only thing he possessed of his father’s since his recent passing. I asked him how hard it has been to not sell this to make his life easier, and he started to cry. I could see in his eyes he had suffered mightily, fighting the urge to sell that watch and have money to buy food or rent a hotel room and get off the streets, even for a short time. I emptied my wallet, handing him every dollar I had with me. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t going to change his life. But I could tell by his extreme gratitude that it made a difference that day.
Our society has become so locked in on financial success as the goal that we sacrifice overall happiness to try and achieve it. The goal line continues to move if you don’t at some point realize that money does not equal happiness. The saying “I’d rather cry in my Ferrari than smile in my Honda” is exactly the mindset I am telling you is the underlying poison in our culture. This idea has been promoted far too much and too often. We need a shift in perspective, promoting happiness instead of wealth. No one becomes a teacher to get rich, but rather they do it because it makes them happy and to make a difference. If you are sitting in your fancy car crying about your life, you are not winning…
Do your thing, whatever that is. I gave up the idea of being rich and famous a long time ago, and I strive for financial freedom and anonymity. My wife and I live a modest lifestyle in our modest home in a decent neighborhood in Phoenix. Because of this, we are debt free except for the house, and that is coming off the list soon too. We have worked hard to set ourselves up for financial freedom and flexibility and the option for early retirement if either of us chooses. Many people still live paycheck to paycheck, regardless of their the W2 amount. Not good, as this assumes the income source you have will never change, and this is dangerous to say the least. The world is in a constant state of flux, and having money and options gives you options others may not have. Don’t blow peace of mind on a set of wheels to impress people you don’t even know. Focus on yourself, and making sure you and your family are taken care of. THAT is a much better measure of success. Help others too if you can, and really pad your karmic status. Make the world a better place than the way you found it, don’t try to compete against a litany of others who are not smart enough to understand this: You can’t take it with you. We are all gonna die someday, and the things you have are all borrowed in that sense.