Status anxiety

I was introduced to the author Alain de Botton many years ago, and I have always enjoyed his combination of wit and insight in discussing culture, philosophy, art, and other topics. But I was not aware that he was also an entertaining public speaker. In this video, he discusses the western world’s preoccupation with status and status symbols. This particularly touches home for me, as I think my interest in fashion, appearing well-dressed, etc. comes from an insecurity about my background. (It also doesn’t help to watch episodes of “What Not to Wear” and become paranoid that somehow the way you are dressing/styling your hair/applying makeup is holding you back from realizing your true potential. Eeek! Thanks, Stacy London.)

I come from a particularly modest background, and it was a little traumatic to go away to college at 18 and study in a field/department that was almost exclusively enrolled in by students from a wealthier background (music performance). Maybe that sounds silly, but when you are living in grinding poverty, and all of your friends and peers are sashaying around spending money right and left and making a number of different decisions than you can afford to…..after awhile, I felt like I got a chip on my shoulder, or at least fairly defensive about my own life choices. I feel like at the end of the day the life decisions I’ve made have had positive outcomes for me, if at times uncomfortable or unpopular, but I still have that underlying inferiority complex that will take a bit longer, I think, to unravel and let go of. Minimalism in the sense of deliberately owning very little has forced me, in a good way, to examine these attitudes more closely, and to resolve some of the feelings I have about material goods vs. actual happiness with myself and my choices.

At any rate, watch the video and tell me what you think!

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8 comments
  1. Great post – what you said really hit home for me as well. I’ll definitely be watching this video while I eat breakfast tomorrow :)

    • Glad you liked it! Is your tumblr still open to the public these days? I really enjoyed it.

      • Yes!

      • Oh good! I think I visited recently, and it wasn’t online at the moment. Will check back!

  2. interesting video. i definitely view my clothing, dark sunglasses as my armor.

  3. Aïssa said:

    What a thoughtful and honest post. I also can relate in my personal history to the pressure and desire of wanting to be “a part of ” by showing status through this or that item. It’s a never-ending trap and I made some bad decisions for fear of being excluded. I guess that’s why I’m more aware now of what I can or cannot afford and careful not to fall back in the race for status symbols.

  4. Kali said:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us, it’s full of thought provoking ideas! Among other things, I like how he emphasizes that materialism is more about the emotional link to objects rather than the material item itself. Also, I tend to like his proposals to lower the social pressure.

    For example, asking ourselves whether we respect the people we are craving the respect of is key in my opinion – when I first started working among upper class white collars, I had a colleague who would emphasize the fact that I am from a blue collar family, suggesting that I didn’t really have my place here. At first, I was touched by these words – I never felt ashamed of my social origins, but I was afraid this inadequacy would hinder my work performance. But then, I realized that colleague was craving for social status, buying expensive brands and desperately looking for approval of people around her all the time. I realized I didn’t respect her, therefore didn’t really value her respect for me, as I didn’t want to be like her. That simple realization completely removed the grip she had on me, in one day, like that.

    Anyway, fantastic food for thought, I might want to put my paws on the book too. Thanks again for the great video!

    • So glad you enjoyed it! I put a hold on it at my local library – I really enjoyed a book on architecture that he wrote, too.

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