It’s true – Social media is an experiment in the thoughtless removal of money from our own wallets.
Admit it, you’ve seen some piece of junk that one of your friends or followers bought, promptly took a picture of and plastered up on their social media account – and you wanted it too. You freaking wanted it because, well, that jackass that you can’t believe you’re still connected to has it.
Or, everyone around you is getting promoted into higher positions within the company while you’re getting left behind. It’s a blow to your soul that those lazy, ass-kissing grunts get promoted while you’re left in the dust, so you want a promotion too. It doesn’t even matter to what. A promotion means you’re keeping up, and keeping up is good.
Those around you have designed a materialistic lifestyle – due in large part to those around them, and you need to either keep up or shove off. Keep that fine wine flowing and expensive Scotch pouring, ’cause you can’t let your group of friends outshine you in their ability to “enjoy the finer things in life”.
Thomas Corley (richhabits.net) calls this phenomenon “poverty by association”.
As an experiment, I checked my Facebook profile today randomly to see what people are doing this week with their incredibly awesome lives. The results are fascinating.
One of my Facebook friends bragged in a message (w/image) of his brand new PS4 game console with Fallout 4 Gold Edition (I guess the “gold” part makes it better?). On Amazon, the PS4 sells for around $350 (depending on the game bundle) and Fallout 4 takes an extra $60 out of your bank account.
Another posted a picture of his brand new truck – a Ford F-150 4×4. Someone else posted a selfie of him and his wife standing in front of some mountain somewhere, probably on vacation because he works hard and totally deserves to get away.
Opening day at a Breckenridge ski resort here, bought movie tickets for such and such movie there, and one friend who thinks paying $40 for 32lbs of paper is important enough to post about.
My gawd, why? Who do you think actually cares? Oh, that’s right – almost everyone?
And it seems everybody is too big for their britches, absurdly busy every second of the day doing exciting things and posting about them online. “Wait, Jim went to the beer fest and I wasn’t there?” If you didn’t know better, people’s entire public lives consist of getting totally blitzed at smashing ragers, jet-setting across the world to tropical paradises and rolling down the street in bad-ass European imports designed only for the sophisticates of our society.
And we all seem to be paying attention to all this crap. And buying it, too.
Keeping up with society is just exhausting, isn’t it?
If you’re not busy 24/7, you’re either unproductive or unimportant. If you’re not driving a $50k auto, you aren’t successful enough. If you’re not a “Senior”, “Director”, “Manager” or “VP” of this or that, you’re underachieving. How am I going to make my Facebook friends think I’m living the life of Bono if I’m not taking selfies of myself in front of world monstrosities and basically having the best sex of my life every night?
Facebook is a terribly fascinating thing. I have a friend who will post creepily detailed results of doctor visits. Others post radically insane political viewpoints or link to articles about why their Mercedes is superior to the BMW alternative. A new iPhone here. Season tickets to a college basketball team there.
And why? Why do people post about all the cool things they are doing or junk they bought? Admit it, we want other people to know about our successes. All the totally bad ass things that we are doing. How we just wrecked that new video game in two hours. How we sat two rows behind Ben Stiller at the NY Giants game. How we “had the time of our lives” sleeping outside the Apple store just to get our hands on the new iPhone. How this, how that.
Pardon my French, but this shit is absolutely fucking nuts.
And it got me wondering: What if we all just stopped paying attention to what each other are doing and instead focus totally on kicking ass in our own lives, not putting on some fake front to disguise our normal existences for something that our friends would be jealous of?
As if it matters whether or not your friends are jealous of your life.
What if we all suddenly gave ZERO shits about what our friends think of us, as well as what Johnny or Sally are doing with their lives? If they want to go into management at work, fine – let them. That doesn’t mean you need to.
If they want to blow through $40-grand on a European import, that’s wonderful. But once again, your friend’s insanity with money should have no baring over your own. You think my Facebook friends are thinking to themselves, “You know, it’s been a while since Steve posted about spending money on something. Ha, my life is so much better than his!”
Not likely. The truth is the majority of us have a dizzying array of options available to us in every facet of our lives. All we need to do is pick the one that best fits our life, not the life that we want our friends to think that we have. Worrying about your public image is downright money draining.
After all, none of us are rock stars (except when we are featured on Rockstar Finance, of course).
To forget about keeping up with others, try these three things for a month:
Don’t give a shit about your co-worker’s career choices – their career decisions are theirs, not yours. Resist falling into the “I’m being left behind” syndrome and instead remain focused on your life and your career. Repeat after me: “Their career is not mine”. “I have the power to manage my own life”. Believe me, promotions aren’t always what they are cracked up to be.
Give no shits about the cars that your friends drive – like your co-worker’s career choices, cars are every bit a personal choice as the color of your favorite jacket. It matters not whether you drive an ’89 Buick and your friend just leased a new 5-series Bimmer. In fact, those kinds of stupid purchases will probably keep that friend working long, long after you’ve reached financial independence. Pity, don’t envy, stupid buying decisions.
Try giving negative shits about your social media profile – that’s right, negative shits. Actively disengage from the insanity of social media. Social media is a time-sink for many of us and should not be accessible from the portable computers that we carry around in our pockets (oh yeah, that we can also make calls from). Kill the fake online persona because it does not matter.
And here’s a freebie: believe it or not, you don’t have to be as busy as your friends, either. In fact, there is remarkable wisdom in slowing down and taking a more mindful and conscious path through life. Instead of being on the go every minute of the day, just sit the hell down and relax. Let your mind wander as you rest comfortably in your favorite chair. In fact, try scheduling a little downtime into your day for much needed R&R.
Your cell phone might be your biggest competition. My cell phone downgrade experiment taught me that life can be more fully enjoyed when our faces aren’t buried in our digital devices. As attached to those things as we are, breaking the cell phone habit is usually all we need to re-focus on more important things in life – such as our environment.
How often do you notice the environment around you? Are you living your life to the fullest outside of your circle of Jonses?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.