I apologize if the title “If you follow the herd, you’ll step in poop” is a bit crass. However, it’s a quote I read on the ever awesome blog 1500 days and it’s been seared in my head ever since. It’s just the right mix of profound and gross to be memorable!
It can be uncomfortable and scary to deviate from societal norms. If you follow the tradition of “upgrading your life” by purchasing fancier and fancier possessions (usually on credit) to appear successful, no one will question you. In fact, you’ll be normal.
Have you ever seen videos of herd animals running off cliffs because one went first and the rest just followed? Or remember when you were a child and you argued that you only did something because everyone else was doing it and your parent asked “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you as well?” (usually in a very snarky tone).
Just because something is normal does not mean it’s right. There is peril in following the herd blindly.
As an intelligent human you should realize that you always have alternatives to following the herd. When they’re moving in one direction, you always have several other ways you can go. As a bonus, you may just avoid stepping in poop.
Okay okay. What the heck am I ranting on about.
These thoughts came about based on my last post where I asked “Would you rather look rich or be wealthy?”. It sparked a fascinating conversation with a coworker where she stated she recognized that a lot of spending decisions may be about impressing other people and agreed that’s likely dumb. Then she asked me a question I couldn’t immediately answer:
“You might waste your money if you care too much about what people think. But what if you DO care what they think? What then?”
I didn’t have an answer. And honestly as much as I wish I had something profound to say now, I don’t. The truth to me is that everyone cares somewhat about how they’re viewed and what people think of them. Depending on where you fall on that spectrum, yeah, it might be really hard. If you’re trying to impress people through your possessions it’s likely going to cost you big time. So maybe try to impress them by who you are instead?
There are a million ways to impress people that have nothing to do with what you own: your work ethic, character, compassion, humour, generosity, passions, intelligence.
The unfortunate truth is that your outward appearance and possessions are the first thing society uses to determine whether they feel you’re successful or impressive though. While I’d argue the other traits are more powerful, they require getting to know you before they can be applied. In our split second culture where your appearance of success determines whether people view you as such, there’s no denying that the image you display will determine how strangers first view you.
It sucks, but it’s something you personally need to accept and get over.
I’d ask yourself this:
If you need your stuff to say something about you, what does THAT say about you?
Are you living your life for them, or for you?
I wish there was a way that good financial decisions were as flashy as “stuff” but they aren’t. They’re more intrinsic; they’re for YOU.
In a fascinating way it’s socially acceptable to flash your “wealth” by driving sports cars, wearing designer clothes, and posting social media photos of you eating at the fanciest restaurants. If you’re spending heavy amounts of money, the world wants to see it so they can envy you. It’s a socially acceptable (and often praised) way of showing off.
Imagine an alternative though: You’re sitting at the lunch table at work and excitedly tell your coworkers that your investments did well last year and went up 50k! Hilariously, it would likely be viewed as bragging or even abrasive to most people.
Showing off spending is okay, but financial gains are usually a turn-off.
That $300 beautiful pair of new shoes burning a hole on your visa? People will likely notice and covet them.
Pay off $300 of debt instead? No one is impressed.
Buy a gorgeous new home? People will probably like your pictures on social media, and drool over it when they visit.
Buy a smaller home you can easily afford so that you can also max out your retirement contributions yearly? That likely won’t garner attention.
Take a luxury vacation that you pay for with credit? People will be envious and wish they had your life.
Take your kids on an awesome week long camping and hiking trip instead, so that you can max out their education funds? They might ask if you’ll take a real vacation next year.
It’s easy to notice consumption. It’s easy to show off your purchases. Amazing financial decisions are usually hidden.
Smart money choices usually aren’t flashy or attention grabbing. But they ARE awesome. They do pay off. The just do it quietly for you.
If you need outward motivation for making better choices, there are some things you can do.
You can join forums or online communities where your smart financial habits are praised. You can celebrate financial successes with friends or family who share similar views and let them be proud of you. You can start a blog and tell the world you’re paying off your debt (Ahem, me…..).
However, most of the satisfaction is ultimately going to have to be from YOU. You’re going to have to congratulate yourself and be proud of your own choices. You need to figure out new ways to personally measure your success that have nothing to do with the external worlds approval.
Throw your own confetti in the air. You’ll be happier for it.
I promise, those fancy new shoes won’t look as nice when you step in poop.