We’ve seen it all before: the purse, car, watch, or zip code that some people must have and display in order to convey financial success or social status to others.
Most of the time, these status symbols are obvious, overpriced, and tend to impress others–exactly who, no one is certain–for only a short period of time. The enduring responses trend along the lines of resentment or envy among those less fortunate, and dismissal among those more sophisticated and well-bred.
Don’t get me wrong, luxuries are nice. But the type of luxury and the manner in which it’s enjoyed is very revealing. It tells others not only how much money you may have but also how long you’ve had it. It tells other not only what you can afford but how discerning you are when you buy.
And please note there is a difference between a luxury and a status symbol.
A luxury can and most of the time should be enjoyed in private, alone or with friends. A luxury enjoyed in private, such as a meal cooked by a chef and accompanied by great wine and good friends, is still a luxury, whether anyone else is aware of it or not. A luxury, be definition, is also something that one can afford.
A status symbol has no value if it is not viewed by others. An expensive purse may or may not be of good quality, but as a status symbol, it has been purchased for the benefit of others more than the benefit of the owner. And status symbols often times are a financial burden, not a luxury.
And what does a status symbol tell others? It may tell them that the possessor requires things that can be purchased in order to bolster self-esteem. An emotionally healthy person doesn’t need material possessions to feel good about themselves.
An emergency room doctor who saves lives on a regular basis may drive a Mercedes, but she doesn’t need to drive a Mercedes to feel validated. She saves people’s lives on a regular basis. That’s where she stores a portion of her value as a person: in her work. She may be a wife and mother, as well. Another part of her self-esteem is invested in her spouse and her children and the quality of their family life.
Status symbols may be lost or destroyed. They often lose their luster after awhile, and a replacement status symbol–something more expensive and more obvious–must take its place. The nagging personal insecurities that status symbols promise to heal, sadly, remain.
Emotions–and dollars–invested elsewhere yield different results. The work that the doctor does may be taken away. She may retire or be unable to practice, but she still has the education she acquired. She has the memory of helping and healing others. Her family may be lost, but the love, commitment, and care that she invested in them and received from them will be with her forever.
Status symbols shout, echoing only the appearance of social status and wealth.Thus they are tempting quick-fixes for those who wish to fool their equals and emulate their betters. Accomplishments whisper and are therefore heard only be a discerning few, usually Old Money.
And it’s those few who are worth impressing.