From birth we are socially conditioned to seek out success. If we have the fortune of some good role models, we can affix our sights mostly on what’s real: relationships, character, freedom, etc. But even if we have great role models, it’s nearly impossible to not fall prey to the intense allure of false values.
These values are like a hot celebrity on the cover of a magazine. They look flawless. However, if you shift your gaze just 14 inches down and to the left, you might get a glance at reality. There’s the seemingly flawless, airbrushed star…in a bikini with wet hair and no make-up. Lo and behold, Photoshop has been hiding cottage cheese thighs and acne scars while adding cleavage and a tan.
Similarly, the media bedazzles billionaires, CEOs, BMWs, Rolex watches, vacation homes, private jets, supermodel girlfriends, and much more. Wealthy, famous, powerful people are insanely happy, sexy, and beautiful. They’ve got it all.
I once knew someone so drawn into this hype that it was fascinating to watch him be so dumb. One time, after a 12-course dinner at a “pop-up” restaurant in Chicago, having blown quiet a few benjamins on ‘”tastes” like a smoked marshmallow (yuck) and a single, small crostini with a bit o’ duck liver, he oozed at how amazing the experience was.
I wanted to demand where the cameras were, sure that I was on a new reality television show that was doomed to be a hit: “Stay tuned! The wannabe wealthy pretend to enjoy the most expensive faked restaurant ever!”
I have witnessed many a friend or colleague make the mistake of buying a brand new car from the dealer (basically a drug pusher). Friends who justify their brand new F-150, lifted truck with twin turbos for hauling fairly lightweight jet skis to the lake twice a year.
I’ve made this mistake myself. When I got my first professional job, I turned in my Honda Civic for a leased Mazda CX-7. I justified that it wasn’t safe to be driving on the freeway in the winter to work downtown without all-wheel drive. There was also the justification about how a new car would be more reliable and wouldn’t strand me with a crying, freezing 2-year-old during a blizzard.
We justify because we know that logic doesn’t back up our false values. We are smart enough to see through them, so we have to come up with seemingly logical reasons to do it anyway. And, guess what? Our family and friends usually help hold those justifications up, helping to justify their own silly reasoning.
In order to throw out our falsies, we have to surround ourselves with objective and honest friends who will smack us with the truth when we get entranced by shiny things, as well as do the same for them.
Dr. Thomas Stanley, the bestselling author of The Millionaire Next Door and a man who has studied wealth for many years, wrote the following, wonderfully humbling, description:
The pseudo-affluent are insecure about how they rank among the Joneses and the Smiths. Often their self-esteem rests on quicksand. In their minds, it is closely tied to how long they can continue to purchase the trappings of wealth. They strongly believe all economically successful people display their success through prestige products. The flip side of this has them believing that people who do not own prestige brands are not successful.”
As Stanley documents, the vast majority of real millionaires:
- Live in a house that cost less than $400K.
- Do not own a second home.
- Have never owned a boat.
- Prefer Timex to Rolex.
- Are more likely to drive a Toyota than a BMW.
- Generally pay less than $15 for a bottle of wine.
- Have never paid more than $400 for a suit.
Instead, they spend money on what matters: the freedom to spend themselves on what matters. Because truly our most valuable assets are our time and attention. Their treasure is the ability to do what they want, where they want, and with whom they want.
Bedazzling is all advertising. When we try to glitz up our appearances for the world, we are being the best consumers money can buy.
What falsies have you thrown out?