DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS: The Debt Conspiracy

June 20, 2018
Posted in Blog
June 20, 2018 Mduduzi Luthuli

We all care about what other people think about us. We all want to impress our significant other’s parents, or maybe we want our manager at our job to see how hard we work and recognize that by giving us a promotion. There are people that truly matter in our lives, and it is important to receive their respect. But I’m not talking about that type of situation. I’m talking about caring about how others perceive your value by how you portray yourself financially. Do you wear the nicest clothes, live in the best house, drive the right car, hang out at the right places?

Why do we care about what others think?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about why we think other people’s opinions matter. Unfortunately, it’s been hard-wired in our brains thanks to our ancestors. Back in the hunter-gatherer days, being part of the “in-group” meant life or death. If those around you didn’t like you, you ran a risk of not getting access to food or shelter. Being an outcast basically meant death.

Although times have obviously changed, those neural pathways are so hardwired in us through our evolutionary history that it’s hard to shake. We’re still worried about what others think and how they’re judging us. God forbid we’re not part of the “in group!” That’s why rejection and feeling “left out” is so hard to cope with.

Additionally, recent neuroscience studies have discovered that the default state of the brain is a social one. A UCLA study showed that the default or resting state of our brain is the same network that handles social cognition! Basically, when our brain is “at rest” the network that gets activated is the one that looks at who we are, our social standing and how we compare to others socially.

So, what’s the problem?

When we start to rely on what other people think of us, and we make their opinion pivotal to our success, we get into trouble. We start tailoring our lives to fit the expectations of others, and from there it’s a vicious cycle. When we give over our power to others and allow their impressions to become how we’re perceived, we lose out on who we really are. The only reality we can see is how we believe others see us and that truly is a sad state to be in.

The real stupidity of all this is people spend more time thinking about themselves than thinking about others. If they’re expressing an opinion about your life, it’s probably not something they’ve given much thought to but just a passing thought. Yet we allow ourselves to be shaped and molded by these passing thoughts.

The Debt Conspiracy

If the illness is comparing ourselves to others, the symptom is debt. Debt has become so normalised in our culture that we no longer believe it is possible to live without it.  Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are constantly bombarded with messages about how to live a “normal” life. These messages come from a variety of different sources – advertisements, schools, our parents, relatives, friends…our entire society promotes the idea that debt is normal.

Following a debt-free path is unconventional and people will call you crazy.  Many people will judge you because debt has become so “normal” in our culture that most people see debt as a necessary evil or even as a helpful tool. You really need to interrogate what’s important to you. The acceptance of your peers, or financial freedom.  I’ve seen people make bad choices and I’ve seen how that has played out for them (not well). I don’t want to be 65 and wondering how I’m going to retire.  I don’t want to get stuck putting every emergency on a credit card.  I’ve been tied down by debt before and I refuse to ever let it happen again. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in debt. I want to be free one day.

Lessons from the Wealthy

Savvy wealth accumulators free themselves to spend their money only on the things that make them happy. In their drive to become wealthy, they realise it’s okay to risk offending a salesperson with a reasonable and well-supported request for a lower price. They also make major decisions, like where to live and what to drive, with focus on their specific needs, without worrying about impressing anyone.

And here’s the most important part of all: they start thinking independently about finances and wealth accumulation.

They aren’t afraid to challenge the ‘common wisdom’ of the moment. They think about how wealth can be a tool for their unique desires and circumstances. They no longer feel insecure when their friends question their financial choices. They’re okay with being looked at as out-of-step, odd, or even cheap. Why? Because they know better. They’ve broken free of the rat-race that you’re trying so hard to remain a part of.

The Final Hurdle

OK, so you may buy into this – but here’s the final hurdle. Many of us wouldn’t openly admit we’re pursuing status. Instead, we say we like “nice” things – and it’s not about what others think, but ourselves.

I’m calling bullshit.

Research has consistently shown that greatest fulfillment comes from actively participating in life: creating, building, connecting and helping. When we see that new car ad on TV that promises to give us “freedom” – the reality is that it will make us into indentured servants to lenders.

And even our pleasure is likely to be short lived because the experience is so passive. Car designers imagined the design, engineers made the production drawings, manufacturing plant workers built the car, advertisers created an ad campaign to appeal to our emotions, and dealers sold us the car.

What did we contribute? Oh yeah – years of our lives through debt!

And here’s the final test: If you were the last person on Earth, with no one else around, would you still care about the brand logo on your car?