The Mashup Theory

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I have this theory that our lifestyles are just a mashup of people we know.

It starts in school. We find friends by associating with people who are similar to us in age, education, interests, neighborhood location, demographics, etc. We slowly form this peer circle and over time we begin to display group behavior. We begin to wear similar outfits, buy similar things, do similar activities, and form similar goals.

This is why you can go to any college campus and see entire groups of 20 year-old dudes all wearing the same khaki shorts with boat shoes. They don’t hold meetings to discuss what they should be wearing, it simply happens by association.

Oh, Todd is wearing khaki shorts now, those look cool, I think I’ll get a pair –Brad

Oh, Todd and Brad are both wearing khaki shorts, that must be up and coming -Greg

Oh shoot, Greg, Todd, and Brad are all wearing khaki shorts, I gotta leave class now to go snag a pair -Mike

No words necessary. We pick up on trends by observation.

So we go through college dressing and acting eerily similar to our friends, then graduate and enter the workforce. And repeat the process all over again.

Oh, Jack and John both drive Teslas? Maybe I should get one…

Oh, Carol and Wendy both have lunch everyday at the sushi bar down the street? That’s a clique I’d like to join…

Ethan’s designer watch looks really sharp. I should get a nice watch too…

No words necessary. We just imitate our peers.

Then we look for lifestyle guidance on what type of house to buy, how many pets to own, how much to spend on vacations, and what cool technology we should use. 

For housing, we often look to three groups, whether we realize it or not: our parents, our siblings, and our closest friends. We look at what type of house we grew up in and subconsciously set that as the minimum standard. If we have older siblings, we quietly observe what type of house they buy. Then we wait to see if any of our closest friends buy a house and use that as additional guidance.

Ideally we would like to purchase a house bigger than the one we grew up in and one that is at least similar in size and quality to that of our siblings and close friends. We don’t care if the Kardashians live in a mansion because we can’t relate to them. But we care immensely about the houses our friends and family live in because we’re similar to them. They offer a true comparison. 

We approach pets, vacations, and technology in a similar way. We subconsciously observe how many of our friends have pets, how often they take vacations, and what type of phones and other gadgets they’re using. Then we imitate.

The real danger comes when we start to upgrade our lifestyle to keep up with our peers. If all of our friends belong to the same community pool, we’re good to go. But the moment one of them has an in-ground pool built in their backyard, the standards change. The moment someone close to us buys a hot tub, the standards change. The moment we go over to our neighbors house and see their new home theater, our flat screen TV suddenly feels insufficient. 

So piece by piece, bit by bit, we imitate our way to a life of excess. We wake up one day living in a house bigger than we need, with closets full of stuff we don’t use, and appliances that actually don’t add value to our lives. We find ourselves in the middle of a life that wasn’t intentionally designed by us. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s possible to build a lifestyle based on intention and values instead of a messy mashup lifestyle of your peers. But first you have to become clear on what you want. You have to identify what is important and who is important in life. This will give you direction. This will help you build a lifestyle from the ground up based on what you want.

People who know what they want in life, where they want to go, and who they want to spend it with are the ones who avoid wasting time creating a mashup of their peers lifestyles. People who have direction avoid the financial pitfalls of imitating their coworkers, friends, and even family. 

The way to cultivate a life of meaning and happiness is by focusing on yourself. This isn’t selfish, it’s practical. What type of housing suits your needs? What technology, if any, will add value to your life? What type of car helps you get to where you need to go?

Focus on creating a life that makes you excited. Avoid creating a mashup.


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8 Replies to “The Mashup Theory”

  1. I think a lot of financial and lifestyle advice can be summed up with “Do what’s best for YOU.” Too often we’re not sure what to do with ourselves, so we latch onto other people who seem to have it more figured out. And that’s how you end up looking so much like your friends and taking on as much debt as them.

    1. Yes! We look to others to see how we should behave instead of sitting down and really thinking about what WE want out of life. It’s why so many young people go to college with no major in mind and rack up a lifetime of debt because they had no direction.

  2. This is a very insightful post. “Imitate our way to a life of excess” is an accurate description of what so many of us do or have done. Wayyy back in the 80s I bought a boat because my friends and brother-in-law had them. Terrible decision. I was caught up in the imitation to excess cycle. I will say, however that boat shoes never found their way on my feet. I might have gotten sucked into the mashup, but I had standards.

    Nice job Zach!

    1. Haha way to keep your standards high Mr. Grumby, you’re stronger than I am…I actually own a pair of boat shoes myself but no boat. Hopefully you at least made some good memories with the boat even if it was a terrible decision. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  3. Hi Zach,

    Good post, good caution sign, because I someone notice these symptoms better act on change asap. Sheep follow the flock. Don’t be a sheep. Looking around, search for patterns and ideas is a good thing, but following someone without a clue is not. Do your homework and implement only the ideas which makes sense in your case. Improve yourself and not others. You cannot avoid this impact totally but you can minimize it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Peter, wonderfully said. It’s fine to use some of the strategies and ideas other people use, but to blindly follow the crowd is almost always a bad idea. It’s much easier to let other people do the thinking for us, but it won’t lead to a life that makes US excited. We have to think for ourselves. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  4. So easy to get caught up in this mashup lifestyle. A good one in terms of following and learning from each other/mashing up are places like this site and others where we can find ideas to save and invest. If someone is invested in particular fund, then it could be good for another one too (e.g., hey he is in a fund with almost zero fees and a nice dividend, maybe I should join it, but still check other ones first). And at the same time, we can continue to live our separate lives the way we want. 🙂

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