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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