There is an unhealthy desire for prestige and money that is ruining people’s lives. At the end of all the striving, you might end up feeling empty inside.
The desire for prestige and money is why we: 1) spend an outrageous sum of money on education, 2) kill ourselves at jobs we don’t like, 3) put up with colleagues and bosses we despise, 4) never pursue our dreams, 5) neglect our children, and 6) eventually fill our hearts with regret.
If we can figure out how to rid ourselves of the desire for prestige and money, we will become much happier in the process!
After all, consistently feeling happy and having a sense of purpose may be what life is all about.
One Man’s Desire For Prestige And Money
Years ago, I was attending Finovate, a financial innovation conference, I met a fintech entrepreneur named John. He told me his revolutionary idea was to simplify the documentation gathering process for people looking to refinance or get a new mortgage. As anybody who’s ever taken out a mortgage can attest, it’s a real pain in the ass.
I was intrigued since I’ve done about 10 refinances on four properties since 2003. I planned to refinance one last time when I met him. But when John showed me his product, it still required the user to upload all of the docs the bank wanted onto his website. Further, there are always additional document requests from the bank to upload on his platform after that. What’s the point?
Creating an unnecessary barrier between consumer and lender didn’t seem like a good business idea. At least John was trying to solve a problem. I thanked him for his time and wished him well.
Then just the other month I ran into John at another fintech conference. I tend to go once a quarter with a free media pass. Otherwise, I’d go less often because these tickets cost anywhere from $300 – $2,000 each!
Running conferences during the internet boom is akin to being a landlord. It’s one of the best ways to profit.
I asked John how his product was doing, and he said that he’s looking to hire a CEO with more product experience. One guy slipped away thanks to an offer from Google, but another guy was close to joining.
Still Not Going Anywhere
Fantastic! I told him. In order to get someone with CEO-level experience to quit his/her job to join his startup must mean his product is doing pretty well. But when I talked to him further, he said he was still looking to launch his MVP, or minimum viable product.
Huh? If an entrepreneur hasn’t launched his MVP, there are no customers or revenue. All an entrepreneur has is an idea. So after 1.5 years, John basically spent $10,000+ attending financial conferences, collected no revenue, and hasn’t even launched a working website. Totally illogical, right?
John mentioned that he was bored back home in Seattle with his wife and daughter. Same old stuff, every single day. Ever since he left the mortgage industry after it imploded in 2010, he’s felt lost. He decided to attend business school part-time, and from there he discovered his passion for fintech.
When I asked him whether he felt that flying down to San Francisco to attend conferences for 2-3 days at a time was costly, he mentioned, “not at all!”
“I feel so alive coming to all these conferences. I get to pass out my business card that says ‘Founder & CEO’! Before, I was just one of many mortgage officers trying to make a buck. Now, I get to meet so many aspiring entrepreneurs looking to do something new with their lives. They treat me as an equal. It’s wonderful!”
The guy was playing the status game hard, and failing.
Escaping His Family
He went on, “Also, I’ve been able to meet plenty of interesting women. I always tell them I’m looking to hire a VP of Marketing or whatever role they are currently doing to keep their interest. As soon as I tell them this, their eyes light up as I’m suddenly the man of their dreams!
I’ve been seeing this one woman for over a year now in the Bay Area. Even though she lives 45 minutes south of San Francisco, she always makes time to drive up and have dinner and drinks with me.
I don’t know how long I can keep stringing her along about the VP of Marketing role, but she likes the attention and the idea of potentially working for me, so why not enjoy it while it lasts?”
It’s always about a girl isn’t it? Revenue, product, helping others with their financial problems be damned. On the one hand, it’s bad of John to string this woman along for so long as a married man. On the other hand, she’s an adult who makes her own decisions.
Sadly, I have a feeling John is heading towards some difficult times both financially and personally as this fintech startup is his only gig.
The Unhealthy Desire For Prestige
Do you remember the kid in high school who was pretty goofy looking and tried a little too hard to fit in? I think that’s John. Now that John has the prestige of being the CEO of his own startup, he’s loving every minute of it. It doesn’t matter whether his startup ever becomes a success or not. Having attractive women give him attention is the best sort of validation a man could ever have.
I venture to guess we’ve all desired prestige at some point in our lives. As a kid, I enjoyed the prestige of owning a pair of Air Jordans and Armani jeans.
As a college graduate in my 20s, I enjoyed the prestige of working in finance before the 2008 financial crisis hit. After that, working in finance felt like an embarrassment, even if you had nothing to do with people not paying their mortgages.
As a 45-year-old man, I don’t give a rat’s ass about prestige anymore! In fact, I don’t think I’ve cared about prestige since 2010, right about the time when I was seriously contemplating doing something else with my life.
I’d much rather be a nobody most of the time. It’s only if I’ve written a new book or created something new will I strive only be a somebody for several months to market it. Then it’s back to being a nobody again.
Prestige Is Overrated
If I cared about prestige, I wouldn’t have driven an old car named Moose for 10 years. Money became a secondary goal in 2012, which is why I left my job to make little money as a blogger.
If I cared about prestige, I wouldn’t have rented out my house in the expensive north side of San Francisco to live in a much cheaper part of town that nobody has ever heard of.
There is zero prestige in being a personal finance blogger, but I love being one 95% of the time. It’s only about 5% of the time I get annoyed due to some callous remarks from strangers with no intellectual backing.
I’m sure most people have no idea how lucrative being your own independent publisher can be either, which is just fine by me. Every day is a joy to come up with new topics to write about or solidify new business ventures based on the brand I’ve built online.
Sadly, there is one case where have some status and prestige matters. Getting your children into private grade school. But do we really want to get caught up in that prestige cycle? I’m not feeling it and would rather homeschool.
How To Let Go Of The Desire For Prestige And Money
At some point, you’ve got to learn how to be satisfied with what you have. Letting go of making maximum money will be difficult. However, as someone who did just that in 2012 and again in 2021, you’ll get over it and feel happier.
1) Find your purpose.
Is working at Facebook really that prestigious if your role is to try and bring in more advertisers for fake news feeds?
How about working at McKinsey? Is it really that prestigious if your role is to provide reasons for why your client should fire more people?
What about working at Uber? Is it prestigious if your mission is to figure out how to manipulate drivers with ridiculous requirements in order to keep them driving before your fleet of driverless cars take over?
How about working at Goldman Sachs? Analyzing how to make more money for a billionaire who continues to hoard his wealth when there are hungry people in his hometown is not very prestigious.
Come on guys. There’s NOTHING really prestigious about any of these companies. It’s only the fact that you get to make a lot more money than most people. If you can get in, great.
Know the concept of Ikigai
Make and save as much money as possible so you can get out and do something more meaningful as soon as possible. Understand the Japanese concept of ikigai, your “reason for being.” Once you find your ikigai, your life will become full of meaning.
If you love your job then fantastic. But if you don’t, it’s not worth staying. Down the road you will regret staying at a job mainly for the money.
Our purpose often gets lost because we’re tied up doing what society tells us we should do. The best places to work are those that have a mission driven purpose to help solve real problems.
Problems such as hunger, child abuse, homelessness, disease, mental illness, financial calamities, domestic violence, poverty, etc. Having our “best and brightest” join firms to design new picture filters for selfies is ridiculous!
Note: I recognize these companies have some great positives as well e.g. connecting the world, lowering the cost of transportation for folks who can’t afford to live close to work, providing capital for small businesses, etc.
Related: What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody
2) Create something of your own.
If the hardest part about life is getting into a prestigious university or company, then the path of least resistance is to coast thereafter. When you coast, you rely on the prestige of the institution to justify your self worth. Over time, you’ll be filled with self-doubt whether your accomplishments are your own or because of your company.
Why do you think some people never leave? They’re afraid that without their company, they aren’t anything! To counteract this self-doubt, you must produce something original. Do it while you’re working so you can iterate without incredible pressure.
Before I press publish, I wonder how each article I’ve written will be received. Sometimes I’m scared to publish, but I publish anyway because I know that if I don’t, I’ll never grow. Embrace fear!
You will find extreme satisfaction putting new things out to the world. The satisfaction of building something from the ground up is more satisfying than anything you could ever accomplish under the umbrella of another.
I felt this way when I spent two years during the pandemic writing my Wall Street Journal bestseller, Buy This, Not That. Publishing a traditional book with Penguin Random House was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I feel proud to know it can help millions of people make more optimal decisions.
Take some risks and create something on your own, no matter how small. You’ll feel embarrassed or hurt in the beginning. But it just gets better over time. Nobody can ever take away something you’ve created.
Once you start thinking beyond yourself, you will ironically feel much better about yourself. Do something while alive to help a generation of people after you.
Related: Two Retirement Philosophies Will Determine Your Safe Withdrawal Rate
3) Practice gratitude.
It’s easy to think our success is 100% due to our own merits. The reality is that anything good was created with the help of many people. There’s a weird amount of self-delusional narcissism that’s happening in Silicon Valley thanks to so many overnight successes.
As a result, the majority of people who have not succeeded at the same level or time period feel an intense level of dissatisfaction. This is even though they are comparatively doing great compared to millions.
Wake up every day and recognize the people who helped you get to where you are. Realize your wealth and success is mostly due to luck! Keep a gratitude journal.
For me, I’m grateful for my father who has been my editor. He encouraged me to start Financial Samurai way back when. I’m grateful to my mother who is always supportive in whatever I’ve wanted to pursue.
Thank you to my wife who’s been my CFO and COO since the beginning. She is also an incredible mother of two young children.
And of course, I’m grateful to every reader who shares some insightful comment and shares my work around the web. Thank you!
Reading a note of thanks is more valuable than any prestige I could ever want.
Who Are You Trying To Impress?
For John, he might be trying to impress his wife, his daughter and other random women to prove he can reinvent himself after the mortgage industry collapsed.
For me, I just want to make my wife and kids proud. Each day I get up, I ask myself whether I want to grind or relax. Inevitably, I decide to grind for at least a couple hours before the family wakes up. It’s what gives me a sense of balance and purpose.
At the end of your life, nobody is going to care about your prestige, status, or money. All they’ll care about is whether you were a kind enough person who touched their lives. Did you help people or did you not?
We must find a way to let go of the desire for prestige and excess money. If you do, you’ll stop caring so much about what other people think. You’ll also start focusing on what matters most to you.
Breaking The Chains Of Desire
If you’re trying to break free from the rat race, I recommend you negotiate a severance instead of quit. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare. Deferred compensation and worker training are also benefits of a severance package.
When you get laid off, you’re also eligible for up to roughly 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out the book How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye. It’s the only book that teaches you how to negotiate a severance.
Build Your Own Website
If you truly believe in yourself, then you should start your own website and build your brand online. Don’t let Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter get rich off you. Get rich off yourself! There’s nothing more rewarding that making your own money from nothing.
I started Financial Samurai in 2009, and three years later, I was able to leave my banking job because this site was making enough money. Now, this site earns way more than I ever made as an Executive Director with much less work and much more fun.
Here’s my step-by-step guide for starting your own website today. Don’t let the desire for prestige ruin your life. Seek freedom instead!
Chairman, Founder & CEO of Financial Samurai Author
For more nuanced personal finance content, join 55,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. Everything is written based off firsthand experience.
Thank you for this article. We are hard wired to pursue prestige and money mostly to attract the opposite sex and procreate. Naturally, your mate will have been looking for someone that can provide resources for them and their offspring. Most economic activity starts at this innate, basic, human desire. Sex motivates us to strive for prestige, money, and status. Good luck attracting the opposite sex if you have no resources to provide.
Thanks again for your articles Sam.
I have never cared about prestige; only about the money that comes along with being in a prestigious position/place. If you can create a blog or start a business or do anything that makes “prestigious” money, then who cares what you are doing as long at is a legitimate and honest way to make money? Kind of like the saying “I have always wanted to be rich but never wanted to be famous.”
Love that your newsletters reference old posts. Some (many?) of us haven’t been readers for many years and missed these “classics” the first time around.
You are an amazing person. Thank you for writing this. Lots of prayers for you.
Rachel Wang says
I really appreciated your article! I am currently a university student who is upset about my desire for prestige. It’s detrimental in that it makes me feel that at any time I’m not the best of the best, that I’m not good enough. I’m really happy my Google Search led me to your article. Reading it has helped me redirect some of my automatic thoughts.
Financial Samurai says
Glad to hear. It’s natural to want to make a lot of money and get a prestigious job after college. It’s the desire to prove that your time and money spent was well worth it.
Just do the best that you can with what you got. I never stop searching for a job that provides meaning.
There is sometimes a valid reason for people to chase prestige, because practically speaking, having prestige sometimes opens more doors.
For examples, I went to a top 3 engineering school, a very prestigious place. What that allowed me to do is get a first job that others couldn’t get as easily. That’s because during interviews, the interviewer gave me a lot more “benefit of the doubt” and was more forgiving of mistakes. Also, my wife is great person who is amazing and not at all a gold digger, but after we’ve been married for some years she told me that knowing where I went to school added just a little extra motivation to get to know me when we first met. Sometimes, just that little bit of extra motivation or extra benefit of the doubt from others makes all the difference.
When a person doesn’t necessarily have visible, socially appropriate real successes yet behind them (for example, when they’re young), chasing prestigious allows them to experience just a little more opportunities, which then gives them better choices, including the choice to not chase prestige anymore. It’s like compound interest, a little easier each time compounded over time is a big deal. Now that I’m older and married for many choices, I’m much more family focused, focused on earning an adequate but not necessarily outrageous income, and achieving more purpose over prestige.
The overall point is, it may well be worth it to chase prestige when you’re young, and then transition later after you’ve achieved it. In fact, this is what Sam did. After all, Sam went to work in a prestigious role first (finance) and got rewarded very well for that, and then only later after he got married and started thinking about raising children that he switched.
Jack Hwang says
Great post overall! I work at a consulting firm considered less prestigious than the McKinseys and Bains of the world. So I needed this very much. :)
One comment on the second exhibit (of anti-depressant use per 1K people): While I understand the point you are trying to make here, I think there are many factors that contribute to anti-depressant use – like the social perception of using it. Places like Korea rank low not because depression is less prevalent there but because there is a huge social stigma against admitting to any form of mental sickness.
This post makes me think of Max Weber’s (19th and early 20th century German Philosopher) “Wealth Power and Presitige.” These three things being the things people chase after and need/want in society.
I lot of life is burned trying to get any or all of these elusive things.
Great advice, especially the part about practicing gratitude. I believe the ‘best attitude is gratitude’ and acknowledging and being truly grateful for all of life’s blessings, somehow brings more things to be grateful for! Thank you for your posts.
Thanks a lot for this post Samurai. My past self can identify with John in the way of seeking extrinsic value from great positions of power. Other than the fact all the managers I worked under in the past did the same,influencing me; I found joy in feeling “high and mighty”. I am now an aspiring master plumber in the big apple. Nothing pretty to the eye about that. But the dream is real, the pay is real and the fact that I can accomplish this dream before 30 will be more real. (I am 25). This post assured me switching paths and committing to what feels right for me is the correct way to go. Thanks Samurai.