Having just discovered Alain de Botton I have been indulging in a number of his podcasts, reading up on the various books he’s written, trying to decide which will be the next in line to delve in-to. Last night while driving home I listened to a talk he gave, based on his book ‘Status Anxiety.’ Like most of his work, i was overwhelmed by the similarities between what he says and what I am always thinking.
This phenomenon that he has termed SA, from my understanding is an amalgamation of feelings that we feel when others around us are doing well, and the feelings that leaves us with… We are at home, relaxing, browsing on Facebook, and you see a friend of yours from school, in the same stream has you has just bought a new car and is telling the world about it. You on the other hand are driving the same car you’ve been driving for 3 years now… It’s so ‘old school’ in comparison to this new car you’re looking at.. This person wasn’t very likeable in school, you knew they dabbled in Marijuana.. You never really gave them a second thought but here they are, appearing to be doing better than you. Aside from the obvious feelings of envy surrounding this situation, de Botton tells us about this phenomenon of deep anxiety that one then feels.. This feeling that you yourself are not doing as good/great as you thought you were doing, you’re not working as hard, you’re just a slob sat here on the couch, takeaway dinner… Just a loser in comparison!!
….There lies the effect of being able to see into other people’s lives, irrespective of the fact that what you’re seeing is being tailored towards what they want you to see.
SA surrounds me on a daily basis.
I see it in friends, families, loved ones, of course even within myself… On occasions where I’ve tried to broach it as a subject it has been vehemently denied! How could you think I would be jealous of him/her?? I get the response of shock horror eyes, the slitted stare, the tilted head, upturned lips.. All of it.. All in the name of defence and denial. I feel sorry for my loved ones.. That they can look at something so fake and then compare their reality to what they are seeing. And because of this new car or job, for some reason all their efforts become void? All their mistakes and bad fortunes become the dominating feature of their lives to date. Although based on no scientifically evidence whatsoever I know I can see all these feelings bubbling behind their eyes. Whether they consciously acknowledge it is not up for discussion but it’s the way these feelings manifest in every day life.. For some major procrastination.. They will put things offf till the absolute last minute, frantically rushing to get the job done and then when they get their average grade or response back, well it was just their luck really… Lucky that they managed to get it done at all.. They thought they would get far worse than the mark they got so thank goodness for that.. Procrastination is one form of a lack of self belief that I firmly believe in. Because God forbid, imagine the possibilities if that master of procrastination actually takes the time and energy to complete each task with the energy and passion they have within them.. As if something so wrong will happen to them if they complete a task to the best of their ability.. Just imagine if they were to be great for once, to do all the things they wanted to do.. Like start 6weeks prior, complete a full reading list, hand in a draft for critique, discuss it amongst friends.. Oh my goodness, what an utter and complete disaster if they just do their best. For most people the thought of handing in their best is so absolutely daunting that they would be ‘happier’ to hand in a mediocre, rushed, stressed piece of work.. Than something they really worked on passionately. Sooooo daunted we are about expressing our true selves that we will sooner cover up our true potential than who and what we really are. It’s a painful existence if you really think about this.
De Botton briefly touched on the space between what people think about you and who you really are.. And how people spend so much energy on trying to change the opinions people have of them that they can forget entirely who they are.. That space between perception and reality becomes blurred and most people just fall deeper into that black hole… If only we can spend more energy and passion into discovering and becoming ourselves, whilst holding others opinions in mind.. Instead the majority of our energy goes into those perceptions??? Why?? Why do we care so much about what other people think about us??? Whether it’s true or not??? Why can’t more people not care so much and just live their lives??? I’m not talking about Steve jobs portrayal of the barefoot, frutarian billionaire… I’m referring to the every day happenings.. Like the ‘tomboy’ that wants to wear pants instead of a dress to work.. The effeminate man that wants to get his eyebrows done, the athlete that wants to rollerblade to work.. The mother that becomes embarrassed by their crying baby, the father that is embarrassed by his loud family the brother who has a gay older brother the boss at work who assumes you have no life, the partner who builds false opinions about you, the guy in the car that just stole your parking… That guy who just stole your parking becomes such an embarrassing situation for you that you immediately get angry.. Without considering if he actually saw you in the first place!? We are so caught up and consumed by what people think of us, ‘I’m just a woman so he thinks he can steal my space’ that we completely disregard that other persons mind and all the things they must be dealing with whilst trying to park and think of other people’s minds too. It’s a tough one.
How do we overcome it? I don’t have these answers but I just wonder about life and people and how they even manage to survive each day with all these overwhelming thoughts and feelings..
Hopefully reading Alain de Bottons book on SA will help to alleviate some questions, but I more look forward to the new ones that will surface..
I will be back to broach this subject post reading of his book.