Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Breaking Free from the Rat Race: Why We Crave Recognition

We live in a curious time. We’re more rich and productive than ever, yet we’re always striving for more. No amount of economic output, professional achievement, or academic success is enough. 

We’re hardworking, not because we’re trying to reach for our dreams, but because the amount of attention and respect we get from others directly correlates to our accomplishments.

Some of us might ridicule the pursuit of validation through status, thinking it’s shallow or narcissistic. But attention is something we deeply crave. It’s vital to our wellbeing.

We’re not so much chasing after wealth, accolades, and luxury, although unmistakably nice, what we really want is to be loved. But since we can’t buy or earn love, we’ll settle for the second best thing: prestige.

Many of us seek fancy jobs, pretty clothes, and impressive degrees for what it signals about us. That we’re deserving of interest, respect, and kindness.

So our obsession with achievement comes from a healthy place. This is why anyone who can’t stop bragging about their new Rolex or trip to Dubai warrants our greatest sympathies. They’re almost certainly feeling very insecure and lonely.

Since we’re products of an age that idealises individualism and ownership, our idea of status is largely tied to financial success.

So if prestige is what we want, we need to accumulate money. Or at the very least, we need to surround ourselves with symbols that signify luxury. That’s why some of us like to drive vintage cars, have a living room lined with towering bookshelves, or enjoy deep discussions about politics. 

It might not be the things themselves we like, but what our tastes say about us. We chiefly want others to think we’re cool, smart, and worthy of envy.

And that’s where we run into a snag. 

Our ruling ideas of status suggest that effort and talent decide our lot in life. And that’s a little short sighted. That view implies that those who face misfortune, illness, or other barriers that limit their abilities to earn prestige are deserving of their place in society.

To narrow success to marketable talents is terribly alienating. Not to mention inhumane. If status only revolves around displays of affluence, then we’re inadvertently rejecting all the behaviours that are far more honorable and important, such as volunteering, caregiving, educating, and donating. 

We know something is off when someone who’s born into riches enjoys more fans and admiration than someone who spends their evening tutoring underprivileged children for free.

This inequality, of course, makes sense. Counting a person’s mansions and private jets is far easier than measuring their acts of kindness and contributions to the community.

But this doesn’t mean generosity is a poor indicator of success. It might be wiser to accept that appearances and LinkedIn profiles are an ignorant way to assess someone’s value.

After all, what we see on the outside often holds little bearing on who a person is on the inside. 

This is something that the free spirited have discovered long ago. Realising they couldn’t escape their drive for status, they chose to ignore the conventions of their societies and carefully picked the group of people they wanted to associate with and be validated by.

Typically, these were persons who lived unconventional but dignified lives outside the spotlight.

So if the mainstream ideas of what matters get in the way of our reasons for living, we should seriously consider gaining status in other circles that better fit our happiness.

P.S. Just be careful not to become too much of a rebel in public, unless you want to be an outcast. It’s usually safest to be a bourgeois in the street and a bohemian at home.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach