When I was in my 20s I worked for one of the best marketing minds at Accenture. He introduced me to scotch and to the idea that we don’t buy things or experience for the product itself but to change our current status quo.
All of consumption is a promise. A promise that buying a product or a service will change things for the better. Marketers and sales people have understood this and have exploited this in advertising for decades – sometimes their ‘promises’ are true sometimes they are false.
What is true is that money is a lubricant in our lives, a tool to reduce friction. Specifically, two kinds of friction.
Each of us have a narrative in our minds about what we want to do with our lives. There’s an unconstrained version of our selves that we are all dying to express. This inner self construct can feel constrained at times by life’s obstacles perceived and real, and so money becomes the vehicle to make our lives friction less. Our thinking is that with the friction gone we can now express ourselves to the fullest.
I used to live in one of the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn, every single day I will worry if I will get killed, my environmental friction was obvious. I needed money so I could stop worrying about getting shot on my way to work. This kind of friction is straightforward, you need money to eat, be safe, to stop worrying about your security and removing that friction changes your status quo dramatically and unequivocally. This is the first kind of friction money can remove.
Maybe you drive a brand new Mercedes because of it’s superior engineering and craftsmanship, and that’s how you like to express yourself, but for a lot of people the reason you make that purchase is to let the world know something about you. This is the psychological friction we mistaken think money can remove. It never actually works. The reason we feel the need to use money to send these signals are between our ears. The friction we feel is our internal narrative about who we are, and who we are in relation to the world around us.
Brilliant marketing tells us that if we only took nicer vacations, moved to the nicest neighborhood, wore more expensive jewelry and clothes our psychological friction will go away and maybe it does temporarily. It fades because taking on someone else identity and ideas of expression will not resolve your own. Buying the house in the new neighborhood may temporarily distract you from yourself but you can’t run from yourself forever.
Once you understand this, the good news is that we live in a time when the barrier for reducing physical friction is getting lower. My 15 year old son probably has the same iPhone as the billionaire CEO of apple Tim cook and probably eats as well as he does as well.
Once you come to terms with our inner need to live a life with as little friction as possible, so that we can fully express our own unique version of self, then money then becomes a tool with limits – psychological friction just can’t be removed with money. This knowledge helps you then make better choices around how you spend, how much time you spend chasing money in relation to how much more friction you can remove from your life.
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