You Wanna Chill With The Big Boys?

Musings on living above one’s means

A friend of mine shared a story with me some years ago. She was HR Manager in a fast-growing company, and one of her employees, a middle-aged married woman with children, wanted to apply for a bank loan to purchase a car, an SUV specifically. She was the Divisional Head of one of the business support units in their company. A popular staff member, she was always in tune with fashion trends and well exposed. She was also notorious for constantly borrowing money.

My friend, the HR Manager, reviewed the loan application and discovered that the car value was over half of the employee’s annual salary. Even though the loan was to be spread over four years, the monthly repayments would take a sizable chunk of her salary. She advised her to choose a smaller car so her monthly repayments would be more manageable, but the employee remained insistent on buying the SUV as she felt that was what befitted her status at the time. My friend recalled the employee boasting about how she would show off to her friends once she bought the car, and let them know she had arrived. In her words: “them go take, who be their mate for this Lagos?”

A year later, the employee found herself unemployed. She had been made redundant as her company had changed their business model: her role was outsourced. She was unprepared: this had come as a surprise. She was left with the SUV and three years repayment, including additional debts she had incurred for soft loans from friends and family. It took her almost a year to get another job, but before then, she had to sell the SUV to pay down on the car loan and sort out some of her other loans.

It was a tough period for her in every way, and she ran from pillar to post seeking help. Many of the people she thought were her friends were nowhere to be found once they realised she could no longer afford their lifestyle. Even her marriage experienced some strain as her husband had not realised how indebted she was.

Since time immemorial, people have always been very competitive, whether they know it or not. There is an unstated pressure to compete with or at best, be at par with the people we are surrounded by: friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours. Of course, no one compels anyone to fall for this pressure but many do.

They want to wear the most expensive clothes, drive the latest cars, live in the biggest houses, and send their children to the most exclusive schools. Barely anyone ever wants to be outdone in any area. They desire to stand out, let people recognise that they are not just in tune with the trends, but can also afford what they want when they want it. They want to prove to others that they are all not on the same level.

We are often driven by what we believe we ought to have achieved instead of focusing on our previous successes. Oftentimes, people think they have been left behind because their peers, maybe even their subordinates, appear to be doing far better than they are. When we look around and see that we are not where we would love to be, there is an urge to compensate in some way.

Oyinbos say such people are keeping up with the Joneses. They take dressing from the people they consider to have superior tastes and model their behaviours and lifestyle after them. Of course, such people are unlikely to ever admit to doing this but subliminally, they are driven by the need to match up with their role models at any cost. They focus on upgrading their lifestyle by accumulating material goods with the hope that they would fit into whichever social groups they aspire to. Many believe that not doing so implies that they belong to a lower social class or are not exposed to the finer things of life.

The problem with “doing pass yourself” is that it causes unnecessary stress. Many people most likely do not have the money, so they have to beg, borrow, or steal and, this complicates their lives in many ways. They could even have money but misallocate it to fund a lifestyle they cannot sustain that takes them back to square one. Some people have even been known to go to the extreme by engaging the occult so that they can “blow”.

People place themselves under pressure to do the things that their role models do with the hopes that they can become like them. They base many of their life decisions on other people’s choices when in reality, they may not even be able to determine exactly how their role models sustain their lifestyles. Unfortunately, many of these role models have been known to package themselves properly until the truth comes out.

Is it wrong to be inspired by the people we consider to have it all together? Is there an issue with aspiring to live like our role models? Not at all. No one expects to remain at the same level forever. Growth is a natural factor in life, and we all expect to do better than we are currently doing. The challenge comes when we try to speed up that pace. We know we are not quite there yet but we are in a hurry to get there: “there” being your desired state in life. We want to run before we have learnt to walk or even crawl.

And what about faking it till you make it? I had a feeling you would ask because I have also pondered on this. I consider this to be more about building one’s self-esteem and confidence rather than misrepresenting yourself. You focus on seeing yourself as the person you believe you ought to be and, in this way, you begin to act in a more confident and self-assured manner.

Social media has played a huge role in encouraging fake lifestyles. Everyone appears perfect on Instagram, barely anyone shows their bad sides. On LinkedIn, everyone is a star, performing magic at their jobs. The rise of influencer marketing may have further exacerbated this issue. Many people aspire to become professional influencers, thereby carefully curating their social media posts to project a preferred image, that could very often be untrue.

The pressure many people place themselves under to present themselves in a certain way could affect their physical and emotional health. Life is hard enough as it is. Achieving contentment could be tough in these times we live in. as we are faced with a myriad of options for almost everything under the sun, but it can be done. Everyone is a big boy (or girl) at their level, and you can rise to the highest of heights, but it rarely ever happens overnight. Patience and hard work remain noble virtues: believe me, this is the way I see things today.

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A little bit of nostalgia here, a dash of human interest there, some of my random thoughts and pet peeves, a sprinkling of a reality check now and again, and a little something to get you thinking, and probably, doing

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‘Gbubemi Atimomo

Writer | HR & Business Consultant | Entrepreneurship Advocate | People Observer & Harmony Seeker