Am I living a lie? How dare you suggest that!
Updated: Sep 7
I grew up in the Philadelphia area, in a very safe, suburban, white Catholic and Jewish neighborhood. My father was a big “Philly” sports fan, so he introduced me to the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers, as well as big-time college sports. I’m still a fan today, although not as “fanatical.”
Even today, if you watch your favorite team on tv (now that some sports are actually back), take notice of the commercials that are aired. Lexus, Mercedes, BMW are consciously marketed to us by professional athletes or actors and actresses. They are suggesting that having these luxury cars is an outward sign to the world that “we have made it,” that we are a success.
In our culture, where you live, what you drive, what your college and graduate school is, and what you do for a living “define” who and what we are. It speaks in some way to our value. Face it, we all want to be admired! Remember the human egoic need for esteem, affection and approval from my earlier blog post? I want to be liked by the world. I certainly do not wake up each day trying to piss people off.
We drink the proverbial “Kool Aid,” which leads to putting expectations on ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. If we have more than others, it may lead to a feeling of “over inflation” (or arrogance), although most would deny that is the case if asked. If we are unable to meet that expectation, we can fall into “under valuation” (or lower self-esteem). In either place, over-inflated or under-valued, we are not living our truest lives.
Why is that? Henri Nouwen, one of the most famous spiritual writers and theologians of our time, studied spirituality through the lens of psychology. He offered us the notion that there are three human lies:
1) You are what you have. 2) You are what you do. 3) You are what others say and think about you.
Let that sink in for a second. Are these lies part of your “story?” For much of my life, it was absolutely the case. I was taught to be athletic, popular, smart, part of the “in” group, educated and successful in my work. I bought into it all. It was about luxury cars, a golf club membership, a beautiful home with a pool in an elite neighborhood. I worked in sales, where my income was high and the position prestigious. Winning sales awards was for the notoriety and admiration of my peers. I even went back to school to get my MBA so I could be “more valuable.”
But most of all, the third lie was the one that drove much of my thoughts, actions and behaviors. I did care what others said or thought about me. I needed to “know” that others thought of me as valuable, smart, educated, successful, articulate. Are any of you in careers because you would be admired? Maybe you were pushed that way by your parents? I know someone who became a doctor because his parents would settle for nothing less. Unfortunately, this person dislikes medicine!
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with nice things, a luxury car, or great title. But when your personal value is tied to others seeing you in that luxury car or in a doctor’s coat because of the “respect” you will get, you put your value in the hands of others. On the other side of the coin, what if you came to realization in mid-life that you are in the wrong career, the wrong home, the wrong relationship? If you come to realize that you’re living for everyone else but YOU, it might be time to enter that “discomfort” that we talked about in my last blog.
Could you leave a toxic relationship even though others might disapprove? Could you leave a high-paying executive job to live a simpler life where you had more time with family and quality life experiences? Would you be okay with selling the luxury car for a regular automobile and moving to a modest home with less stress?
You have one life to live, as far as I know. None of what we put our stock in is important on our death bed. The real “freedom” can come from saying “no” to our culture and living life on our terms. Who cares what others think. Or maybe we do.