Status Consciousness, Your Mortal Enemy

Posted on May 15, 2018 by Robert Ringer


I recently ran into a casual acquaintance, Peter, in the lobby of a hotel where I was staying.  I hadn’t seen Peter in many years and almost didn’t recognize him.

After shaking hands, I asked him what he’d been up to all these years, and his response reminded me of something the great Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, et al) once said:  “I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status.”

Peter jumped right in and began a fifteen-minute filibuster about his life — his current exploits as a well-known “investment advisor,” his move to New York City a few years ago, he and his wife’s theater outings once or twice a month, their regular frequenting of the Big Apple’s finest restaurants, visits to their Florida condo two or three times each winter, how well all of his grown children are doing … zzz … zzz … zzz.  Falling asleep while standing is dangerous business, so I did everything I could to keep from dozing off.

As you might have guessed, during Peter’s “state of my status” address, he did not ask a single question about me or my family.  He was so caught up in talking about himself that it was as though I didn’t exist.

Sensing that if I didn’t put an end to Peter’s monologue I might soon turn into a pillar of salt, I waited until he took a deep breath, then quickly interrupted and told him that while I would love to hear a more detailed version of what’s been going on in his life (yes, my tongue-in-cheek remark went right over his head), I had to be moving along because I was late for an appointment.

What status-obsessed Peter didn’t know was that not only was I not impressed with his self-centered bloviating, it totally turned me off.  He would have been mortified, I’m sure, had he known that the more he talked, the more I suspected he probably wasn’t doing very well financially.

Being the kind and gentle soul that I am, part of me wanted to share one of my most important success rules with him:  The power of the understatement is enormous!  I refrained, however, because it makes me uncomfortable to see grown men cry.

The desire to impress others is one of the most painful forms of mental imprisonment.  It not only requires a great deal of time and energy, it eats away at a person’s self-esteem as well.  There is nothing more damaging to one’s self-esteem than knowing, whether consciously or unconsciously, that you are saying something, doing something, or buying something with the primary purpose of impressing others.

To be sure, at one time or another everyone says and does things that are motivated by the desire to elevate his status in the eyes of his peers.  Even the most forthright among us are “on stage” more than we would like to admit, whether or not we are consciously aware of it.  As with everything in life, however, when the desire to impress others becomes too extreme, it can be debilitating — even fatal — to the professional purveyor of puffery.

The desire for status starts early in life when young children begin playing with one another.  Then, in elementary school, peer pressure all but consumes them.  It’s a force that eats away at the personalities of children year after year, all too often resulting in lost souls.  Worse, as a result of yielding to peer pressure, millions of kids have become fatalities through such negative activities as drug abuse, drunk driving, or gang violence.

I mention gang violence because the desire for status recognition cuts across economic barriers.  Inner-city gang members strive for conformity and acceptance — all too often expressed through violent behavior — as much or more than do suburban, mid-level executives vying for membership in a prestigious country club.  Indeed, eliminate the phenomenon of peer pressure and our prisons would probably be half empty.

Those who are lucky enough to survive elementary, middle, and high school usually begin the long road to freedom from peer pressure in their mid to late twenties.  Some are fortunate enough to travel this road rather quickly, though they are decidedly in the minority.  For most, it is a very long journey, and many people make little or no progress throughout their lives.

Ultimately, peer pressure evolves into self-pressure, i.e., the pressure to constantly calculate one’s moves based on how they will make him look in the eyes of others.  In suburbia, it spawns affectation — the desire to make others believe one possesses wealth or qualities he does not actually possess.  Having lived in the suburbs of many cities throughout the world, I can assure you that this desire knows no geographic or ethnic boundaries.

Generally speaking, people who suffer from affectation to an extreme have lost their identities.  They are, in fact, the most imprisoned people on earth.  While doing their best to maintain an air of confidence, it is usually quite obvious that they are extremely insecure people

Affectation almost always metastasizes into an unhealthy attachment to material belongings, which becomes yet another form of self-imprisonment.  Buddha warned of this danger when he said that “All unhappiness is caused by attachment.”

I like material possessions as much as anyone else, but I am no longer obsessed by them as I was when I was much younger.  Materiality pales in comparison to having a worthwhile purpose in life.

You should think of peer pressure, conformity, and the desire for status as your mortal enemies — because they are.  The more a person focuses on impressing people, the less likely he is to be accepted or respected.  A better idea is to use your energy to focus on developing the qualities that bring genuine acceptance and respect, such as strengthening your moral and ethical infrastructure and creating value for others.

Because we’re human, neither you nor I will ever completely conquer status consciousness, but that should not stop us from trying.  The alternative is to have people laughing at you behind your back — as I know for a fact many people do with Peter — and that’s something to which anyone with dignity should never want to subject himself.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

33 responses to “Status Consciousness, Your Mortal Enemy”

  1. KARL says:


  2. Kaizen says:

    Wow! I wish I had the eloquence to phrase this post in the way that you have Robert. Needless to say, I agree with every single word and further add that this is, in my opinion, one of the best posts you've written. If people absorb it, particularly some of your younger readers, then it really could be life-changing. Remarkable Robert and I'm just so thankful that you bumped into Peter!

  3. kauai_mike says:

    We've grown Robert. Remember the early days crafting our 'appearance' to 'win' the 'big deals'? Now, we sport the 'not me' preening as we inch ever closer to the great unknown … bravo.

  4. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    "Attachment", "Purpose in Life", yes, those ARE the two BIGGIES! Excellent essay, Sir!

  5. Nag says:

    Nice one

  6. Rick G. says:

    I often think about that when I see all people out there with these big expensive cars, trucks, boats, and trailors while wearing tattered worn out clothes and wonder why it is so important for them to impress other people who don't own such things. To such people, it is what matter most to them and even all that ever matters to them. Great…..for them. I prefer good health, good friends, inner peace, self- contentment, and peace of mind. Different values I guess.

  7. Val Vassay says:

    An excellent article. I try my best not to attempt to impress others – but I must admit that sometimes I think I should! Having read this article, I now know that I am correct in not trying to impress others. Thank you.

  8. joshuaanandaclayton says:

    I'm a nonconformist and I love this article, have a good'n Bob.

  9. larajf says:

    I feel like I "grew up" when I went from wanting things to wanting experiences and making memories. I wish more people realized that happiness is in the moment and all.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      So true! Things wear out quickly and it just spawns a greater desire for more things, while experiences give deep satisfaction, along with great memories, which both add to a real appreciation of life. I too matured into making this transition, and why events like Christmas are so frustrating, since most do not want the pleasant experience of a holiday with family and friends, but rather a long list of must haves and mustdos, which lead to a frenetic overall experience.

    • Richard says:

      The competition for experiences can also be an ego trip, with bucket lists and boring lists of places that people have been and where they have often seen nothing. A rush to tick off one experience after another…swimming with dolphins, etc etc is just as much of an attempt to impress others and collecting material items.

      This article sums it u p

      And George Harrison's
      "The farther one travels
      The less one knows"

      is often so true.

      • Jim Hallett says:

        It does depend on one's attitude and intent, but you are very right that many travels and other experiences are meant as status or to put in the annual Christmas letter to make others feel less. I often skip the main attractions of a place, as I really want to experience the people, culture, music, food, etc. and to gain a new perspective as opposed to the American view which is so often full of propaganda, but you are right in pointing out the fact that simply crossing things off a bucket list is just another empty pursuit.

  10. Christopher Christopher says:

    I tell my kids, "The most important author who influenced my life was Robert J. Ringer." I am so very fortunate to have read WTI early in college. Now, forty years later, I am going to have my kids read this outstanding piece. So accurate. So well written. You are the best teacher, Robert.

  11. Gregg Sanderson says:

    Outstanding insights, Robert.

    I am impressed.


  12. Ross Ross says:

    This is off point but I need to ask you to help me out a little, if you can. I have been a long time fan of Robert and attempted to buy some of his products. The web page would not let me. I sent him a message through his contact page a week ago but have not received a reply. Has anyone else had trouble and how does one get through. I do find it disappointing that no one contacted me.

  13. Dr Dana Myatt says:

    Another solid analysis of human nature, Robert. Your article affirms my recent "mini epiphany" that all it takes to be a fascinating conversationalist is let people roll on about themselves, perhaps punctuated by an occasional question or approving sound from me. When I am tempted to interject something about my own life, like "I was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last week," I remind myself that "nobody cares." And most folks don't, they care about their own life and stories. I am making every effort to add "Master of Understatement" to my resume and I'm confident I will be a better person for it, or at least better appreciated. Thank you for supporting my resolve.

  14. sam239 says:

    Reminds of something another mentor said – he moved out of a middle-class area into a gated country club area on a top-flight golf course. He said the neighbors seemed to be in a constant game of status – who has the nicer car or boat – but at the same time appeared to despise each other. He couldn't figure out why they prioritized status with people who, as far as he could tell, they didn't even like! Needless to say, he quickly wanted to move out of the area – even country clubs have a**hole neighbors.

  15. Mic says:

    Thank you! Great article. I saw my younger self in there a little. I don't I have ever been super status conscious, but it has crept in from time to time. My now older self rarely if ever makes a decision based on status. I simply don't care at all any longer. In fact, I prefer to keep all of my business and personal life as private as possible. I would rather not tell anyone anything about what I am doing so at networking events I am generally pretty vague with the "how are you doing these days" question.

    It is interesting to me that people that are Navy SEALS or Special Forces never have to tell others how bad to bone they are and in fact never do. I also find it equally interesting that people that are often times the wealthiest have the least to say about their wealth and class in society. I guess you can say many people realize understand if you truly "got it" you don't need to flaunt it.

  16. Dennis says:

    I believe "better than some, not as good as others" is my mantra

  17. Gordon says:

    Many years ago I came across the quote (don't remember who said it) as follows:

    There's no limit to what you can accomplish in life if you don't care who gets the credit.

    As I have moved through life, I have come to realize that I value my anonymity. I do not WANT to be recognized by people that I don't know personally. I do not want to be in the limelight, in part because it leads to the behavior and attitudes you discussed today.

  18. Ivan says:

    My favorite version of the braggart is the Christmas card with very long letter detailing how everyone is doing so perfect. Then others feel the need to show off everyday on Facebook and instagram. Pictures of their dogs are the only items of interest for me.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      The Christmas card bragging is so, so true. And the people who send them out have no idea they are turning people off.

    • Rick G. says:

      I send out only religious cards on Christmas, no others. If you don't want them, just tell me and I won't send them. Good cards are expensive and I can save postage.

  19. Jay says:

    Oh Humility, my only true friend.

  20. Phil says:

    What a timely article. My wife and I are downsizing into a less fancy neighborhood, as we found 4000 sq ft too much space in too many ways. We will have a smaller house but more time for our family, travel, and gardening. My mother seems concerned ('what will the relatives and you old friends think?'). I would hope telling them her son is happy, learned from his life, and strives to live each day honorably is enough. I feel blessed to have learned this wisdom, surely as much from reading Robert's books as anything….and I saw what he describes early on….my high school in Georgia was filled with elitist kids and winning 'coaches', who looked good on the outside but were too often rotted on the inside. As hideous an experience as it was, perhaps being exposed to it was a blessing in disguise.

  21. Mac says:

    The Arrival will happen when:

    * I can say I have no consumer debt
    * I can look at my old but functional car and know it's paid off with money in the bank to repair it
    * I'll be able to buy my next used car with cash
    * I can pay for all house repairs, including the roof, in cash

  22. Chris says:

    I had an eye opener a couple decades ago when I was teaching high school. A guest speaker in a school assembly tackled the topic of peer pressure. To a person, all of the students, and most of the teachers responded affirmatively when the speaker asked how many believed peer pressure came from others. The speaker than began to explain that the source of peer pressure was really inside each of us. It was how we responded. We were not victims of peer pressure, but the source of it. I’m not sure how many students or faculty grasped the truth of what we heard, but that perspective changed things for me and hopefully for my children and grandchildren. As always great article Mr. Ringer. I’ve been a fan and reader of your work for four decades.

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  24. paul says:

    Wow! This guy is still around. Robert Ringer is 80. I vaguely remember his book as I was born in 1963. Didn't read it. No clue about it although knew it was big. So now I read one of his blogs outta the blue(googled the book and then him as I didn't know who wrote it just to see if he was alive) So, anyway, This article or blog or whatever you call it was great. I've known this for sometime. Nod and smile and add a "oh wow" with sincerity and people will rattle on and on about themselves to infinity and beyond ! These people are so easy to manipulate. Just feign interest in their lives, mirror their expressions and mannerisms and you could probably sell them whatever you wanted. They will think you are great! lol. So right now I'm listening to Larry Winget rattle on and on about how great he is on some youtube video. I guess I'd like to write a self help book but i need help doing that! lol. So, bottom line is this artice was great and I'm a fan. I'll have to get the audio book and listen to it.

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