Monday, December 15, 2008

Maybe We Should Stop Caring About What Other People Think

Well, I'm back. Didn't think I'd be posting twice in one day (especially after such a long silence) but reading today's Business section of the NY Times pulled me back to the computer.

Two items hit me between the eyes (I don't even want to talk about the articles about newspapers going down the tubes, that's too upsetting). The first item is actually a series of articles about the alleged Madoff Ponzi scheme, where investors are losing up to $50 billion (maybe even more) because they trusted someone who may not have been so trustworthy. What really stood out for me was not the truly tragic stories of super-annuated Palm Beach investors who lost millions. What stood out for me was the handful of individuals who chose not to invest their money with Madoff simply because they felt that he played too close to the vest regarding his investment strategies. Despite what other people thought, they chose to listen to themselves and honor their own judgment.

The other item was in the same section, describing an elaborate University of Alberta research project involving bookstores, pens and coupons. The results of that research project? If you stand *behind* someone who uses a low-value coupon to buy a pen, other people will think you're cheap.

To which I have only one thing to say: Who the hell cares?

Clearly, someone at the NY Times business section thinks it's important for you to know that standing even in the immediate vicinity of someone who is making a frugal purchase is damaging to your own reputation.

Could other people's opinion be so important that you're willing to change your behaviors to accommodate them. To this extent?

I'm reminded of the subscription renewal notices that I get from magazines, at least 6 months before my subscription is actually due to expire. Big type on the envelope screaming, FOURTH AND FINAL NOTICE! There's something inside my little reptilian brain that tells me "oh my gosh! People are thinking I'm a deadbeat!" The people inside the circulation department of the magazine? Maybe. The postal carrier? Maybe. But obviously SOMEONE must be thinking I'm a deadbeat...look at these envelopes! I can just smell the judgment! I just don't know where the stink is coming from.

Another article in the New York Times a few weeks ago also tried to impose other people's opinion on me regarding the so-called Interview Suit. The article was accompanied by a movie still from the 50s of Hope Lange enduring scathing judgment from prospective coworkers. Was her slip showing? No. She was wearing, gasp!, the DREADED WRONG OUTFIT!

The point of this article was that, according to the experts interviewed, if you're not wearing precisely the right outfit, in precisely this year's colors, accessorized with precisely the right shoes, with precisely the right heel, you might as well kiss that job opp goodbye. Several of my friends called my attention to the article, sharing the same opinion of "oh my gosh! it's really getting brutal out there!"

But looking closely at all the experts who were quoted, it was clear that every single "expert" had a stake in making you feel inadequate and a sudden urge to go shopping. For, coincidentally enough, an up-to-date interview suit.

Now I know there are tons of elegantly dressed HR professionals out there, but I would venture a guess that no one stops to see if you're wearing a 2005 Jimmy Choo or a 2008 Jimmy Choo. Personally, my philosophy is that if there are no holes in the soles, and the heels aren't worn down so much that they resemble a door wedge, I'm good to go.

Life is complicated these days, no doubt. And sometimes we need experts to help us understand what the best ways are to use our resources. But I think that one of the reasons why we're in such a mess economically is because a lot of us turned our backs on simple math and common sense, because we figured the next guy was smarter and more knowledgeable than we. We've been caught up in a machine that runs on using OPM -- other people's (read: ours) money. And we've allowed ourselves to exchange our common sense for OPO -- other people's opinions.

I think it's time for us to remember what is truly ours, and hold on tight to it (money and opinions)regardless of which way the crowd is going. And to anyone who wants to estrange us from either, we should be asking them: Okay, what are you really selling?

But that's just my opinion.

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