In our modern world, the positions that we are taking in the professional life became extremely important for how we are described as human beings. With that comes cognitive pressure of being afraid to be misjudged or judged only from a very simplistic angle. Status anxiety is a constant tension or fear of being perceived as “unsuccessful” by the society in materialistic terms.
“What others will think?” is the question that endlessly tortures us in daily life. From the way we dress to the way we speak or make our decisions. We are always busy projecting what message we will be sending to the outer world. But why do we honestly do that?
“Our mutual value is for us the value of our mutual objects. Hence for us, man himself is mutually of no value.”— Karl Marx, Comment on James Mill (1844)
We live in an environment in which we are surrounded by modern neo-capitalist values, followed by individualist values. Because of these ideological systems, on which our societies are based, we are constantly reminded that materialism and good work matter, and individual success and effort represent “Who we are”.
Was status anxiety here forever?
Massified media, pop culture and western cultural domination here play a significant role. It’s no secret that mass media plays an essential role in setting a public debate. Moreover, mass media creates value systems by defining who is “successful” and who is a “failure”, who is the “bad-doer” and the “good-doer”. This only reassures us that the ideological system that we are part of is “normal” and “everyone is following the stream”.
If you take a second to think if mass media is “value-free”, soon enough, you should reach the conclusion that it is not. We should not forget that first and foremost mass media’s goal is not to make the world a better place. It is a business enterprise who is interested in gaining a profit.
They do that most commonly by creating content that people feel compelled to read (something negative, shocking, local and highly charged) and then selling these designed mass audiences of readers to the advertisers (capitalists), who are as a rule the most significant part of the profit share contribution. And I believe that we both already concluded that capitalists would never choose to advertise in the environment in which capitalism is being criticized.
All of this is extremely important to understand when speaking about status anxiety. It is crucial to know that the environment in which we face status anxiety is relative and was not there forever.
Status anxiety – what is it, how to see it?
The crux of the status anxiety is how we are being perceived and judged by the others. Are we doing a good enough job, are we driving a good enough car, are we interesting enough? All of these questions run unconsciously in our mind mostly in the new and unknown social circles, as your friend’s birthday party where we meet new people.
Moreover, it is not only the fear of being misjudged, but also that our brain actively tries to act based on those possible judgements – we are always trying to impress. The interesting fact is that status anxiety could be seen as compulsive buying, status consumption, and many other ways. The next time you notice a person driving the newest Lexus, don’t rush to judge and think that maybe that person just lacks some confidence or confirmation of their status from surrounding environment.
In today’s world, we are more often dealing with situations in which we are meeting new people and the typical way of getting to know each other has become our taken positions in the job market. Simply put, what very often describes us is the professional position, representing only a tiny part of our characters. That is extremely limiting, isn’t it?
We are slowly becoming anxious, we are living in a world of “snobs”, people who take a tiny part of us and use it to create a full verdict on how valuable we are as humans. The video down below gives an excellent example of an opposite of a snob: our parents do not care about our position and social status; they care about our souls.
But most of the people we are meeting are not very much interested in our souls (question for a thought: why?) – that is why we are so worried about judgement and humiliation.
Video creators state that we are not living in materialistic times. They say that we are in more poignant times, where emotional rewards have been pegged to acquiring material things.
What people want when they go after money, big jobs or fancy cars is rarely those things in themselves, so much as the attention and respect. We are also anxious because we are repeatedly told that we can become anything. And it should be significant that there is so much opportunity in this modern world. But what if we fail? What if we lose every chance?
Existing ideological system makes us believe that everything is possible because we are born equal and equally equipped. Moreover, it is a common belief that everyone can reach the same heights, and if one is not reaching it, it is because of the lack of effort and hard work. They are never mentioning that our social status predetermines our life chances very much, and from different life chances, we have an unequal starting ground.
In our society as just as well, we are told that everything is fair. In meritocratic societies (societies in which economic goods and/or political power are vested in individual people based on talent, effort, and achievement, rather than wealth or social class) rewards are being given for those who deserve them, those who are hardworking and innovative. Meritocracies makes poverty look deserved.
3 ways to deal with status anxiety:
- First, refuse to believe that any society really can be meritocratic: social class (and different life chances) and inequalities from power and domination relations determine where hierarchically individuals end up in the society.
- Secondly, make your own definition of success, instead of uncritically leaning on society’s. There are so many ways to succeed. Many of them have nothing to do with status, as it is currently defined within the value system of neo-capitalism and neo-liberalism.
- Thirdly, we should refuse to let our outer achievements define our sense of self entirely. “We are what we do”, is a very restrictive definition of us. Take a minute to think about it, if you wouldn’t be forced to do what you are doing economically, would you do your work? If not, what would you do? What is describing you as a living and creative human being? That is the best way to start thinking about answering the question “Who are you?”.
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