The new status symbol of choice

I listen to Dave Ramsey all the time. My wife has always been frugal (she’s teaching me) and we discovered Dave while I was in law school. It resonated with us immediately, and now we’re trying to pay off my law school loans as quickly as we can.

Dave inspires me partly because he talks about such a boring subject. Seriously, when was the last time you really wanted to talk about how to prepare your own budget, let alone listen to some guy you don’t know tell other people you don’t know how to prepare theirs?

Yet millions of people do exactly that every day.

Dave starts every show by saying it’s the show “where the paid-off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.” It’s a powerful idea.

Every one of us defines ourselves by the status symbols we choose. We don’t always do it consciously. Sometimes we associate ourselves with a symbol and other times we react against a symbol. But we all use the things, the people, the ideas, and the organizations around us to identify what we are.

So it’s a testament to the power of Dave’s idea that he has convinced so many people to accept his redefinition of their status symbols.

You see, a paid-off home mortgage is a really crappy status symbol. Unlike a Beemer, nobody can look at you and tell that your home is paid off. Nobody (not even if you drive an Audi) is going to look at you and say “That guy, right there, is debt-free.”

But if you’ve listened to Dave for more than a few hours and you keep listening, people are going to figure it that you’re serious about getting out of debt. They might be impressed by you, irritated by you, and maybe even weirded out by you. But they’re going to figure out how committed to getting out of debt you are because they’ll start to see how your commitment affects everything you do.

Businesses have status symbols too. Every tech startup wants to be cool and fresh and have better food than Google. Every department store plasters its ads with perfectly-coiffed playboys doing blue steel and trying to sell you some new fragrance. Every lawyer wants to drive a BMW.

Being otherish in business means that you’ll be adopting another really crappy status symbol. Unless, of course, you get so serious about being otherish that people start calling you weird every time they talk about you. So serious that it affects everything you do.

So get to it.


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I'm a 30-something lawyer working at a fast-growing tech startup. I read Milton (John and Friedman) for fun. And I'm out to change the world.

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