“But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care; we aren’t caught up in your love affair”
These lyrics are excerpts from Lorde’s Chart topping 2013 single “Royals”, which took on a form of cult following in some parts of the world.
I love that song. And the lyrics do resonate with me. Especially so, being a Lagosian. It’s somewhat entertaining to observe the materialistic evolution of our society. Back in the day it used to be people aspired to own cars, now it is private jets (PJs as they are fondly called nowadays). By people I am talking about ordinary folk; working class people with 8am-5pm jobs, and the salaries that come with those jobs.
I struggled a bit as I began to process my thoughts for this article, knowing how highly religious our society is, it’s sometimes hard to pass one’s point across in plain language without being called out for lacking faith or a positive mind set. So let me say upfront; I am not trying to say there’s anything wrong with having big dreams and aspirations when your current circumstances belie your hopes; my personal dreams and goals are astronomical when compared to where I am today, and I know it is same for most of you. We are Nigerians: big dreamers in a state of perpetual optimism. It’s what I love about this country.
My focus in this post is to juxtapose what I see as the line between Ambition and Competition, Wealth and Materialism, Financial prudence and ‘follow- follow’ syndrome (A.k.a. Keeping up with the Jones’s).
As I have pointed out earlier, we live in a very materialistic society,for a country with such gloomy poverty index statistics. Here you are measured by your worldly possessions; it is not sufficient that you have a decent, functional car, it’s the TYPE of car that matters and determines how much respect you command – from friends, family, the valet at a public facility, or the security guard at an office complex. People gauge you by these things; the car you drive, where you live, what you wear; and for women, shall we venture into the topic of designer handbags? OMG. It’s almost like if it is not a known designer brand then it really doesn’t count as a purse/handbag. Have you ever been to the Salon or attended a function and you’re there wondering if there was a ‘battle of the handbags’ memo sent out to all the women present? Classic Island behaviour.
A lot of people are drowning in debt, wallowing in near penury whilst trying to maintain a lifestyle that’s not even theirs to start with. Being in competition with other people’s lifestyles is dangerous; for you, your pocket and your self-esteem. At some point it is helpful to stare your financial situation hard in the face, acknowledge (if that is the case) that you are broke and barely meeting up with your obligations and that you may never be a ‘Royal’ as Lorde succinctly put it. Let’s face it; not everyone is going to make it big and become a filthy rich mogul. So how does one avoid getting caught up in this love affair with ‘things’ and ‘perceived status’? Or if already caught up, how do you free yourself? I have a few thoughts to share in this regard; I hope it helps:
Live within your means (or sew your clothes according to your material): First things first: Your income is not your friend’s income; don’t compete with your neighbour: compete with yourself. If you earn a hundred thousand naira a month, make choices that ensure you live the best one hundred thousand naira a month life you can have. The key word here is CHOICES. Prioritize your needs over wants. Your needs are essentials: things you cannot reasonably do without: food, water, electricity, children’s school fees, house rent, etc. Wants on the other hand, are nice-to- haves; they are also important but should not take priority. I won’t give examples of wants because wants are usually specific to the individual and dependent on the context; my want could be your need and vice versa. Even for same individual, what is a need today may become a want tomorrow, so, again, it depends on the context. What’s important is your ability to make that analysis to determine what should take the front seat and what should be kept on the back-burner. If you need a car, buy the one that you can afford. It’s important to make a distinction here: affordability should never be considered in isolation. Affordability is relative to your list of needs. It is the ability to meet all or most of your essential needs. So for example, I earn enough money to buy me a couple of designer handbags every month if I wanted to – but that would mean shelving most of my regular bills, in which case this morphs into purchasing ability and not real affordability. So I may purchase the handbags but in reality I cannot afford them.
Back to the car example: if you need a car, buy a car that can take you around, and is functional (whatever that means to you). It doesn’t have to be the most expensive, or flashy. Don’t buy a car to do the job your personality cannot, because in the end it will show up… you are not the things you have; and though it may help you keep up an appearance; when it matters most – it is who you really are that counts – not the car you drive or where you live, or how many countries you have been to on vacation.
Speaking of vacations: let me say, I find it out of place when Nigerians talk about travelling ‘for summer’ it’s kind of odd for a country where we have summer- like conditions all year round. It’s such an acquired term, and annoying nonetheless. But I digress. Vacations are great, and it’s great to see the vacationing culture in Nigeria strengthen year on year. Just make sure you can afford that vacation you’re about to embark on and that you are not just doing it because so and so is taking their family on vacation, or everyone at your kids’ school are going on one and you don’t want to be the one left out. Whilst there might be limited merit to those reasons, it is not sufficient justification for you to go for broke. Remember that after that vacation your bills, of a surety, will be right here waiting for you (in Bryan Adams’ voice crooning to his song: ‘wherever you go’).
Don’t yield to the pressure to’ follow- follow’; be your own person. Consider alternatives: like travel within Africa to some great destinations which may cost a lot less than going to the usual UK or US holiday. And if you really can’t afford that now famous trip to Dubai for Christmas, sit your butt down in Nigeria – for parents: school fees in January is real man.
Social media doesn’t help: Oh Instagram! How polished are the lives of those who have thine pages! Don’t let Instagram or Facebook fool you. It’s like this: imagine as a sales person you had an opportunity to present a sales pitch on power point to intending investors – you would do your best to project the gains and the profits… you put your best foot forward. This is just like social media, people are given a blank canvas (their social media page) and they paint the picture of their lives they want – they put their best face forward. Only the best selfies make the gram; their lives appear so spectacular and accomplished; and you’re probably there feeling like: wow the grass is so much greener on that side. It’s ok to get inspiration from seeing these polished ‘canvases’ on social media – just don’t become unrealistically intimidated by them. Stay in your lane – it’s not a competition; and if at all there is one, you should be in competition with yourself only, to do you better than you did you yesterday. The flaunting of wealth and status on social media in some cases borders on distasteful – near vulgar. True wealth is conservative not loud; you can tell the ones that came from money from the ones that stumbled upon it; the latter are usually focused on showing everyone how much they have’ arrived’; just listen to lyrics from rap songs, that’s all I am going to say.
Learn from Jesus: wise words from the master: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses”. Your possessions are exactly that: possessions; they are not you. If you lack intelligence or character or virtue, it cannot be bought with material things. Gucci shoes, or Fendi bags will not make up for it. Invest in your personality, and other things will follow. One of my favourite quotes is this: “Work on being, not on having; for with what you are, you will have”. If you’re a serial buyer of designer items which you can scarcely afford; before your next purchase ask yourself: Do I really need one more? It’s great to be ambitious and as Nigerians it’s as though ambition is engrained in our DNA; but don’t get caught up in the pervasive, typically false, ostentatiousness that is all around us. If all you can afford is a Hyundai Elantra and your friends are all driving Range Rovers and Mercedes Benzs; after reading this post I hope you feel empowered to make that decision to go buy the car that your income affords and that you have the self –awareness and confidence to drive it with as much pride as you would if it were a Porsche.