Transformation and Keeping Up with the Jones'?

Recently, the phrase “keeping up with the Jones'” came up during a conversation with a friend of mine. In doing a little research online, I found the background interesting. This phrase was the name of a comic strip that started around 1913 where the creator, Arthur R. ("Pop") Momand, used his experiences of living beyond his means to keep up with his neighbors as the inspiration behind the comic strip (source). So, the gist behind this phrase is that the “Jones'” establish the standard that others strive to meet, whether it be possessions, social status, community involvement, income, position at work, etc.

When this phrase came up in conversation with my friend, it bristled my subconscious, and I began pondering what it really means and whether it serves me in any way. My pondering started out as a indignant...what gives them the right to set the bar? Who gave “the Jones'” the power to set the standard? As I dug deeper, I realized that striving to keep up with the Jones' would actually end up defining what success means for me. And, given that we're all unique, it's unlikely that their definition of success is the same as mine. By striving to keep up with the Jones', I realized that I would actually be giving away my power to the Jones'.

Then I realized that this phrase epitomizes the competitive nature of people. Consider the recent economic crisis we faced in America. It was brought on in part by consumerism which is fueled by striving to keep up with the Jones' envy of or desire for someone else's possessions. I sometimes notice something “neat” that someone else has, which doesn't translate to a “need” that I have to own the same thing or one better. It's this perceived need born out of keeping up with the Jones' that is part of the underlying reason for the state of the crises we're working to get out of today.

The book The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute explains the concept of “needing to be seen as ...”. Essentially, the concept is that people often want to be seen by others in some light. It may include being seen as an expert, powerful, successful by some measure, intelligent, etc. They then behave in accordance to “needing to be seen as...” instead of who they truly are. And, in turn, they create an internal struggle with themselves between who they really are and how they instinctively should act vs. who they are portraying themselves to be and how they choose to act. And this internal struggle spills over their internal dam and floods the lives of other people because self-justification of their actions takes precedence over doing the right thing.

Here's an example. In my late teens and early 20s, I had a secret competition with my brother (only I was competing) over who had the nicer car. In a battle of one-up-manship for me, I was looking for the next car to top the car he currently owned. I was unhappy with one of my vehicles because I like fast sporty cars and was driving a '79 Buick Regal. It took some time for me to figure out that my secret competition with him caused me to purchase a vehicle that I didn't enjoy driving just because it was “better than” his car in some way. So, my “needing to be seen as” successful via having a better car than my brother caused me to purchase a vehicle that did not satisfy my own needs, desires, or definition of success. And, I was dis-satisfied while driving that car for practically the entire time I owned it.

In the end, I know that I must be true to my own definition of success in order to truly transform my life. Yes, my definition of success has changed over the years based on external influences and will likely change again. The key is making a conscious choice about altering my definition of success based on new discoveries and identified needs, not based on competition. By being true to my core values and keeping my definition of success in focus, I'm able to create the transformation that I want in my life.

Think about how keeping up with the Jones' impacts your life. Has it altered your definition of success? Has it impacted decisions you make and the satisfaction of your life? If so, what will you choose to do to regain control of your life?

[Note:  No Jones' were harmed in the creation of this blog.]

Gary Bamberger