For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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HENRY CHONG is our special guest speaker on this episode. Henry is Director of Fusang Capital, a fund management company that manages the assets of multi-family offices. He is also a Director at the Portcullis Group, Asia’s biggest independent group of trust companies, providing comprehensive wealth administration to high-net-worth individuals, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, trustee, and fund administration services to individuals, family offices, philanthropies, private banks, and investment managers. Henry is a graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy Politics & Economics and is a founder of the Oxford Economics Society. He also holds a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSC). He will be sharing with us from his deep insights in behavioral economics, finance, health, and psychology.
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DTPHD Podcast Episode 3 Show Notes:
3:01 Why status can matter, especially with respect to evolutionary psychology
4:37 Why some men have an obsessive drive for increasing their social status
7:21 How happiness and status are similar
7:47 The “Crab Method” for attaining status (and happiness)
8:39 Why most people striving for status (or happiness) fail at it
10:32 Why the principles of trust and reciprocity are so important to success and happiness, and how you can benefit from this
12:28 Henry and David finally disagree on an important point (…or do they?)
13:41 When “value” and “status” come apart — or why status doesn’t always come to those who may deserve it
15:09 How you can attain “status” without much money
17:01 What happens when you fake status or artificially inflate your status
17:56 What happens when you become friends with people who care a lot about “status”
23:21 How thinking too much about status can have harmful, long-term psychological effects
30:17 What if your passions or interests don’t lead to high status?
33:34 Tons of practical, how-to advice on how to find happiness while at the same time skyrocketing your status naturally
45:15 When would you need to depict having LOWER status than you actually have?
Status, Status Anxiety, Success & Life Fulfillment: How Are They All Related?
David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong talk about status and why people are so obsessed with it.
David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong compare happiness and status.
Some people fake their status, David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong explain why this won’t work out.
In this podcast episode, David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong walk us through the process of achieving both happiness and status.
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
David Tian: Okay, welcome! Welcome back! This is the DTPHD Podcast. I am David Tian, Ph.D. and very honored to be joined, again, by Henry Chong. First, about me, for over the past 10 years – actually, over 12 years now – I’ve helped over hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries attain success, happiness, and fulfillment in life and specifically in relationships. I started out as a professor of philosophy in psychology and Asian cultures and then resigned from the university to found my dating coach company. I transitioned from there into relationships counseling, and more broadly, life coaching.
I’m joined here by Henry Chong, a man I’ve known since before. He went to Oxford, and a man of the world, so to speak. I’ll leave it to him to introduce himself. Henry.
Henry Chong: Yes, hello. Thank you very much. My name is Henry Chong. I’m the CEO of the Fusang Group, and we are a group that helps families of substantive wealth look after their assets and minister their assets. In doing that job, my travels take me to a whole number of different things, looking at a wide variety of investments. And in doing so, I also have a very deep personal interest in how people think, how they operate.
I have degrees from Oxford in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and later on went to do Behavioral Science. I find that this study of how humans think and operate and how that interacts with the economy is fundamentally important when making investment decisions. I’ve known you, David, for a very long time, and I’ve always enjoyed our wide-ranging conversations and all kinds of topics: life, love, and the universe. And so, I’m very happy to be here, again, for our second podcast.
David Tian: Yeah, right. So thinking about the DTPHD Podcast and who I’d have as a second voice, the natural selection is Henry Chong. Let’s dive into it. Today, we’ve selected, as our topic, status, and specifically why it’s important, why it’s not important, and status anxiety, status insecurity, and just status overall. I’m going to kick it off with an idea about status. It seems like, at least in the dating coach world or pick-up artist world, a world that I’m trying to escape but finds its tentacles in my life over and over, a very common concept there is status and the importance of status.
There’s almost like a status obsession. There are courses that are selling well now called Status and books called Status. It’s sort of scary to me, on the one hand, being a student of the humanities and a professor of the humanities, but I also understand it being a student of evolutionary psychology. In evolution, when it comes to mating and attracting mates – because after all, that’s all that we’re, as biological beings, made for. Let’s get that straight. We are made for survival and replication at the most basic. If we can’t replicate, then we’re sort of useless in terms of our genetic material.
Our genes are always driving us forward for either survival or replication. And when it comes to replication, status matters a whole lot because if you are low status, your chances of surviving in the Savannah a hundred thousand years ago was a lot lower. If you’re low in the status hierarchy, you won’t get many mating opportunities, if any. In fact, as a male, you probably won’t get any. In fact, the research has shown that males who are in the lower 50% of the status hierarchy probably didn’t mate, and so we’re not their descendants. We’re the descendants of males that were in the upper 50%, if not the upper 33% of males throughout human history.
Therefore, we must have adapted or evolved the adaptive trait to have a drive for status. Just as we have a natural desire to eat sweet things because we’re not adapted to deal with a world full of Krispy Kreme donuts on every corner, if we found some sweet thing a hundred thousand years ago, we better gobble it up because we wouldn’t see it very often. Again, we’re not adapted for the world now. We’re adapted for the world 50,000 or 100,000 years ago.
And one of the things that we would have brought with us is a drive to attain status within our small tribes, because people didn’t live in large societies back then, that we were adapted for. So actually, we were not adapted for living in a community bigger than 150 people or something like that, maybe even less, maybe 15 people. The drive to not be the lowest male on the totem pole made sense, because we would have no mating opportunities and we would have low chances of survival, relative to being the leader who could command all the resources and the sexual mating opportunities.
The drive for status makes sense. That’s how it makes sense. The obsession among dudes who are trying to meet women, they would be obsessed about status and their place in the hierarchy because they are trying to maximize their mating opportunities. That’s a liberal way of putting – or a generous way of putting it. They want to make their status seem higher than their natural status, where they natural would fall or would naturally be at that moment. They want to artificially increase their status, hence the status obsession.
But that’s coming from the mating perspective. But I also see it coming from people who are just trying to make it in business, who are just trying to make it as an entrepreneur in his 20’s. This seems like a really popular thing right now with the hustle and grind sub-culture, the entrepreneurial – like the 20-something entrepreneurial sub-culture, and sort of like this valorization of the startup subculture is the idea of status, of trying to make it in the world. That usually means billions of dollars, some kind of exit around that level, to make yourself feel like you’ve made it.
It’s scary, because first of all, it does away with the whole meaning of life. We can talk about that from the humanities perspective. But also just from a straight science perspective, there’s pretty decent empirical evidence to show that our happiness doesn’t track our material wealth beyond a certain number: 75,000 just from… There’s a well-known scientist who put that out there.
Henry Chong: Yes, that’s The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt.
David Tian: Oh, right, in the book The Happiness Hypothesis he reports it, but it was like – I think it was a Nobel prize-winning social scientist. Anyway, there’s a number of 75,000 per year, and that was a few years ago, at least. Now, it might be 80,000 or whatever, but beyond that certain number, which is relatively – that’s upper- middle class, but it’s not unattainable for many people. But beyond that, happiness increases only marginally, and then at a certain level, it starts to decrease or flat-line.
And even before any of that research, there’s a lot of philosophers or theorists who posited – and many of them were from a religious background – that the meaning of life could not lie in accumulating more material possessions or climbing the status hierarchy. Yet, it seems like most of the world, especially the people in my market, young men who in their 20’s and 30’s who are trying to make it in the world and who feel insecure, they latch onto status as the end-all-be-all that will save them from their current fate. I just wanted to muse on this a bit.
Henry Chong: I think status, like happiness, is something that is very hard to pursue directly. People who try to pursue status directly usually, at least the way we see them, people of those status, people who try almost a bit too hard – just like happiness. John Stuart Mill said you have to approach it sideways like a crab. If you spend all day trying to be happy, you never will be happy. You need to go out and do other things and happiness will come to you as a byproduct of doing all those other things.
I think status is the same way. You need to go out and do productive things, add value to the world, be someone who has deep expertise in a skill, some kind of something that you can give out into the world. If you can produce in that way, status will come to you: status, money, and happiness. If someone says, “I want to be a legendary mountain climber so that I will have status, and everyone will recognize me, and I will be famous” you will never become a legendary mountain climber because it’s very hard and it requires a great deal of intrinsic motivation to get you to the peak of that profession, like any profession.
I think it’s extremely hard to pursue status directly, and I think that’s the mistake a lot of people make, a lot of the people that you’re talking about, for example. By maximizing for status, first and foremost, they don’t end up taking the time to, for example, gain deep mastery at a specific skill and become one of the best in the world at a specific skill. They don’t take the time to gain the discipline needed in the daily pursuit of whatever their chosen path is.
At the end of the day, I think something within us is wired to recognize that, to see people who are not taking in action for any kind of intrinsic motivation, but purely because of how they think it’ll make them look. We seem to have some kind of natural aversion to those kind of people.
David Tian: That’s a good point. You’re saying even if you were to pursue status – a lot of the spiel that I started with was attacking the pursuit of it at all. But you’re saying to get it at all – if you’re going to aim for it, even aiming for it is not the way to get it. That’s a great point. It’s like you’re saying, it’s like happiness. In a way, this is like a pursuit of fame. A lot of people think if they are famous, they’ll get money, then they’ll get the girls, then they’ll get the big gangster life.
What they end up having to do is to fake it. They’re faking that they are something. Maybe people who are listening can think back to when they’ve seen somebody fake status. This happens a lot in night clubs. They try to be bigger than they are, more important than they are, richer than they are. They’ll try really hard. They’ll buy clothes but they don’t seem to be very comfortable with them.
There’s some bullshitters who can take it pretty far. What happens to those people?
Henry Chong: Certainly, in the short-term, it can most certainly work. We don’t live, as you say, in tribes of 150 people anymore. We live in a large world, and when you encounter people for the first time, it’s entirely possible to fake it, so to speak. The problem is, it’s hard to sustain that over a long period of time. People eventually figure it out. And I was saying earlier, we have some kind of intrinsic dislike for these kind of people, and I think some of it is due to the way we’re wired for trust, reciprocity, and intrinsic sense.
We can talk a bit about the evolutionary reasons why things like trust and reciprocity are so important. Once upon a time, if you’re living in a tribe of 150 people – if I hunt a deer, I have more meat than I know what to do with, I need to share. I share because I know that you will reciprocate. When you David, you go out and catch a deer and I haven’t caught anything, and that’s why for example reciprocity is non-linear is why trust is such an important part of the way our society works.
A lot of people – it becomes too much about quid pro quo, and the world doesn’t quite work that way. The world works by building relationships, by building trust. This is the most fundamental glue that holds society together, and we have a natural aversion to people who try and upset this balance.
David Tian: Right, so trust and reciprocity. You’re talking about authentic status in some way, and then there’s this aversion of it which is inauthentic status.
Henry Chong: Exactly.
David Tian: Let’s back out a bit and talk about what status actually is referring to. Biologically, there is a way to think about the hierarchy. You were saying – maybe before we pressed record – about how in the animal kingdom or early man, or smaller societies, status was a lot more linear versus what it is now. What is status actually trying to track, or what does it track? It’s not just money. People think that it is now, and that’s a very American view of status.
If someone were to fake status, what are they actually faking?
Henry Chong: I think it’s a bit more contextualized in today’s world. Again, we live in a big world with technology, with things that have become quite diverse. Our communities are no longer local. You can have an online community of people who follow you on Instagram, which is a perfectly valid community. So I think status is relative, but still I think in its core, it relies on your ability to add value in some way to your community.
David Tian: That’s a much more idealistic view of it than I think. It should be, right?
Henry Chong: Value doesn’t have to be a judgment of whether that value is good or not. I challenge you to name one person who has achieved ‘fame’ by just wanting to be famous or pursuing fame without actually having any kind of underlying skill. Even people we think of as being famous for being famous, like perhaps the Kardashians, still have a very unique skill. They are very good at social media.
David Tian: The value they’re adding there is an entertainment value.
Henry Chong: That’s what I mean. It doesn’t have to be a judgment about whether this value is –
David Tian: There are people who add value who might be lower-status. Doctors without Borders, who are relatively anonymously, name one person who is part of that organization besides the head. Maybe you know your friend who is in it, but they’re not famous because they just don’t get spread. So, there are people who do valuable things and do valuable work that people don’t hear about. And in terms of status, they might actually be considered by the society as a low thing.
You said it’s relative, and that’s a really important point. Your status is determined by your peers, or your peers being your community. Within the community, not everybody is equal. You have some people, they’re the influencers so to speak, looking for a better term than that but they’re the ones who influenced most of other people’s things. They have a disproportionate control or say over what is considered to be of value. Your status is always going to be relative to the community that you want to peg it to. So wanting to have a higher status within your school would be very different from somebody who is having a higher status in the night club. Those would be very different types of people, probably, depending on what your school is or night club is like, but the average ones would be quite different.
I think what status is – if you think about influence or authority. A good way to think about it is where status and wealth come apart. Nowadays, you might have the royal families, and they might not be very rich; they just have status, like the people recognize them. They respect them and they probably get a lot of perks that don’t come along with just paying for stuff. They live in this great palace, they get all of these tax breaks, and all of these other perks that if you were to buy them outright with cash would be a lot more expensive than whatever they are paying for.
Another one is actually famous people. There are some billionaires that we would never recognize; we just don’t know. You might see the name in the Forbes list but you don’t know what they look like. You wouldn’t be able to tell them on the street. But then you’d have somebody who is maybe only net worth of 20 million. I think Conor McGregor, before he fought Mayweather, his net worth was assessed around 25 million or something like that. He’s a lot poorer compared to anybody in the Forbes lists, yet we know his face, and his name, and all of that stuff because he is famous. Fame and riches come apart.
Whereas status, what happens when you become famous, is you get a lot of free stuff. You walk into a night club and they throw you all of this free stuff. That’s a reaction to your status. It’s not a reaction just to your money. Status is just assessed relative to the status makers, that’s a good term like status assessors. The masses, if the masses have a voice, are usually the one that have the final say. If there are a million people who have folllowed you on Instagram, you have more status than somebody who has 100 people on his Instagram.
This is a crude way of assessing status. So, when a guy is trying to fake status or thinks that status is end-all-be-all of his life, what will happen to his life is – like you were saying, he might be able to fake it for a while, but people will figure it out. When that happens, not only does the house of cards falls, but his life falls.
Even when he’s making it, people who fake status – the only people who will be duped by it are other fake people. If there are enough fake people all faking status, what happens is they come into cahoots with each other. You see this at a local level in night clubs. There are enough fake people there, and they’re trying to fake that they have a lot of money. A bunch of fakers get together and they either explicitly or implicitly make a pact, which is like, “Hey, let’s pretend to be cooler and have more money than we do. We’ll chip in on this table, we’ll hack the system so it makes us look like we have more money than we do. We’ll pool our resources.”
Unless those are friends that were from way back – but probably not if you’re club friends – are all fake friends. The moment that you break with the pact, or they find that you can’t uphold your end of the fake status bargain, they are going to drop you. A lot of people in the clubbing world, pick-up artist world, or any kind of status-obsessed world are surrounded by fake people, fake friends, that they shouldn’t really be trusting them.
Going back to trust and reciprocity, reciprocity is there because as long as you continue to uphold my fake status, I’ll uphold your fake status, so we’ll just lie about each other to girls. We’ll keep that going until the girls figure it out and then we have to move on to new victims. But these friends of yours, just like clubbing friends, the average clubbing friends, are going to be fake.
It creates a circle around you and a life around you that is fake. Even if you get, as a celebrity, lots of free stuff, respect, or adoration, the moment the status goes away because people find out that you don’t deliver the kind of value that they thought you delivered, those people will go away as well. What I see a lot, and I have this separate Facebook group, because there’s another show I do called Man Up, and we have a Man Up Facebook group. You can join that, and there’s 18,000 people in there right now.
A lot of the guys, every week or so, we have two or three people who complain that they don’t have friends. Often, their refrain is, “I did have friends, but they turned out to be fake friends and I think everyone is just in it for themselves.” I’m not sure, there’s no real question in there, they’re just looking for some kind of validation or I don’t know. People like this usually are bitter.
One of the reasons why they find themselves surrounded by fake people is because they’re being fake themselves. The obsession over status will breed that kind of fakeness.
Henry Chong: At the same time, I think we also need to realize that we’re making valid judgments about those kind of people who hang out at night clubs. Your value is extremely limited to that context. Now, as long as that is the kind of status that you are pursuing and what you want to maximize for, so be it. But the minute you leave that context, as you say, you lose all that status. Intrinsically, it’s pretty similar to Conor McGregor. He has a lot of status because he is a UFC fighter. If he decides to go from being a UFC fighter to becoming someone who works for Doctors Without Borders, his status will be very different in that environment.
The key is to realize what kind of value is valuable to you, what kind of status are you trying to maximize for? The problem is, a lot of people go and try and maximize their value in a night club environment when that’s not really what they care about. Again, if that’s your life, if you run a night club, so be it.
David Tian: Just for human beings in general, they shouldn’t aim for status because even if that’s what you want, you’re not going to get it by aiming for it. In addition, if you do want status – what I’m saying is, it will lead to an unfulfilling life. Status can be something that you have given to you by your context, and that might be nice to have. Once a while, you might revel in it somehow, but you don’t want to stay there for too long. Because if you think about your status too long, you’re going to get sucked into getting more of it. That becomes some kind of metric in your life of how to measure your success or your progress.
It’s dissatisfying not just in terms of the people that you draw into your life, but also internally, the mental gymnastics you have to go through. You’re quite right in pointing out the night club – I met my wife in the night club, and I have plenty of friends who enjoy night clubs. I enjoy night clubs given the right state of mind that you enter it into. I think a lot of club owners know the game. They have to, to game that system.
They know that these people who are buying them drinks wouldn’t have bought drinks for this guy, the owner, if he weren’t the owner. I don’t think any smart night club person is under any illusions about the truthfulness of that friendship. That’s why it’s actually hard to get through to them and become their personal friend. They are constantly screening you and testing you to see whether you’re really a friend.
One way, if you really want to go all the way – what’s the movie? It’s Matt Damon and – Oh, Talented Mr. Ripley, where you keep the ruse up all the way to the end. You infiltrate that influential person’s personal life sort of like an undercover cop would for gangs or whatever, and you win over their approval. Actually, gangs are a really good test case for status. That’s pretty raw status right there; if you’re the top dog, you get to kill other people. You get to order them to chop off fingers, and things.
Anyway, so then you infiltrate that personal life so you hang out with him on a Sunday afternoon with their kids, and the dog, and all that, and then they start to think, “Okay, you’re truthful.” But what they are really looking for is the authenticity that you are going out with trust and reciprocity. But I wanted to also point out that the inner life of somebody like that really suffers. There’s a textbook for psychiatrists, the DSM. We’re up to DSM-5 now. There’s a helpful taxonomy in DSM of psychological disorders, and there is one that’s quite pervasive in the Cluster B set of disorders, which is the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
And one of the hallmarks of a Narcissistic Personality Disordered-individual is obsession over status, which is the constant thought of, “What do other people think of me? How am I being perceived in this situation now, here, and in the future, and back then?” This obsession about how others perceive him or her. You might start off as a non-Narcissistic Personality Disordered individual. You’re just insecure.
And then one way to get over the insecurity, and maybe you just want more friends, maybe you want more sex with good-looking people, is to act and think in a certain way. And that was really dangerous. Just the context for why status makes sense in the pick-up artist world is – it gets you the first steps. If somebody who doesn’t fit into night clubs or cool settings at all suddenly starts to dress like somebody who does. He doesn’t know why he’s wearing those clothes because his aesthetic sense has not caught up to that or has not become that yet, but he’s just ordered by a fashion stylist, “Wear these clothes in this way and go out there!”
So he does it, like a robot. He puts on the clothes, gets a new haircut. It’s not him yet, though. He hasn’t owned it. He doesn’t even know why. He doesn’t even like the look in the mirror, but he’s just told to put it on, so he puts it on and goes out there. When people start to look at him, they’ll consider him like he fits in and one of their own, so he’ll get that initial pinging of status or validation.
So then he thinks, “This is working!” And then he’ll start to talk like them. He’ll mimic their styles of speech and the content. And so, he starts to fake it. He starts to fake as if he is one of them. Inside, he’s just really thinking, “Okay, they like X, so I will do X.” And really, what’s happening is he starts to get that thought pattern of, “What do they like? How do they see me now? How do they perceive me? How are they judging me? How are they evaluating me?”
He’s constantly thinking about that because he hasn’t actually arrived at the aesthetic sensibility that they have for appreciating the intrinsic nature of the things that bring status and value in that context; he’s just mimicking it. What’s interesting is the structure of the thought process creates a narcissistic personality disordered person. It creates a disorder in him. I know from personal experience because I went through that and I got really good at that.
One of the reasons I got really good at it is because I got into their minds, the minds of the audience, the minds of the target market, and figured out what they like. I was able to mimic that. Eventually, it went all the way and I was able to adopt thought patterns that they had. It was really scary, because most of the people in those environments have narcissistic personality disordered thought patterns, which are along the lines of, “What do people think of me? How can I impress others?”
The more you study NPD, the more you find out how awful their inner lives are, because in fact, they can never be truly fulfilled. Because anybody who is obsessed with the question as the driving force of their lives, “What do other people think of me?”
Imagine that were your primary question that you woke up with every day, you would never be secure and certain in your life because that’s always a big unknown. You’re always pinging, “Do they like me today? Oh good, they like me today. Today, I’m allowed to be happy, to feel good about myself, and so on.” Your self-esteem is always at the mercy of other people, and you don’t know yourself. You’re not the center of your own values, because your values are centered around other individuals. They get to tell you how to feel about yourself and about anything, really.
Somebody who is obsessed about status goes down the road of unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, not just the fact that he’s now going to surround himself with fake people, but also because of his inner life. His primary questions are driving him towards dissatisfaction.
Henry Chong: And because he doesn’t intrinsically enjoy the environment that he’s in, right? He’s living a life because of some kind of externally-referenced values, not because of internally-referenced values. You shouldn’t run a night club because you think it’ll bring you status. You should run a night club because you enjoy running a night club. And if you really do intrinsically enjoy running a night club and you’re willing to have the discipline and put in the time to learn the skills necessary – because it’s a skill like anything else in the world. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll get good at it. And if you get really good at it, you will probably have a lot of status as a night club owner, specifically.
That’s why I think it is important that you understand that the value is contextualized, and you do need to deliver value. Being a good night club owner delivers value to people who want to go to night clubs. That’s why you cannot pursue status directly. Instead, you have to start saying, “What is it that I want to do? What is it that I enjoy doing intrinsically?”
For example, Conor McGregor, if he became a UFC fighter because he said, “I want to be famous”, he wouldn’t have gotten very far. It’s not an easy road. Instead, he said, “I want to be the best fighter that ever lived.” Because of that, because he was willing to put in the time, and the dedication, and the training day in and day out, now that he is one of the best fighters in the world, he has plenty of status. But still, to be honest, contextualized to that environment.
He has a lot of status as a UFC fighter. Instead, you look at someone like Ronda Rousey, who, I’m sure at one point was extremely intrinsically motivated. She was in the Olympics. She had a once incredible winning streak in the UFC, but I think at some point it shifted for her. At some point, she became more afraid about looking after that winning streak, about not losing, than she really did about just intrinsically wanting to be the best fighter possible.
You can see that, because the minute she lost, it just destroyed her. That identity of having this perfect record was so much more important to her than just the intrinsic joy and value of being a good fighter and enjoying fighting. And to be honest, you look at Conor McGregor, he really enjoys fighting.
David Tian: That’s a great point. You hinted at earlier – the best way to actually get status. The reason why people are usually obsessed with status is because they think that status will bring them certain emotions or goods like mating opportunities, respect from others which will get them more validation which will make them feel like they are finally significant and worthy enough in life.
The way to get those feelings of significance, enjoyment, and mating opportunities, they think are through status. Let’s think about status as a byproduct of contributing value to your society, to the community. The way to do that, you were saying, is to take it to the highest levels, is to find something that you enjoy intrinsically, and then you’ll have the persistence and the tenacity to break through all of the different plateaus that would be there naturally, and to get that high level and that skill.
What if the thing that you choose to pursue, because you enjoy it? What if the thing that you intrinsically enjoy isn’t valued much by the community? So like, somebody who really loves Smurfs. That’s Gary Vaynerchuk’s example. Let’s say you really love playing checkers. That’s not really cool these days, but you really love it. What should that person be doing, you think?
Henry Chong: That’s the question. If you say, “I intrinsically love Smurfs, but I don’t want to pursue my Smurfdom” or whatever, because there’s not a lot of status in it, again, you’re pushing it from the wrong way. Now, you’re concerned more about the status than the intrinsic joy of the activity. If you say, “Look, I enjoy checkers.”
The honest truth is someone who is the best checker players in the world would never make as much money as the best hedge fund manager in the world, but that’s my path. That’s what I want to get good at. You can be the best checkers player in the world and have a lot of status in that world. And checkers players, the world over, will go, “Wow, he is the best.” And you will have a lot of status localized in that context and in that community.
But if you say, “You know what? I just want to gain status, I want to play checkers because I gain status”. To be honest, you’re probably not ever going to get very far. Anything in the world, to be the best in the world at is not easy. There are plenty of people out there who are professional checkers players, and it’s not easy like anything else. It takes a huge amount, not just time and dedication, but willing to suffer, quite frankly, all the not fun bits. I’m sure being a night club owner on the surface sounds appealing to many people, but it’s a lot of late nights.
I have lots of friends who run night clubs, and it’s not easy. It’s a pretty hard life: the drinking… I mean, it’s long hours like any job. And sometimes, it’s just a grind.
David Tian: That’s a great point. Let’s bring out value more, because that’s the thing you pointed out at the beginning. There’s intrinsic enjoyment of an activity. Let’s say blogging about Smurfs in the Smurf fan world. Gary Vaynerchuk’s example was like – in 2009, he gave this talk that was picked up by TED, and then it became viral. “If you love Smurfs, then Smurf it up.” And then a couple of years later, The Smurfs Movie came out and he made another video about how the top Smurfs blogs were getting some sponsorship money from I think Disney or whatever to promote the movie.
Their time had come. They could finally make money off this blog that no one paid any attention to, and suddenly they were cool again for a little while. That was his example. There is a way – You can think of some examples of people who became famous doing things that you would never have thought would been cool but got picked up because of the right way of marketing. Value is that way. If you are the world’s best chess player, but you only play in closed rooms with no recordings, and the only way you’d ever hear about them is through the newspaper, the score – because they didn’t allow anybody to record it, and they didn’t do any interviews or whatever.
Then they aren’t providing value to the society. You might be really good at something, but if you don’t provide value to others, you shouldn’t expect others to reward you for that. This is a reason why Conor McGregor, even though he’s marginally better or worse than GSP, ended up making a ton more money than the top fighters in the UFC, was because he understood marketing and branding really well. He was able to provide that extra entertainment value which was the disproportionate amount of the money is coming in through that to that world.
Now, he’s making boxing money because he was able to do that. And a lot of the fighters who are pure fighters, who never want to give interviews, they don’t want to talk to the media, they don’t want to play up their personalities, they just want to fight, are going to be getting the 50,000 to show or 50,000 to win or whatever it is when Conor McGregor is making 10 million in the UFC for a fight. Now, even 10x that.
There’s a separate move strategically, like in business, from being good at that skill to monetizing it. So, when you want to monetize then the marketing comes in. A big part of status and branding is your personal brand, your personal marketing of yourself: your presentation of yourself, how often you are in the minds of your market – and this is something I used to teach as part of night club game.
There are ways of keeping yourself in the minds of the people that you want to aim for, and there are ways of presenting yourself so that you are basically marketing and branding yourself in that context. That will take you to that next level to get the status. But if no one hears about you and you’re toiling away on your own, and you’re really good at the skill, and you have intrinsic enjoyment of it, but you’re not getting rewarded, the next thing to do is to think about marketing it: How do you present it so that it gives even more value to even more people?
And then you’ll get rewarded at some point. That’s the idea as far as making money off the thing that you really enjoy.
Henry Chong: This is also I mean by when you say ‘adding value’, you need to think long and hard about: adding what kind of value to who? Again, you need to take an unvarnished, no-bullshit look at what is it you do. Conor McGregor understands that a lot of the value he provides is entertainment value, moreso even than winning the fights. And because he understands that and he understands how to exploit it, he delivers a lot of value to people like me, who quite frankly are just armchair fans of the UFC and fighting. But we enjoy watching his fights.
A lot of times, people want to ascribe value judgments to what people do. But the question is, rather than worry about what people think, what do I intrinsically enjoy doing? What can I become one of the best in the world at doing, and how can I then deliver value to other people by doing this? You can be one of the best chess players in the world, and in lots of ways, as you say, of marketing and branding these days. You can start a Twitch channel, or a YouTube channel. You can teach people how to play chess, or you can just provide entertainment to the world by saying, “This is an example of chess being played at the very highest of levels.”
But whatever it is that you do, you do need those elements. It’s not enough to just say, “Yeah, I want to provide entertainment value to people” if I intrinsically don’t enjoy doing it, because then you’re never very good at it. There have been a lot of fighters who – Everyone knows that, right? As a fighter, you understand that you’ve got to sell your fights, but most people aren’t very good at it, and don’t enjoy doing it. And so, they just don’t actually provide the value.
Conor McGregor enjoys providing the entertainment as much as he enjoys fighting, and that’s why he has gotten quite good at it.
David Tian: Yes, and I think that’s his natural personality, which is this big, brash personality. He’s not actually taking any extra effort to act in a certain way. He’s just acting as himself and just showing up for interviews. Of course, showing up for interviews is a big deal when you have that many interviews, you put in the hustle. But it’s him. It’s him being – so far as we can tell, to keep up that level of media, he’s being himself.
Here’s just one piece of hope – I’ll give a little hope to the guys who are listening, from my world, or my former world, who are nerds, and they feel like the things that they intrinsically enjoy, and the value that they can provide to the society, is not enjoyed or valued by their target female market. The hot girls that they want to impress and all of that.
That’s why they had that switch, right? I started off as a Ph.D. student who was very geeky and had a very argumentative personality. I was a debater, and I loved to debate philosophy, and psychology. The nerds like me who had to go from something that the target audience didn’t like, into something that they did like, and to make that transition to enjoy it intrinsically, there’s a big switch there.
Now, looking back, I would say to people – because I coached guys to do that for over a decade. It’s really hard for the average person, or even for 80% of the people who attempt this, it’s really hard as an adult, to switch your interests from one extreme to the other, or that drastically. From geeking out over Plato and Aristotle to geeking out over Kanye West if you didn’t enjoy Kanye West music or Eminem before that.
One way to take that Gary Vaynerchuk point of the Smurfs. He said two years later, there was a Smurfs movie and they came calling, and you had better been ready with your blog from years back. Because if you suddenly jump on that bandwagon, no one is going to buy it and they’re not going to sponsor you. But if you’ve been blogging and became the number one Smurfs blog, they would’ve then gone to you for sponsorships and promotions because you’re already established.
Here’s the takeaway I give guys now: Pursue the things that you intrinsically enjoy, because even if you don’t become famous or rich off it, in the capitalist world, in the capitalist economy, you’ll be able to make enough to live. The original point that I had – I think it was Kahneman who did the research on the 75,000 a year. There’s a certain point at which it was 75,000 dollars a year. Beyond that, there was only a marginal increase in happiness, and then it leveled off.
If you can make 75,000, if you really hustle at the thing that you enjoy, or you can do that at night and then take a job – whatever. But if you’re spending your time doing something you intrinsically enjoy, even if you’re not monetarily rewarded for it, you’re still going to enjoy life. There are some things that maybe you won’t get like hot chicks or whatever, but you’re going to enjoy life. So, if you just sell your soul to get the hot chicks, you’re going to hate yourself later anyway, and the hot chicks thing is like eating a lot of ice cream, which just becomes old after a while.
But the point that Gary Vaynerchuk is making is: Maybe you will hit it big. Here’s an example. It became really cool, and people in their 20s won’t remember this, but older people will, it wasn’t cool to say that you were an entrepreneur. I’m 40 now, so when I was Henry’s age, that entrepreneur meant that you were unemployed: You didn’t have a job and you had no future. So, entrepreneur meant unemployed.
Now, it means something cool because there’s 20-something year-old Zuckerberg and people like him who wore a hoodie and became billionaires. Now, it’s like this whole startup culture which is really cool: wearing jeans to work, and all of that. That’s a pretty relatively new thing in human history. They made nerds cool. They made coding cool. They made that sub-culture cool. And maybe you will be that – probably not, but you’ll never know when the cultural shift will occur, so that the thing that you intrinsically enjoy will become cool.
In the mean time, you can learn marketing and branding to make it cool, to bring more value and to draw in a bigger audience for that thing that you enjoy. That’s something I’ve been really hammering home to my philosophy friends and my professor friends. That the reason you’re making only this much money from the university is because society, generally, in a capitalistic economy, only values your work that little. You teach two courses a term to a grand total of 30 students, that’s how much value you bring. In fact, you’re probably overpaid given the value that you’re bringing, and you write books that maybe 50 people in the whole world read, and articles that maybe 20 people read or less.
If you want to get rewarded more in a capitalist economy, bring more value to more people. That means you are going to have to – instead of being a purist about your work, you’re going to have to look for ways to bridge that divide. But in the mean time, maybe you can just bide your time until whatever it is that you do enjoy and are good at becomes cool. That might come along.
In the mean time, you’re going to really enjoy the time that you have in this Earth because you’re doing something you intrinsically enjoy.
Henry Chong: Exactly. And if you intrinsically enjoy something: If you get to wake up every day and do something that you love doing, what do you care if you get the fame or the status? If you actually think about it, what is the successful life? Isn’t it getting to do what you want to do when you want to do it with who you want to do it? And if you get to do that every day, who cares about the other stuff?
In fact, personally, I would much rather be successful and not famous at all. For a lot of people, famous is the negative thing that comes that is unavoidable because of your chosen profession. If you’re an actor, being successful and being famous go hand-in-hand. I’m willing to bet a lot of them would actually prefer if they could have one without the other, because fame comes with a lot of burdens. It’s not necessarily the easiest of lives.
Again, I personally would much rather do what I want to do and not have anyone notice. The problem, of course, is that, again, if you’re a philosophy professor for example and you do want to be adding value to a lot of people, then maybe it means that you need to figure out how to communicate what you teach in a way that is accessible to a whole lot of people.
You could easily be a philosophy professor, and if you have some niche area of philosophy that you make so interesting and so accessible to millions of people, and you have millions of views on your YouTube channel, that’s adding value. You probably will become famous and get a lot of status for doing it, whether you like it or not.
David Tian: Actually, professors are a great example, especially philosophers, of having status within the local community versus having status in the greater community. A lot of professors, especially young professors, feel they need to follow their senior professors. And the senior professors, especially in philosophy, really pride themselves on being understandable, like unapproachable.
Especially in America, Anglo-American philosophy should not be relevant to real life. Because if it were, it wouldn’t be philosophy. A lot of senior philosophers believe that. There was a time when they were enjoying status within the university community, and maybe broadly speaking, like you get a Kripke type – like a Princeton philosopher of language, for instance, who is very famous within the small world of philosophy, but no one outside that knows him and doesn’t really give a damn. And so, if your community shrinks, then you want status within that little community. But don’t be wondering why you’re not getting rewarded more by the outside community if you’re shafting them.
I was recently in North America. I was there for two months in the West. One thing I discovered was that when I dress the way I dressed in Thailand, ironically, which is still a developing country with my Hermes bracelet wearing that became a thing with my Tom Ford suit, and I have these Chrome Hearts, a ring and a necklace. That actually attracted the wrong type of person on the street.
I was approached over and over by beggars. Not beggars, it’s the wrong word but I kind of got picked on because I look like a good target for hand-outs or to be made felt guilty. I’m just walking down the wrong street, and there were a lot of wrong streets in New York, and even in Toronto, surprisingly. What I discovered is when I’m in the West, especially North America, I shouldn’t have status displays. In fact, it would be better to dress down a lot.
I’d walk around town in Converse, and just plain blue jeans, and a plain T-shirt, and then I wouldn’t get bothered. That was a weird thing, because when do you want to make it look like you have less status than you actually do? That’s an interesting question. When is it that you have so much status that you want to have lower status?
A celebrity, like you were mentioning, Henry, like an actor who wants to blend in and go watch a movie in an actual theater with the public would have to go in camouflage, with the hoodie and the whole thing, dressed down a lot. You see this in the paparazzi. They’re trying to avoid the paparazzi and sneak off to Starbucks and order a drink. They have to blend in.
I think it’s not that difficult for us to imagine how fame would be unpleasant to live with. Anyways, it’s a nice wake-up call to realizing when you have real status, often, you want to fake low status in order to weed out certain people. You don’t want to attract certain people, gold diggers, or people who are going to try to take advantage of you. The people who stick around are there for you really, for you as a person. So you look for people you can actually trust, so let me come back to your initial about trust and reciprocity.
Henry Chong: Not just that. A lot of people – you know the people who are truly high status because you can walk into a black-tie event wearing jeans and a hoodie like Mark Zuckerberg. If you can go meet the president wearing your iconic black T-shirt blue jeans outfit, ironically, that’s you displaying the highest of status when you say, “I can afford to take myself out of the game altogether.”
Maybe just one last story to end on that I think is just interesting is this old story about, once upon a time, there was this Mexican fisherman. He’s lying on the beach, and he’s playing his guitar. He’s sitting in his hammock by the ocean, and this young, newly minted Harvard MBA student comes over and says, “Hey, let me teach you about how to be successful.” A lot of people have probably heard of this story.
This fisherman says, “Okay, what should I do?” And this MBA says, “Well, you know, you need to be working longer hours, so you can go out and catch more fish. You get more fish means you get more money.” And the guy fisherman says, “Okay, what next?” And he says, “Once you catch more fish, you make more money, you can buy a second boat. You have a second boat, you hire someone to work for you, now you’re making even more money by catching even more fish.”
This goes on, and he gets a fleet of ships. The MBA says, “Now, you need to go up the production chain. You go into distribution, and marketing, and packaging, and canning, and then you move into retail so you’re selling your fish directly to the consumers. The guy says, “Oh, what then?” And he says, “Well, you can IPO your company. You can sell it. You can make millions of dollars.”
And then the fisherman says, “Okay, what’s next?” And he says, “Well then, you can retire and live a life of luxury lying on the beach with your hammock, playing the guitar, watching the ocean.” I’ve always liked the story, where a lot of people, after the whole circle, you come back to where you started. A lot of people chase status so that one day, you can just wander around wearing jeans and a T-shirt and no one will bother you.
I’ve always thought that quite interesting.
David Tian: Yeah, sounds right, man. I like that. Alright, we’ve gone over time. It’s always a joy talking to my main man, Henry Chong. This is David Tian, signing out. We’ll see you in the next podcast.
Henry Chong: Yup, take care everybody.
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