Part of the duties of my current day job involves going to a bunch of lawyer conferences. As a result, I’m often surrounded by really successful lawyers. These are lawyers who have done pretty much everything right in their legal careers – top grades, good law schools, big-name law firms. One thing they all definitely have in common is a high level of prestige.
I have a weird relationship with prestige. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know that I followed a fairly traditional legal path to start off my career – I went to a good law school, was on my school’s law review, worked as a summer associate at a big law firm, and then went on to begin my legal career at one of the largest law firms in my state. Prestige was a big deal to me. And, I think I looked pretty prestigious.
It’s amazing how much things can change in just a few years. Today, I find myself in a decidedly unprestigious position. I’m at a small non-profit organization. I make way less money (like $70,000 less than I made at my peak). And, while I’m still an attorney and work in the legal field, I’m not even practicing law anymore. I definitely don’t get the “wows” that I used to get when people ask me what I do for a living. From a prestige perspective, I seem to be going backward.
A lot of this has to do with me just not caring about prestige all that much anymore. As I’ve learned more about financial independence and the things that are important to me, all of the traditional factors of success – the big house, the nice car, the good job and fancy title – just don’t matter all that much to me. Instead, I care about my dumb side hustles or side projects like this blog. Basically, things that aren’t prestigious at all. And really, let’s be honest, the dumb things that I do are the type of things that get laughed at by the people who are prestigious.
This blog obviously isn’t about chasing prestige. If anything, it’s about the opposite.
The Innate Urge To Chase Prestige
Wanting more prestige (and chasing after it) is something that I think a lot of us deal with at some point. It’s ingrained in us to want more, even if we think we don’t.
Lawyers especially get caught up in the whole prestige thing. We rank everything (law schools, law firms, judges, cities, etc), and as a result, we start ranking people. If you put the resumes of two lawyers on a table, you can usually say who’s the more “prestigious” lawyer. With all of this ranking going on, it’s not hard to want to make sure you’re ranked well too.
That’s not to say there’s something inherently wrong with chasing prestige. Going for more prestige often means more money, nicer things, admiration from other people, and of course, all of the other stuff we associate with a good life. If this stuff is important to you, then, of course, go out there and get it.
But I think prestige can often leave us feeling trapped. Just think about all the things chasing prestige makes us do:
- Work jobs we don’t really like;
- Deal with people we don’t really want to deal with;
- Work at all hours of the day;
- Live in super expensive neighborhoods or expensive cities that we might not need to live in;
- Buy things we don’t really need.
I don’t really need to deal with all of that stuff. That’s why I’ve chosen to do my best not to care about prestige at all! I live in a non-prestigious neighborhood. I work a non-prestigious job now. And I do all sorts of dumb side hustles that are definitely the opposite of prestigious.
But even though I say I don’t care about prestige, it’s still ingrained in me to want it. I really felt this at a recent conference I attended where I ran into a bunch of my old colleagues. Folks were moving on in their careers – moving up in the firms or going to good in-house positions at fancy companies. I couldn’t help but feel like they were looking down at me for my career trajectory. They were all doing great, I was seemingly doing not so great, and for the first time in a while, I felt a little bit bad about myself. The urge to chase prestige is in me, even if I tell myself I don’t care about it. It’s a constant battle.
How To Fight The Urge To Chase Prestige
I think prestige can trap you. Sure, it made me feel like I was better than other people, but looking back, I know it didn’t make me happier or more satisfied with my life. I don’t need all of that hassle. But that desire to be prestigious is still there, so I’m always actively doing things to make myself not care about prestige as much. Here’s what I do to fight this urge to chase prestige.
Surround Yourself With People Who Don’t Care About Prestige (Or At Least That Don’t Care About Your Prestige). One of the reasons lawyers (and law students) care so much about prestige is because the people around them care about those same things. It’s funny how prestige works – it only really exists if there are other people around to validate it.
If you surround yourself with people who don’t really care about that stuff, suddenly, the prestige you care so much about becomes much less valuable. A non-lawyer has no idea what the difference is between different law firms. I have no idea what the difference is between different residency programs for doctors. So, all of that prestige, around the right people, really means nothing. And if it means nothing, you stop chasing it.
If you can, expand yourself outside of your normal social circles. You’ll find that all of that stuff you think is so amazing really isn’t that big a deal to other people not in that world.
Humble Yourself. Part of the reason I do a lot of these dumb side hustles (hosting on Airbnb, delivering food on my bike, walking dogs, etc.) is that it helps me to stay humble. When you think about it, chasing prestige is based on that innate desire in all of us to show off just how awesome we are. When random people get impressed by you, you start to get that sense that maybe you’re better than everyone.
It’s hard to get a big head when you take the time to do low-level stuff like a normal person. That’s part of the reason why I do all of my side hustles. Besides the fact that I think they’re fun, they’re also a humbling experience. It’s hard to get a big head when I’m out on a bike delivering food to someone. Or walking a dog. Or doing countless other things that people like me don’t normally do.
Constantly Remind Yourself To Be Happy With Enough. I think so many people forget just how lucky they are. Even if you aren’t making a gazillion dollars a year, I bet you make more than you think. And you probably have a lot of stuff that other people could only dream to have. Make it a point to avoid looking at what you could have, and instead look at what you do have and how fortunate you are.
Prestige is out there. We all have that inner desire to get more of it. And in the process, we often trap ourselves in this endless cycle of doing things we might not want to do and that might not make us happy, just to get more prestige in our life.
Maybe, all of that prestige chasing isn’t all its cracked up to be. At least that’s what I’ve learned.