01 Jun 2023 The Pursuit of Life and Style
Earlier this week Amy and I watched an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt, becomes so obsessed with a 3-D art print that he can’t stop staring at it and nearly loses his mind. I can relate in two ways: First, I always had the hardest time finding the hidden pictures in 3D prints, and second, it’s so easy to get caught up staring—metaphorically speaking—that we forget to live the life that’s in front of us.
“Lifestyle.” It’s a fascinating compound word! As best I can tell, the first time someone squished “life” and “style” together was about 100 years ago, which would make sense: For most of human history, the overwhelming majority of humans could not have conceived of the idea of those two words meaning anything together. But as more people began to have their needs met and then some, beauty and style became more accessible in more personal ways. In 2023, “lifestyle” is not only ubiquitous, it’s paramount.
In my experience, the greater the difference between “means and needs”–our income vs. our expenses—the more “lifestyle” becomes “lifestyle.” The further we get from the forced boundaries of limited means, the further subjective moors of style and perception seem to drag us away from a grounded life. At the extremes this is how you get people like Elon Musk and Sam Bankman-Fried lighting billions of dollars on fire through self-sabotage or fraud, but closer to home it’s how you and I become house-rich and cash poor, or overly stressed in jobs we don’t like to support a lifestyle we feel trapped in, or generally discontent and remote from the present. It’s like we’re caught staring at a 3D art print, just hoping something will jump out at us.
But what if style came to mean something deeper than the aesthetic story we want our house, cars, and clothes to tell? After all, “style” comes from the Latin stilus, which was a tool for writing. What if our style was less dictated to us and more written by us, less a burdensome moving goalpost and more a gift that we give to the people around us? What if our style was hospitality, generosity, and sacrifice rather than power, connections, and appetite?
There are many, many things we can accomplish by planning and investing well. But if we do those things just so that we can more fully attain a lifestyle that is spoon-fed to us rather than one we write from our own convictions, then I’m not at all sure what the point is. I am sure that if we choose the latter, we will live well, and that’s what I want for our clients and ourselves.