We all play games. We can choose the games but choosing not to play games itself is not an option. If you believe you are an exception, this simply means that you are not aware of the games you are playing.
Being aware of the games you’re playing always boosts your odds of 1) winning or 2) choosing better games. Today we’ll be discussing one of the most common and ensnaring forms of games in our culture.
People often say “I don’t care about money” and “I’m not doing it for the money”. We scrutinise people for the pursuit and flow of money toward them, but never status. Money games are normally contained within status games, and we should pay a lot more attention to how people are rewarded with status rather than money alone.
Status games are more subtle and more relevant to more people. Politicians, activists, authors, podcasters and donors are all examples of players who do not prioritise money but often find themself playing status games.
It is easy for individuals to play status games whilst deceiving themselves and others as to what their real ambitions are.
Money As A Tool In Status Games
Imagine you started from nothing and then became the richest person in the world. Everyone becomes aware of your wealth and interviews you all the time, writes books about you and seeks your advice. Everywhere you look you find praise.
But then next year you are overtaken – a Russian billionaire or Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur bursts onto the scene and steals the limelight. To reclaim your pedigree, you have to raise your income higher than it is now – you don’t need the money to buy anything, but you need it to reclaim your status.
We always question why big businessmen and wealthy families don’t just retire on a beach – in truth they don’t need more money to buy anything, but in their status game, their wealth is the building block on which their status is built. It is 1) the opinion they believe everyone has of them and 2) the image they build of themselves, wanting to feel successful.
This is why rich people are often generous donors to various charities and courses – rather than do direct work, they want to earn a lot (conveying wealth) and then have the pleasure of giving it away, which only reinforces their positive image further.
Other Ways Of Playing Status Games
There are other places we can peg our identity if money is not easily come by. If money is not the ladder we can climb, there are other status ladders…
The Morally Righteous Ladder
As Naval Ravikant points out, journalists and political activists often attack another group in society purely as a means of elevating themselves up the righteousness ladder. Veiled as ‘calling out the bad guys’ this is often just a subtle status game in operation, and the opportunity to be seen as a moral and ethical advocate in the eyes of the crowd.
Who do you know who climbs the righteousness ladder?
The Authority Ladder
Working for the UN doesn’t automatically make you a good person, no more than being a politician makes you a good person. You can be a referee for a weekend football game, run a charity, lead the local parents and teachers committee or be a pastor – all these positions give some form of authority.
How often will these people give up their power when it might be in the best interests of the whole? Just because they do not get paid well does not mean their pursuit is pure – often, as these individuals only have their authority and title, they cling to it even harder.
Who do you know who climbs the authority ladder?
The Eyeball Ladder
The ultimate ‘look-at-me’ of status games – from celebrities, influencers and content creators to those who need to be in the limelight. Their brains are wired to feel more secure the more eyeballs are on them. But this drug never lasts.
Remind you of anyone?
The Social Praise Ladder
The most devious – the volunteers who want to do the work they want to do, but not the work that is needed. The donors who don’t want their money to go to admin, but rather to feed a starving African child. The charities and NGO’s who want to grow their organisation more than they want to grow their impact.
Make you think of anyone?
Group Status Games – Raising Your Box
We each want our football team to come first and our political party to win the election. As the work of Henry Tajfel in social identity theory pointed out, it does not take much for us to start sticking up aggressively for one of our groups. In one of his studies, students were placed into groups based on their ability to count dots and still discriminated against other types of dot-counters!
In a world where most of us are limited by fear and insecurity, our status game strategy involves finding easier ways to play the game, often by association with a group that can win a status game. This way, we are protected from getting negative personal feedback, whilst we can outsource the playing of the game to others.
Think about that friend or irritable Uncle of yours who always has a political opinion and needs to disagree for the sake of disagreeing. Or the fan who is far too aggressive about football but has little other substance in their life.
Another common example are people who champion the importance of their job or industry; these people have invested a large part of their identity in their work, and need to protect this box so they can protect their image of themselves. It makes for a very inefficient economy, and smooths over the cracks of personal insecurity.
Where Does It Come From?
Our brain is run by a scared little dog called Astro, and Astro only cares about surviving long enough to pass on these genes: we are wired to make our best attempt at genetic success.
The higher our status the better our chances of attracting a better mating partner, and playing the game of natural selection. This is why we have an inbuilt bias towards status – the challenge is that playing status games for the sake of it exacerbates our egocentric tendencies. These are the unhealthy beliefs in our own importance.
You can trace most if not all social and personal problems to our egocentric tendencies. This is the foremost challenge in most of our lives – if we can relax on this need we can start playing status games as a means-to-an-end, and not an end in and of themselves. That is to say, we’d only develop our status so that we could do something greater than impress others.
Navigating Status Games
#1 Remember the Law of Ensuement. If the whole game you are playing is for status, you’ll ironically want it so badly that even if you win, the rewards won’t be sweet.
#2 Don’t let Status be the End Goal: Even if you start craving status of some form, it’s never too late to switch the primary goal of your game. It is not that status can’t be enjoyed, it is that it is hard to be enjoyed without compromise. You need more fulfilling rewards in your Bucket to keep you on track.
#3 If you’re aware that status is your primary drive, reflect and go back to the problem you want to solve or fun you want to have before you start the game.
To give a personal example, I’ve discussed a lot my adventure with From the Ground Up – nonprofit work that was focused in Nepal. A big part of my attraction to this work was to feel good about myself – that I was helping others. However this glow quickly faded away and I became more interested in solving the problem of job creation than how the work made me feel.
However, to follow tip #3, if I were doing this work again today I would begin focusing on the problem from day one, as I have more awareness this time of my incentives. It is by focusing on the problem that we become more effective and think outside ourselves, combatting our ego.