Used to be you could just drive a Lexus to let everyone know you were Important and Rich. Nowadays, status symbols aren’t about things themselves so much as the way you choose to live your life. It’s a relief for those of us who can’t afford a Tesla payment—but it means that status isn’t as easy to telegraph as it looks.
It’s not enough to just make a lot of money, or to buy Fabergé eggs with that dough — you have to show the extent to which you’re slaving away to earn top-tier cash instead of vacationing on the French Riviera. Over at The Guardian, writer Ben Tarnoff declares hard work the new status symbol of the day. “In the new Gilded Age, identifying oneself as a member of the ruling class doesn’t just require conspicuous consumption,” Tarnoff writes. “It requires conspicuous production.”
To make his case, Tarnoff cites a number of top CEOs who routinely boast about how many hours they log in the service of greatness: Apple CEO Tim Cook kicks his day off at the ungodly hour of 3:45 a.m.; Yahoo’s much-maligned CEO Marissa Mayer once worked 130 hour weeks. They don’t do this to eat or survive like the rest of us have to, Tarnoff notes; they work to engage in a “public display of productivity to symbolize class power.”
Maybe they hope to justify their gargantuan salaries by proving that they put in the time, literally, to get them. But the result is fetishizing something the rest of us have to do anyway, while nodding to the very American, super-misleading notion that anyone who simply works hard can have an embarrassment of riches. Problem is, you can work just as hard for $11 an hour — or even a better-paying salaried job that never lets you off the digital leash of email and Slack — and still never come out on top.
Burning out was once cool; now it’s sleeping in that’s the new measure of success, Penelope Green at The New York Times noted earlier this year. Sleep is now a major field of study, a space for Silicon Valley investors to gamble on, and “a skill to be cultivated and nourished,” Green writes. Important rich people like Martha Stewart (and obviously Tim Cook and Marissa Mayer) thrive on no sleep, but other important rich people like Jeff Bezos of Amazon take a sleeping bag to work, Green says. George W. Bush routinely logged nine hours a night. Workplaces are getting in on this game, too: Aetna gives any employee who can demonstrate they slept more than seven hours a night for 20 days straight (or more) a check for $500.
Green cites a crack team of researchers, scientists, engineers and investors all working on solutions, from gadgets to techniques — to help us all get those much-needed winks, too — if we can afford them. It will cost you, but maybe sleeping more will enable you to work hard enough to be richer.
It’s not enough to work really hard, for long hours, while also getting lots of restful sleep—you must also remark upon how “busy” you are, according to a piece earlier this year at The Atlantic. “In a curious reversal, the aspirational objects here are not some luxury goods — a nice watch or car, which are now mass-produced and more widely available than they used to be — but workers themselves, who by bragging about how busy they are can signal just how much the labor market values them and their skills,” Joe Pinsker writes of the phenomenon.
Again, the wealthy used to never have to work as much as commoners, because they were arguably smarter than the rest of us. But now, important people are very, very busy — always rushing from one meeting to the next, always being interrupted by an urgent call, but more importantly, always bragging about it. This one’s easiest for the layperson to pull off, though it could backfire if your boss or coworkers mistakenly think you have a time management problem and you lose your job.
It is not enough to eat that cronut; you must photograph it and post it on social media so everyone knows that you eat “well,” trendily, and often, at the most exclusive places, ideally during the soft-launch phase before anyone else could get in. Bonus points if you can demonstrate that you’re also a foodie — someone who eats only the most sustainable farm-to-table ethically produced items that also happen to look amazing in a bowl.
While it’s hard, and often confusing, to know how to best show the world you matter, we should be grateful that we’re told in advance how to convey classpiration correctly. If it all seems like too much, keep in mind that still just being rich will do the trick. After all, anything is a status symbol if a rich person does it. In other words, sleep, don’t sleep, buy things, don’t buy things, eat, don’t eat. If you have enough money, you can still do whatever the hell you want and command the respect we’re all chasing.