Has the ‘you can have it all’ culture collapsed?
Marketers have done a masterful job these past 50 years with the you can have it all mantra. How many of you, like me, bought stuff – marketing stuff, toys, baubles – because you could? And then never used it?
Just today, one 73-year old retired nurse from Texas told how she cut back on shopping after a recent mission trip to Nicaragua. That trip, according to the New York Times,
“made me realize that ‘we don’t need half of what we’ve got.’ Over the past few months, Ms. Koricanek has started purging her closets and baking bread from scratch, partly because it tastes better, she said, partly to become more independent.”
“People years ago were more self-reliant and were more able to take hold of the reins and do things themselves. I think we need to get back some of those basics.” See here. And here, PDF in case.
The relentless promotion of the you can have it all culture is driven by marketers and advertisers. That’s how they get us to buy their stuff, whether we need it or not. They excel at getting us to buy MORE than we need. It’s why one 25-year old investment banker “studied how stores organize displays to make people buy more than they need.”
“That awareness has saved me a lot of money,” she said. “Now I am having fun working on projects around my house, even if it is just pulling weeds or taking my dog, Amos, for a long walk.”
Slick marketers. Arousers of desire and craving. For much more than we need. They hold up others ‘just like us’ who already (seem to) ‘have it all.’ Why not you, they ask? (Just buy this…)
Over two thousand years ago, Seneca described how vulnerable we humans are to this:
“Much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed: the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly; the neighbor, if he be rich, rouses our covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What do you think the effect will be on character, when the world at large assaults it!”
At the time of Christ when Seneca lived, advertising had not yet become the dominating force of human culture. You can have it all marketing has been, in the US at least, the national mantra.
And it’s worked. We’ve all bought into the dream. A very few ‘have it all’, yes. But most of us have become enslaved for the rest of our lives – to pay for what we bought as we fell for the you can have it all sales pitch. Remember the “I’m worth it” campaign? Kaa-ching!
But do you really need it all? Do you really need their thing to feel self worth? Anyway, the New York Times reported this today:
Given the recession that seems to be growing (one in eight people in the USA are on Food Stamps! PDF in case), most folks are withdrawing from the buying habit that once seemed so fun. Even teenagers are learning to cut back, do with less and learn value. They’re doing stuff – hobbies and hiking – instead of buying, to get their enjoyment. See here. (PDF here in case)
So what does this all have to do with us as marketers?
1. As a consumer, whether money is tight or not, I have learned a new mantra:
“I don’t need it all.”
Helps me stay in control when the you can have it all marketers entice me with their latest, greatest thing that’s ‘bound’ to make me rich or you-name-it.
2. As a marketer, I want to make a living, and a good one. That desire is tied to making other people’s lives better – by filling a real need. Not by using cheap arousal tricks (it’s easy, this guy made $550/day in 12 days, you can too, etc.) but to fill a real need. And to state clearly what needs to be done by the person to help fill their need with my product or service. (Example next post.)
I like the idea of a parallel culture whose mantra is “I don’t need it all.” You?
And to keep myself committed to that ideal – so different from the dominant culture around us – Seneca counsels:
“Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better person of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.”
I hope some of you will join me in this personal transformation.
P.S. “Withdraw into yourself” doesn’t mean you don’t participate in the culture. It means, you go inside to recall and strengthen your resolve to live your own values, before you go out into the dominant culture.
Thanks for this post. My Dad was a depression baby. He had a really hard time due to the times, his father was never home, and his mother worked hard. He bought into the dream, became a lawyer and achieved a lot. He got it all, but was never really happy.
He was always preaching to me about lack, but he was obsessed with having it all. I learned that having it all was what it was all about. I've had it…and I've lost it many times. Now I don't have it…and I don't care. I have more than enough and I am happy. Times are tough, and there is a challenge in that…it's almost refreshing…the hype gets sickening…the stuff for stuffs sake is really boring.
Great article…this is a niche that needs to be explored…keep it up!
For years I've learned to find wonder and beauty in simple life experiences. While I want the big money because of the experiences it can provide, I've seen too many life failures due to chasing the dollars to the exclusion of good relationships and healthy lifestyles. It has never seemed to me to be worth it. I do what I do because it is worthwhile, and I strive to be balanced in my body, mind and spirit. If my work didn't contribute to that balance, I would do something else.
Kim, great stuff. This really cuts to it. We get more of what we focus on. If we spend our time wanting, then that's what we get more of – wanting. I'm doing my best to focus more gratitude on the people and things around me.
A very thoughtful post. Thanks.
Great, Thoughtful Post!
My grandparents use to always say,,
"Folks need to deterine the DIFFERENCE between their WANTS & Their NEEDS."
Seems in reflection as a 54 year young man I am just now(in the past couple of years) 'getting this.' 🙂
We both must have picked up the same vibration. I cannot write it as well as you, nor can I draw in all the wonderful substantiating sidelines like you do, but my inner man has been locking onto the same mantra, "I don't need it all."
I was once taught that without pressure, nothing grows. I am enduring some pain and pressure to instigate my new mantra, but have already noticed that the end results will more than justify the transition. My change in direction will make some happy and some angry. They cannot live my life for me, nor should I be living my life just to please them. Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourself. If we are constantly beating ourselves up with over desires and self imposed have-to's, then we won't be loving ourselves and thus a very poor neighbor to those around us.
Thanks for a great post K2.
Wishing You Plenty To Live,