Illusions and Reality

An old friend of mine that I’ll call David has this amazing gift for talking to people of all stripes. I’ve seen him talk comfortably with a United States congressperson, a research scientist, an orchestra director, a janitor, and an unemployed person all within a few days of each other and build a quick rapport with each of them.

He achieves that rapport by doing a few things over and over again until they’re completely natural to him. He is never shy about talking to anyone. He starts off every conversation by asking two or three questions about the other person, putting them at ease and getting them to talk about themselves. He focuses on finding something positive in their situation – and when he finds it, it brings a big smile to his face.

The amazing thing about David is that he doesn’t achieve their respect by looking like he’s well-off or well-established. In fact, you’ll often see him in a well-worn sweatshirt, worn baseball cap, and blue jeans. He drives a fifteen year old pickup with some significant rust on the bottom.

One time, David and I discussed this, and he said (I’m paraphrasing from memory here), “People dress up and drive expensive cars to impress or intimidate others or to feel better about themselves. I don’t want to impress or intimidate others and I feel best when I’m just wearing something comfortable.”

David has a bunch of money in the bank and the ability to greet congresspeople by name. Do you?

Whenever I’m out and about, taking my kids to preschool or running some errand, I’ll see a wide variety of people. I see some people driving shiny new cars and others driving rusty old cars. I see some people dressed to the nines and others wearing raggedy old clothes. I see some people smiling and friendly, while others are glaring and surly.

Guess which one of those factors has the greatest impact when I make my mind up about someone? It’s not the cars. It’s not the clothes.

It’s the person.

There was a time in my life where the circle of people I hung out with appeared to be affluent. They dressed well. They drove nice cars. They had lots of gadgets.

Yet, most of them spent an awful lot of their time trapped in negativity. They would ridicule anyone not dressed well or anyone that didn’t match some very narrow picture of what they viewed as successful.

David, quite simply, would not have fit into that group at all.

Over time, I came to realize that it was people like David that were the successful ones, not the people in that group. Many of them were in debt up to their eyeballs. Most of them were having trouble moving forward on their career track and would often completely fall apart at the slightest setback in their lives.

Simply put, they didn’t have the money in the bank to sustain them, the connections to people that they could call upon, or the personal attributes that would make it possible for them to get back up on their own two feet.

My initial perspective was dead wrong. The people who appeared affluent weren’t really affluent at all. The people who didn’t appear affluent actually were.

What I came to find is that the initial appearance of a person often has little connection to their actual success in life, when by success I mean the goals they’ve achieved, the security they’ve earned, and the relationships they have with other people.

Usually, what I’ve found is that genuinely rich people appear in whatever way they feel the most comfortable, while people who aren’t truly affluent appear in whatever way they think others expect them to appear. This covers everything from clothes and haircut and automobile to personality and attitude. Sometimes, successful people dress well, while others dress extremely casually. The same is true for people who seem to be avoiding true success.

The next time you feel intimidated by someone you’d love to know or by some other social or professional situation, ask yourself what you would change about the situation to maximize your comfort. Would you feel better if you were wearing different clothes? If you drove a different car? If you had a good night’s sleep last night? If you were freshly bathed?

For example, I usually feel best shortly after a shower in a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt, for example, preferably after about seven hours of sleep. I’m much more likely to smile at others and strike up a conversation with them if these elements are true, not because of how it makes them feel, but because I’m in the right mindset.

Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Instead, focus on putting you in the right mindset and you’ll go a lot further.

Warren Buffett is often seen wearing cheap suits.

Bill Gates looks most comfortable in a well-worn sweater.

The appearance of affluence has little to do with true success. People do.