Minimalism, Success, and How to Be a Big Shot

Today’s podcast might seem like a “soft” topic, but it also ties tightly to serious pragmatism about how to reach your goals — and more to the point, what reaching your goals is going to do for you.

Everyone wants a little more success, and everyone has goals they’re aiming for, but the quality of your life can be greatly influenced by the kinds of goals you chase.

In this 17-minute episode, I talk about:

  • What I think drives the quest for stuff
  • Two problems with minimalism
  • Why it’s ok (and even valuable) to want to feel like a big shot
  • The weird key to making the most of life’s pleasures
  • Why shame and guilt don’t work to make us better

The Show Notes

  • Martin Seligman’s book on the science behind Authentic Happiness — with lots more details about moderation and the hedonic treadmill, and the role goal-setting plays in our happiness
  • Marie Kondo’s funny little book about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is probably “minimalism lite,” but it’s an easy and fun way to start paring your possessions down to what really brings you joy.
  • An interesting and snarky post from GoKaleo on Why body shaming doesn’t work to help people lose weight or get healthy

Minimalism, Success, and How to Be a Big Shot

Sonia: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.

I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

Sometimes I’m very pragmatic and sometimes I’m more glittery-sparkly — today is going to be more philosophical, about the so-called “soft” stuff, but it ties back very tightly to serious pragmatism about how to reach your goals, but more to the point, what reaching your goals is going to do for you.

And next week, I’m going to be talking to my friend JB, who has a nifty motivational podcast, about what success really means and what it doesn’t mean, because getting that wrong can actually result in some horrible and tragic outcomes.

The quest for status

I’m going to try and talk about things that everyone talks about, but that just don’t resonate. We’ve all heard ten thousand times that more stuff isn’t going to make us happy.

And we think, “Absolutely, I’m not dumb like all those other people who only care about possessions.”

And then if you’re me, you spend literally hours watching something like Saddleback videos about their bags — because they truly are gorgeous — or you browse online stores as recreation, or you go to physical stores as recreation, because around the corner is always one more awesome thing that will make you feel better.

So I’m curious about what this “better” is — and it’s probably complicated in our consumerist culture, since there’s so much advertising telling us that we’re one purchase away from whiter teeth, a better smelling body, and vastly more sex appeal.

My hypothesis is that the magic quality that we’re trying to acquire by buying stuff is status. Feeling important. Feeling like a big shot, in fact.

Nearly no one ever admits to being motivated by status. It’s embarrassing. And especially in the U.S., it’s downright antisocial. We’re not supposed to want to feel better than other people — that’s undemocratic.

But we do want to. And we do in fact feel superior to other people — five seconds on Facebook will show you that. And our stuff, our possessions, signal that sense of superiority.

We’re better because we have cooler stuff.

The desire for status isn’t good and it isn’t bad, it’s just baked in to the social mammals that we are. The desire to feel like big shots can lead to cool things, like supporting incredible art, or building gorgeous buildings for people to enjoy, or contributing to charity. Those things happen because it made someone feel important to support them.

Trying not to want status is like trying never to get angry. Good luck with that.

But something you can do is notice when that feeling arises, observe it, be calm about it, and then try to make an informed decision about the wisest way to act on it.

The two problems with minimalism

I’m fascinated by minimalism, maybe because I’m a total maximalist. I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat, I like to have all of my stuff where I can see it, little bits and pieces. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, and I have little mementos all around me. And there are other experiences I like to remember with stuff, like being a parent, or hanging out with my awesome friends in my mastermind.

I’ve watched or read a lot of minimalist messages, but I think minimalism as a movement has two problems.

One, it feels really holier-than-thou. Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche invented the term “spiritual materialism” — the sense that your spiritual journey can be just another signal to show how high-status you are. We’ve all seen it. People compete over how much stuff they can get rid of, a giant game of I Am The Most Enlightened.

That creates a certain show-offy extremism. You get videos about living off of 12 items including your toothbrush. Which leads to my other problem with materialism — it looks joyless. It looks like a new puritanism. Be ashamed of your stuff, give it away, repent, suffer but you’ll be happier some day.

It’s like Breathatarians, who claim that if you’re enlightened enough, you can live on nothing but air. Spoiler alert: No you can’t, you will die. Or much more probably, you will secretly eat.

I don’t think minimalism is the problem, I think it’s just hard to talk about without coming across as a sanctimonious ass. But if it entices you, I’d encourage you to pursue it — just realize that you’re pursuing your own definition of minimalism, not competing in a contest to see how few items of clothing you’re allowed to have.

It’s okay to want to feel like a big shot

I think it’s important for us to embrace the desire to feel important. It matters to me — and the converse is, if someone dismisses me and makes me feel like they don’t think I matter, I react disproportionately angrily. The most awful thing we do to each other, imo, is to define other people as less than human. To make some kinds of people not matter. That’s where most of the horrors of the world come from.

The tricky part is, there is no thing that will get you there. I have a nice (used) car and a nice (small) house and two nice Saddleback leather bags, and none of them makes me feel like a big shot.

They do bring me pleasure, they bring comfort and beauty. They’re not bad. I’m not wrong to own them. But if I look to them to satisfy that itch for status, I’ll keep buying more and more stuff until I choke. And a lot of us do get caught up in that.

The weird key to making the most of life’s pleasures

So what does work for “feeling like a big shot”?

Helping people. It’s ok, you can roll your eyes.

But when I give money to a charity that can leverage it to make a real, sustainable difference somewhere, I feel important. I feel like I’m contributing something to my planet. I feel like I matter. And that feeling is sustainable.

If I donate resources to building something in my community — this could be a Habitat for Humanity house, or donating a great collection to the library, or even growing a garden that makes my street more beautiful — I feel like a big shot. And it’s sustainable.

Pretty things, or tasty things, or luxurious experiences can give pleasure. And pleasure is good! But life lived only for pleasure gets hollowed out. Moderation keeps those pleasures enjoyable — it keeps us from taking them for granted on what’s called the hedonic treadmill, our tendency to just adapt to pleasure until we’re completely bored.

Contribution is what enduringly makes us feel like big shots — or to put it another way, makes us feel like we’re valued and we have purpose.

Anything that helps out your fellow humans is contribution. You don’t have to go to Africa and dig wells, although if that turns you on, you should go do it, because it will light you up like crazy.

Don’t let yourself get clenched up because you’re doing it to feel better about yourself. Of course you are. So is everyone else who does it. If it’s good enough for Mother Teresa it’s good enough for you.

Avoid shame

And as a counter to that, try to get shame out of your life.

If you’re doing something that’s harmful to others, stop doing it. The shame and guilt are too toxic to be outweighed by any benefit.

If you feel guilty or ashamed because you don’t measure up to some arbitrary mark, it’s not doing you any good. For example, the more “guilty” you feel about what you eat, the less healthy you tend to be. If you aren’t snatching food out of the mouths of starving people, there is no earthly reason to feel guilty about what you eat.

And if you’re doing something for pleasure, that’s ok! We mammals like pleasure. It’s a good thing. But think about how to be moderate in your pleasures so you can really squeeze all the goodness out of them. We all think we want to eat a whole chocolate cake every day, or get a massage every day, or be on vacation in a tropical paradise every day. But that’s boring. Moderation is what makes pleasure exciting.

And if you’re doing something to help others, quit kicking yourself for feeling like that makes you important. Guess what: You are important. Helping each other is the only way we’re going to make tomorrow better than today. The Gates Foundation won’t do it, Charity Water won’t do it, Pope Francis won’t do it, at least not all by themselves. We do it by working together to give each other a hand. It feels good, it will make you feel successful.

Don’t be afraid to be “selfish” about doing good to make yourself feel good.

That’s it, big shots, another episode of Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. My most favorite thing is to get comments, you can leave one by going to and dropping me a note there. It’s also super beneficial to me when you leave star ratings or reviews on iTunes, it helps me get my stuff in front of more people, so a big sloppy kiss and thank you for the many of you who have done that.