Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sharper Stones (Tim)

What’s the point of a luxury yacht? You might think that it’s for traveling to exotic locations in grand style and enjoying all the excitement and gratuitous pleasure that money can buy. Nope. A six-year study by a British academic has found that the super rich mostly just moor their yachts in the sort of places like Cannes or Monaco where they are conspicuously available to be ogled and envied. Apparently the main motivation for making these super-yachts ever bigger and more ostentatious is not for the sake of luxury or convenience out on the high seas, but simply to compete with the yacht in the next berth in Saint-Tropez.

I recently had a reunion with some of my old school friends in London. Now that we’re all in our early forties, we’ve had plenty of time to develop our lives, our careers and our investment portfolios. This is something that my friends have done with relish. They’re all very successful in their respective fields: a computer programmer, a vascular surgeon and a something to do with logistics. They have all been sensible with their money and all own lovely homes and flash cars, and undoubtedly have sensible retirement plans. Maybe I missed the starting gun, but I’m still just an English teacher living in a small rented flat full of cheap furniture, and I don’t really have any assets at all.

Tim(e) in London

Usually, I’m pretty content with what I have because I tend to live for experience more than material wealth. But, just as I expected, when it came time to meet face-to-face with my old mates as a group, I was intimidated by their tangible success. It made me feel slightly inadequate that I hadn’t acquired any of their status, or status symbols. This is a bit embarrassing to admit because shunning materialism and status symbols has always been a core value of mine. Nonetheless, these things have a powerful ability to make a person question the course that his life has taken.

But in the middle of our reunion braai, the old friend who is perhaps the most successful of all suddenly got a faraway look in his eye and said with unexpected gravity, “Isn’t it strange how we’ve all followed such different paths?” And suddenly I knew that the envy goes both ways. As much as I may envy their more tangible success, there are times when they envy my lifestyle. I’m no poster boy for the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, but I do retain a certain mobility that I’m quite proud of – fifteen years an expat, having visited almost twenty countries, living in my third foreign country and learning my second foreign language. Ironically, it might be my lack of material entrapments that is my most enviable quality.

It’s always been human nature to look at the caveman in the next cave and admire his extra sharp stone tools. It seems likely that this instinct is an engine of human progress, spurring us on to bigger and better projects that have ultimately benefited the whole human race. Nonetheless, there are times when we have to recognise this feeling for what it is, and not let it deprive us of the joy and satisfaction we already possess.

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