At the Delta gate for the night flight departing to Amsterdam from ATL, Big Man was irate.
“This is ridiculous!”—he bellowed in his distinct Nigerian Britico aka fake British accent. Big Man was short and stocky, with a pair of Einstein glasses perched on his nose above a full but nicely trimmed mustache, and a rotund belly pushing his expensive kaftan strenuously towards infinity and beyond that had the young kid standing across from him gawking in awe.
I sat watching from about thirty feet away from where the unperturbed gate agent was staring unblinkingly at Big Man.
“This is very highly and unequivocally unacceptable!! You are trying to tell me that I am not eligible for an upgrade to Business on this flight? Do you understand that I am a Gold? A whole Gold like me!” He beat his chest twice with his fist emphatically. “What is this nonsense, eh? My friend, do something about this o, because I will scatter this place if you keep trying me!”
The gate agent was unperturbed. Unbothered. “Sir, Delta does not give upgrades to our Skymiles Elite fliers on international flights. Business class upgrades must be purchased.”
Big Man’s face started shape shifting, ready to explode. Ok…here it comes—I said to myself.
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM!??”
I chuckled and put my earbuds back on…back to Phil Collins yelling about something in the air tonight. Clearly not Big Man in Business Class.
Respect. Recognition. Rewards. Status. A vicious virtuous cycle.
You know, I spent a great deal of my early career chasing status. I was a fast tracker at one of the top cable companies in the US, a designated golden child destined to become captain of industry. That unfolded and defunded relatively quickly. Yet, the pursuit was still in full effect, as in ‘Wile E. Coyote keep going at it’ full effect.
I moved to ATL and got right back into the chase. Get the SVP title, then get my own division, get the big promotion or job announced in Variety or Deadline magazine.
Please. Get what? That didn’t happen. At all. If there is an opposite of all that, that’s what happened.
I’ve come a long way. The last eight years of entrepreneurial battle in the arena, significant bouts of financial adversity, and mind-boggling professional shifts have completely defragmented my chase of status. Ah, I am still human o. Yes, I want Skymiles Elite status so I can at least avoid the sunken place of middle seats on a ten-hour flight. I just gave the young man at Hertz an icy retort when he doubted that I was President’s Circle. And that one time when the big company sent an S Class to pick me up at the airport was sweet as hell. Welcome to the Mandarin Oriental, Mr. Afulezi.
Do you know who I am?
But, as the book says, ego is the enemy. There is more evidence than less that status chases are fundamentally flawed as one’s position on the ladder is always relative to someone else’s, and so the chase always has to come at an expense that I am not quite sure we are clear what and how we actually pay.
I don’t know.
“This relentless chase for status (and the showboating of it) is a cancer that masquerades as success. It reinforces the worst incentive structures that humanity has ever thought of, and furthers the narrative of self-interest and groupthink to all those who thirst for it.” ~ More To That
As Big Man showed on his path to Amsterdam, status definitely leaves us wide open to being disrespected. Not as in, people don’t respect you. But more like that self-interest narrative of if your status doesn’t get acknowledged, and acknowledged proper proper, then you immediately assume you are being disrespected. Did you know that the reason Kanye West went all MAGA is because of that time President Obama called him a jackass? Prez O, you’re hanging with Jay and Bey, and you’re calling me a jackass? A genius like me? Imma let you finish but uh…hey yo, Don!
I met a young woman in Joburg who made it clear to me that she had to make Forbes Top 30 under 30, and was very gangster about it too. She was 28 at the time and you could tell her mission was clear and present: get on as many Top X of Ys as possible. Wait, so this is a thing, I asked? She nodded, showed me the receipts. In fact, the startup she was building had no real business model but was getting serious buzz enough to get her nominated for the list. Once she got that FT30u30 badge, then the next one was FT40u40. I looked to see whether the FT50u50 was something I could chase my way into.
The very terse and brief cease & desist Forbes letter ended that status chase path brutally, eh? My brothers and sisters.
The pursuit of status is fraught, my people. Again, to drop a More To That gem, status is always relational, so external validation is a prerequisite to feeling secure. But is that security real? Is external validation the proper barometer to do the work? Chewables for us to chew on, right there. Me? I am more inclined towards mastery these days as opposed to status.
As Big Man steamed in his middle seat in defunded Economy while I luxuriated in my aisle seat three rows behind him, Tina Turner growled seductively in my ear(buds):
“If you could see me now.”
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