Status Anxiety is a non-fiction book written by a prominent author, Alain de Botton. This is a self-help book, and its topic revolves around the worrying human factor, also known as anxiety. The author illustrates different aspects of status, explains where it comes from, and focuses on the social factor in developing success. De Botton ties the anxiety aspect that becomes a result of a desire for achieving higher means of status. The other important element of anxiety discussed in the book is the status of an individual and how it affects mental well-being. Therefore, the author emphasizes the causes of status anxiety and explores the nature of status through multiple factors.
To begin exploring the narrative of status anxiety, it becomes essential first to examine the author’s meaning of status itself. De Botton explains the importance of status as a person’s position in society or where the person “stands” in life (7). It is defined by the community where the person resides and can differ from one to another. Throughout history, high status has been awarded to different categories of people deemed more or less successful. For instance, when examining traditional society, it becomes clear that the vital factor of success was the ability to fight and hunt; therefore, those categories of people were regarded as more successful. Thus, according to the author, success is based on people’s abilities. However, there’s an opposite opinion presented by the author of Outliers: The Story Of Success, Malcolm Gladwell. He argues that the true story of success comes from a person’s surroundings as they influence the means of success no less than the abilities do. Overall, the idea of De Botton is not shared by Gladwell, and there are two opposing opinions present on the matter.
Status anxiety as a concept presented by De Botton is a significant issue that may lead to other problems if not addressed accordingly. De Botton defines status anxiety as a “fear to fail to conform to the ideals of success laid down by society” (8). It may be provoked by social elements of pressure, such as redundancy, retirement, and the tremendous success of others that do not seem to be easily achieved. According to the author, this kind of anxiety may lead to sorrow, yet may have its positive uses, like encouraging excellence; for instance, it can also be harmful. There is a need to reevaluate success by speaking about it (De Botton, 14). However, Gladwell argues that as the concept of status is fluid and can be achieved through different paths, success is not an issue worthy of attention in the same way as other issues. Therefore, the question of anxiety provoked by status is viewed differently by two authors and is worthy of further exploration.
The concept of success and the meaning of status are explored deeply by Alain de Botton, and therefore the significance of status reception is debated. For instance, history shows that the individual’s prominence is only limited to when they are alive. De Botton emphasizes that pretending to be more successful can lead a person nowhere, as every person is equally unsuccessful at the end (25). In addition, the solemnity of success is questionable, as it can come into a person’s life without efforts being made. Gladwell, however, examines success as a concept, irrespective of personal struggles. He, in his book, explores the phenomenon that the USA has undergone at the beginning of the 20th century. According to Gladwell, the Americans born after the Depression were nearly more successful than those born in 1910, right when the Depression was at its peak (132). Therefore, as explored by two prominent authors, the status meaning and reception does not always come from the effort, and its purpose is not eternal.
Love is an aspect leading to the desire for status, which De Botton brings up in his book. The author claims that people start seeking love and appreciation after gaining all the necessities and achieving a higher status. The lack of success is closely related to being unnecessary, not being good enough, and not being loved. The appreciation and sense of self-worth are linked to honor culture, which Gladwell explores in his book. He explores the honor of Scottish and Irish immigrants who had a strong sense of belonging to a certain family that they loved and were ready to participate in fierce conflicts to defend their worth (Gladwell, 165). This is implied through culture, which comes from the typical values passed down from older generations. Therefore, the authors regarded love as an aspect of success as a significant and influential one.
In exploring status as a whole, it is vital to acknowledge people’s expectations regarding success. In Status Anxiety, the author examines the narrative of inequality present in the past that differentiated people into different categories. Some people were supposed to work in hard labor, while others indulged the luxuries available. Such practice was commonly perceived as a standard classification, as differentiating people came from legacy transmitted from one generation to another. In the present time, this structure has changed, as with the consumer revolution, the goods became available to the majority of people, improving the standards of living. However, a more significant toll was taken on people’s mental health, as greater expectations were raised on people of different backgrounds. Gladwell has an opposing opinion on the matter, claiming that the cultural legacies and other locations are still acknowledged in the present time. The school existing in New York City has proven its success due to specific recommendations to students of different social backgrounds (Gladwell, 255). Therefore, the expectations from people also matter in the understanding of success.
The ambition aspect of achievement of higher status is also broadly explored by the author. It is apparent that the consumer revolution that the author refers to in the book has created a notion that every person of every background can achieve higher means of success provided that the individual will work hard upon reaching the goal. However, this idea is criticized by De Botton as he proceeds to reflect on the problem. According to Alain De Botton, this idea is barely reachable, and although popular among people striving for success, it is proven by experience to be unlikely (43). What people own initially influences to what extent they can achieve the desirable, and if the success is not achieved, it leads people to sorrow and to feel humiliation. However, Gladwell exemplifies the “10000 hours rule” in his book. As explored by the author, the study done in Berlin’s Academy of Music proved that those who spend more time practicing playing musical instruments proved to be more successful than those who consumed less. Therefore, the ambition aspect explored by both authors has them arriving at opposing views regarding the issue.
The material belongings as a part of what success is measured are also an essential element worthy of exploration. De Botton exemplifies the result of the consumer revolution as the continuous strive for obtaining more material goods. As the production increased and people gained access to more than they had previously, the feeling of not having enough has surfaced. In contrast, Gladwell exemplifies the story of Joe Flom as a person who valued hard work and knew the means of consumption. The meaningful work that Joe Flom had become accustomed to has become a reason for him to respect what has been achieved, and the desire for the unreachable more has been minimized. Therefore, the materialistic approach explored by De Botton and Gladwell has also contributed to the forming of an understanding of success.
In conclusion, De Botton explores the status and its causes and results in his book, Status Anxiety. The strive for acknowledgment, gaining more material belongings, and expectations imposed by others are the core aspects of status regarded by the author. It becomes clear to the reader that anxiety as a cause for status desire is an issue that is worthy of addressing. The status factors that De Botton states have opposing views that the author of Outliers: The Story Of Success, Malcolm Gladwell, presents. The opinions discussed by the two authors may be contradictory; however, exploring the narrative presented by the two authors may lead to a better understanding of status as a concept.
De Botton, Alain. Status Anxiety. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Penguin Books Limited, 2013.