Wednesday, April 1, 2009

When Your Trappings Trap You

I just read a great article about why CEOs do what they do, and in essence, it's a much more sophisticated explanation than the one I gave in my previous post, in that it gives a detailed description of the typical personality style of a CEO: Why Do CEOs Do Such Stupid Things? It's Their Nature.

This paragraph was spot-on:

People high in power motivation have certain characteristics that go along with their need to have an impact. They are competitive with others and assertive in their interactions. They need to be top dog. They crave prestige. Thus, they value corner offices, keys to the executive washroom or even private bathrooms, exclusive country clubs, chauffer driven cars, private jets, and well-appointed offices. They own high performance cars, wear expensive suits, and have their initials monogrammed onto their shirt cuffs. The more such prestige items, the better. Consider the impact of walking into a spacious, corner office with a magnificent view. Although such an office has no bearing on the quality of work done in it, it screams importance and prestige. This is just what the high power personality lives for. Bonuses are important because they bestow immediate prestige. They show how important you are and how much more important you are than your fellows. They are better than high salaries because they can be repeated every year.

The word "trappings" popped into my brain. These people attach themselves, and their worth, to the trappings of wealth, prestige and power. But in a very clear way, they become trapped. Once you get trappings, there's no go-backings.

I've flown around in a private jet for two of my jobs, rode in limos for one of them, stayed in $400-$1000 a night rooms. The spaciousness, the softness of the bed and pillows, the subtle perfumed smell, the quiet of those expensive rooms were very nice. But the other amenities - the fluffy robe and slippers, the shampoos and creams, the evening turn-down and mint on my pillow? Couldn't care less.

I've eaten in restaurants where the final bill for 5 people was $5000. I've watched executives choose one bottle of wine from Miami's famous Forge restaurant wine list that cost hundreds of dollars. One bottle. When it was opened, and we all took a sip, I remember thinking that there was no sip, no lingering taste, that could be worth that much money. And I'm no slouch when it comes to wine. I know the difference between plonk and the good stuff. But, it's still not worth that much money. It's a glimmer of pleasure, an instant of tannin sizzling on my tongue, and depositing little fuzzy sweaters on my teeth. And then it's gone, down the gullet, to be subjected to sharing the same gurgling space as that $50 steak and a few limp green beans, only to be processed during the night, by inelegant acids until it leaves my body in a non-dignified way.

I'd rather buy a book, or 42, with that wine money. At least what I learn from it will be lasting, and bring me closer, through the magic of knowledge, with other people and places. I thought it was wasteful to fly in private jets and ride in limos and stay in ultra-expensive hotels when I was working at those high-flying glamor jobs. I guess I'm a freak of nature. Or perhaps, I am not high... in power motivation.

Admitting that I have no power motivation has in the past, and would in the future, screw me politically in corporate America. I'd be dead meat. You have to at least pretend that that shit means something. That you are eager to do whatever it takes to climb that fucking ladder. You know why? Because the entire egos, the entire self worth, of those executives who have all those trappings of power, demand that you value and acknowledge, and most importantly, envy and desire them, and their trappings.

I am so happy I am not there anymore. I feel as free as a bird. Really.

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