The girl with the purse or how a secretary who flashed her assets didn’t have enough money to go on holiday.
A few years ago while still working in banking a secretary from another department came into the office for a little chat with a colleague sitting at an adjacent desk. A good-looking twenty something, a part-time model who was once featured in GQ and who’s full-time job was personal assistant to the head of the derivates team. Let’s call her Jen.
Emotions in the office
I paid little attention to my surroundings as I was staring at my screen crunching numbers when I overheard Jen telling our secretary Kath (not her real name either) that she had bought a new luxury handbag. I quickly looked up, but with little interest in the conversation and much to do I turned my attention back to work. Around five minutes later a sigh and slight crying noise traveled from the Kath's desk. As I glimpsed over I saw Jen in tears. Assumingly a failed love affair or did she lose her job? Her friend cared for her and the two left the room.
As the day progressed I forgot about the incident until I ran into Kath a few hours later while buying some coffee. As we stood there at one of the elevated cafe tables, Kath, half-way through our conversation, said:
“You know Jen cried because of you?”
“I noticed her crying, but why would that be,” I inquired.
“Because you didn’t pay any attention to her.”
“What do you mean, was I supposed to pay attention to her?”
“Yes, she wanted you to hear about all her efforts.”
At this point I was similarly flabbergasted as I was intrigued; what reason would I have given Jen to care about whether I listen to her personal stories? Wouldn't it be rather impolite to eavesdrop?
The girl with the purse
If I had known how important confirmation of her purse was to Jen, I would have at least smiled at her once, but for all I care it is merely an item to store perfume, makeup, a cell phone, money, and whatever else a woman might need. For Jen it was more. Kath told me that she had gone on a shopping spree buying a new purse, shoes, and a skirt to spend the weekend in some of the poshest clubs in town. If that is your thing, then gratifying that urge should make you rather happy, don't you agree?
“So what’s the issue and even more important how does that relate to me,” I asked Kath.
“Jen spends all her disposable income on luxury items and expensive bars and clubs,” she replied.
Let me quickly pause here to put this into context for you: A secretary in our bank made somewhere in the region of 3,000 to 5,000 Euros per month at Jen’s level before tax. Even after rent and other fixed costs that would have left a single professional with maybe one to three thousand Euros in disposable income. Sounds like a lot to just spend on handbags and going clubbing. But if this is what makes one happy, then ever so good for her.
“You know, she isn’t too happy at the moment, as she has not been on holiday for a couple of years.”
“How come,” I followed up.
“Because all her money goes on towards her retail and nightlife activities.”
“Then why does she do it?”
“Well,” Kath explained, “she feels that in order to keep up it’s necessary to spend her money on that luxury lifestyle.”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand enjoying a luxury life is something many enjoy, but shouldn’t you make the money first before you spend it? Remember the rule your grandparents lived by: Never spend money that you don’t have. I personally would much rather not carry around an expensive item of clothing or go to a cheaper bar if it enables me to see the world, lie on beautiful beaches, walk through the most amazing landscape, and meet people from every corner of the planet. But that’s me and if it makes you happy spending on disposable items, then good on you. Only that Jen was crying. So somehow all this didn't make her happy.
Happiness comes from within
“So why did she cry? If she has the lifestyle she apparently urges, what reason would she have to be unhappy?”
“Because you didn’t pay attention to her and appeared not interested,” Kath elaborated.
The singular reason for Jen’s spending: she sought confirmation from others and believed that luxury items and expensive clubs would strengthen her self-confidence. In realizing that some might care so little for disposable luxury items, for life has other things to offer, more sustainable, the fuel for her confidence dried up.
This wasn’t really about me; it was about a lack of confirmation for something Jen considered important, but that did so little to make her happy.
Rather than buying happiness, every purchase adds to the pressure that others will give you that you should hold within yourself, happiness. A purse will not give you happiness if it is only acquired for the purposes of proving to others how wonderful your life is. Particularly, if the luxury life that you are portraying to the world is a castle in the sky, an artificial construct in search of unnecessary confirmation by others. I for one, find those impressive that have great stories to tell, are successful entrepreneurs, innovative and creative people, those who have overcome enormous challenges and obstacles, travelers who share their experiences, moments, and lessons that have learned on their journeys, those with amazing life experiences, people who give and share love, people who are strong and can forgive, those who spend time caring for others. Buying a luxury item doesn't fall into this category, unless it is something you worked hard for all your life and it holds a real meaning to you - whatever form that may take (for instance, a memory of a moment or loved one that you can associate with the luxury item, such as a watch given to you by a loved one).
Jen, the girl with the purse, however, thought that her purse per se would make her happy. But it was the confirmation of those around her that fueled her self-confidence and well-being. If the item is not related to your personal story, achievement, relationships, struggles, or successes, it carries little value for you and ever more so for those whose admiration you may seek. If a material items takes more from you than it gives, if it robs you of a holiday that you desire, memories that you will hold dearly for the rest of your life, maybe it isn't really as precious.
I hope for Jen that she has been on holiday since and enjoyed many great moments. Maybe she has bought fewer bags and shoes and has enjoyed happiness because of who she is inside and stopped pursuing others' approval for flashing her assets.
Good luck to the girl with the purse.