13 October 2014

Food For Thought // #11

Source: tumblr

I'm back with the latest food for thoughts post, quite limited today with two articles, and approaching from two very different angles, the idea of inner values and the importance they have in our lives.

On the Huffington Post // Be Who You Want To Be

"...you can always cultivate the qualities that are important to you, whereas you may not always be able to make a living doing exactly what you want to do."

When you ask children what they want to be later, answer often comes in terms of career (you know, firefighter, astronaut...), however, once "later" has come, reality reminds us that we can't all be doctors, famous baseball players or Nobel winning scientists.

With the economy crisis, the question has become even more vivid, as the promise of a great job automatically following university graduation has proven hard to fulfill for many students. What to do then? We can depress over not having managed to become an astronaut (or in my case, a writer - although in this case I can make the time to be a writer even if I don't make a living of it).

Or we can change the question: instead of defining ourselves soleley on career path, ask the broader question of who do I want to be?  This is a very interesting perspective, because it includes the qualities we want to develop, skills, cultivating social relations... In other words, it encompasses our whole self, instead of narrowing down the idea of identity, and success, to career only.

"Now, imagine for a moment a world where an entire generation took the view that it is more important that they determine who, not what, they want to be when they grow up. Some would still become baseball players and astronauts, but they would engage their work with the values that are most important to them."

It is also a way to live according to our most inner values, give the most of ourselves and make the most of what we have, of who we are. It is a way to be happy despite the current situation, despite living in a consumerist society, as it makes us aproach everything, from work to consumption, activities and social relations, within our priorities and in line with our most important inner values.

On BuzzFeed // Something Borrowed, Something Blue

This article, on a completely different subject, details how the brand Madewell has been bought and relaunched recently, capitalizing on the idea of "authenticity" as a marketing angle to sell their products to consumers hungry to "go back to the roots".

"Madewell as it stands today has almost nothing at all to do with the company founded by my great-grandfather almost 80 years ago. How many vintage labels out there have similar stories? How many corporations are out there rifling through the defunct brands of America’s past like a bin of used records, looking for something, anything, that will give them that soft Edison-bulb glow of authenticity?"

The interesting part of this article, to me, is why are we so attracted to this idea of authenticity, going back to the roots, whereas we certainly would never accept to live the life people really led at that time, and we'd never wear the ill-cut uncomfortable clothes they wore at the time. It is a case of "it was better before"? A refuge in older values in the face of the incertainty of the future?

Marketing has certainly been playing on the trend lately, but what really interests me is why is it trendy in the first place? The other day at the BHV, I realized all the fancy home maintenance products (even baking soda and all) were packaged in a 1950s way - and brands like Benefit for example base their whole packaging and graphic identity on "oldie" packages as well.

"To sell a product today, a company must also sell a story, a transformation. A new pickle company needing to differentiate itself can’t simply rely on people needing to eat (agrarian), or undercutting the competition on price (industrial) or convenience (service). The way to sell that jar of pickles is to tell consumers about how it’s an old-country recipe from the Romanian hills, using heirloom cucumbers grown upstate and fresh dill from the factory’s rooftop garden, and it was crafted only two miles from here in a facility that used to make No. 3 pencils."

 In this article, the author explains in part this tendency with a phenomenon I also learned at school: our societies have evolved from agrarian to industrial, to service, to experiences. Today, as consumers, we are looking for expriences, stories, when we buy objects. It may circle back to this idea that, in today's society, what we buy defines who we are - or who we want to project to be to others. And it's certainly easier to buy products with an authentic packaging than to actually lead a simple, "authentic" life. Whatever "authentic" really means.

In any case, this article is a good food for thought regarding what motivates us as consumers, and, to me at least, a good reminder to live by my values, and not just buy objects which identity is marketed around said values.

That's it for today's food for thoughts, centered around inner values and motivations. It is hard sometimes, in today's society, to know who we are, who we want to be and where we want to go - influenced as we are by our culture, external expectations and social pressure. And it is always easier to buy our way into an image of who we want to be, rather than trying to live by our inner values. 

However I think we can be much more content with our life, accept hardship and setbacks with much more resilience, when we can have this inner strength of knowing that we acutally live by our values and make choices and take actions in line with ourselves. Easier said than done though don't you think?


  1. As for your second link: I think there are good and bad parts about companies trying to sell 'experiences' over objects. For ethical companies especially, I think the 'story' and the projected authenticity are a major help in trying to convince people to buy from them instead of a non-sustainable alternative. Speaking for myself, it remains hard to stick to my principles of making sustainable choices. E.g. when I'm looking for a pair of jeans, it's so much easier to go to the high street, compare ten different models, and find a good option within my budget than it is to scour physical as well as online stores for the few existing models from sustainable brands, hoping to find one that fits, in my size, and in my budget, without the hassle of having to make international returns etc. So I'm well aware that I'm sensitive to the message, the stories and even the webdesign of certain sustainable brands like People Tree or Nudie Jeans, but in this case I'm actually glad that at least there's something tugging me in the direction of the 'good' choice other than my own self-discipline ;).

    1. I definitely agree with you - telling stories and selling an experience can be a good thing, when it promotes a different business model or values and can attract new consumers that way. I'm very happy that organic products and brands are starting to explain the concept of their brand, why and how they are organic and ethically sourced, update their packaging and all. It's not what matters to me personally, but the truth is, it has made organic and ethical choices more mainstream and that's a good thing indeed.

      What is necessary to be wary of though, is companies telling stories *instead* of making actual (and costly) ethical and sustainable choices as a company. And there are so many like that - selling the story, the experience of authenticity, natural and organic, but not actually walking the talk. And it's hard to tell the difference between the 2 as consumers unfortunately.

  2. Reading your post reminded me of a quote I came across early this summer,

    "There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your lie spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls."

    I like to claim myself as a conscious consumer, but sometimes it's hard when companies like Madewell use marketing schemes to generate a story and lifestyle that somewhat mimic the life I lead (or want to lead). It's a blurred line between what I really want and what I am told I want. It's a progress to learn to be conscious in every choice I make, but doing this makes me happy in all aspects of my life.

    I haven't read that Buzzfeed article you linked, but am interested in it. I think it's funny how Madewell isn't well-made. But it reminded me of Abercrombie & Fitch and how they use to be a real sporting apparel and now is clothes for dumb (generalizing) college kids. Funny how capitalist society works.

    Sorry for scribbling my nonsensical thoughts on your comments, but topics like this interests me and keeps me thinking..

    1. Thanks for sharing this quote, it's very interesting indeed. It's true that we are told so many things by our culture, education, social norms, ads etc. that if we don't connect with who we are inside and what we want, we end up doing what others want. This post is about that if you are interested in the subject: http://www.iheartintelligence.com/2014/09/20/mind-control/

      Today I think a lot of brands are telling stories to make us want to buy from them - simply because there are so many options out there that quality or price isn't enough of a reason to choose one over the other anymore. The problem being when the story told is actually a lie - like this Madewell example that claims to be est. 1939 whereas they only bought the brand name to be able to claim this authenticity.

      But back to what we really want - I think the mental and environmental chatter around distracts us so much it's hard to actually listen to ourselves. And we don't learn, in modern 'western' society, to listen to ourselves. I think it requires to slow down, to carve time for ourselves, to clear the chatter and focus. Easier said than done though. I hear short daily meditation does wonders on the long term as it does calm us down and make us know ourselves better, but I can't seem to stick to that habit just yet so I can't confirm.

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