You Don't Need To Obsess Over Your Social Status If You Just Want A Regular, Fulfilling Social Life
"Social status" is one of those vague terms, like "cool", that can mean a dozen somewhat different things depending on how you use it. In this article I'm not talking about social status in the larger societal sense of "A rich politician has more social status than a fast food worker". I'm referring to it in the more informal sense that if you were to go to a party some of the people there, regardless of their jobs or titles, will be seen as more popular and influential than others. I could break that down more, but I'm guessing you know what I mean. We can tell when someone is their group's unofficial leader vs. its whipping boy.
There's lots of advice out there about how to raise your informal social status. Some of it is straightforward: How to have confident body language, how to generally be fun and likable, how to take charge of a group, how to have a calm, self-assured mindset, and so on. Other tips are manipulative and Machiavellian: How to make cutting comments to knock others down a peg, how to subtly gossip and ruin your rivals' reputations, etc. (I don't condone that approach, but you can find suggestions on it.)
There's also plenty about social status that describes it as a key factor to your interpersonal success. It paints a world where people are constantly sizing up each other's status, where you'll never be happy if you aren't near the top of the hierarchy, where every conversation or exchange of witty remarks is a hidden battle to determine who's dominant.
I'm not going to give practical advice about how to increase your social status in this article. Instead I'm going to argue that if you just want a regular, fulfilling social life, you don't need to devote a ton of your mental energy to worrying about your social status. As long as you're not really low-status you should be fine. I'll also discuss why some people can get too caught up in their social status.
I'm not naive. I'm not claiming social status is totally unimportant or inconsequential. Obviously your informal social standing can impact your life. In others contexts, like work or dating, it can play a bigger role (though still not as much as some sources claim). I realize it's human nature to think about it at times. By all means, if you learn of a way to raise your status and getting it won't be too much trouble, go for it. But like I said, if your goal is just to have a group of friends you connect to and enjoy spending time with, it's not necessary to lose sleep over your spot in the hierarchy.
Many people aren't overly concerned with your social rank
Some advice on status can give you the impression that not only is everyone continually assessing your position on the totem pole, but that it's a huge factor in whether they want to get to know you or not. In my experience, when many (not all) people get into a conversation with you they're not devoting a ton of mental energy to gauging your social status. They're more concerned with considerations such as:
- Do we have things in common?
- Do we share similar values?
- Are they easy to talk to?
- Are they interesting and fun to chat to?
- Do they seem like a decent person who treats others well?
- Do they seem like they have the qualities of a good friend?
- Do they seem balanced and stable?
They could be talking to someone who meets all these criteria, and also has middling social status. Odds are good they're going to want to get to know them better. Unless they're an unusually vacuous social climber, they're not going to think, "She's likable and we have a lot in common and all, but her status isn't top tier, so I don't know..."
You could argue that if someone checks a lot of those boxes their social status would also tend to be high, but I'm not so sure. Lots of people are likable and interesting, but their status is nothing amazing.
Many social circles don't give a lot of thought to its members' social status
We all know about friend groups with a more cutthroat mentality, where each member's spot on the pecking order is important. The low-status members get picked on and disrespected. The leaders are envied and admired, and lord their power over the others. There's lots of behind the scenes intrigue and backstabbing as everyone jostles for position.
Not all social circles are like this though. There are many where everyone is more or less equal in status. They may have their own roles, like the event organizer, but that doesn't give them gobs of power. They like and want the best for each other. They make decisions as a group. Everyone's pretty nice, and there's no punching bag member who everyone makes fun of. They've never given a moment's thought to who outranks who. Yeah, if you forced them to sit down and think about it they could make a case for why Friend A has a bit more cachet than Friend B, but day to day it's not something they worry about.
In many social situations being higher-status doesn't give you benefits that are that special
Some advice on social status claims or implies that if you have a lot of it you'll unlock all kinds of rewards and privileges. Sometimes that happens, but most of the world isn't like a stereotypical fancy nightclub where only the highest-status people are allowed in the VIP section. In a lot of more mundane settings if you're higher-status people may be a bit more respectful, or eager to talk to you, or open to your opinion, but it's nothing life changing.
Imagine a group of ten friends throws a party. If everyone's mingling and catching up one on one, the highest-status member will have more people start conversations with them. If everyone's talking in a big group, they may be able to take and hold the spotlight more easily. If everyone decides to go out dancing later, their choice of nightclub will be given more weight. But that's about it. Overall everyone just got together and caught up and had a good time. It's not like the regular-status members didn't get to have any fun.
The obvious lesson from those last three points
You don't need to tie yourself in knots trying to become as high-status as possible. Being high-status doesn't hurt, but it's often not necessary. A better use of your time and energy is to focus on making a nice, decent group of friends where whatever status level you have, it's not much of a factor. They are out there.
It's more important to avoid being off-puttingly low-status than becoming super high-status
You don't need especially high status to accomplish most of your social goals. However, it can hinder you if you're low-status to the point that people are put off by you. That's when you'll start to get rejected, left out, merely tolerated, or picked on. Here are some core skills for doing that. (Again, I'm talking about the aspects of informal social status you have control over):
- Whenever possible, hang around groups where your natural traits and tendencies aren't seen as lower-status. What may instantly send you to the bottom of the pecking order in one clique may not be a big deal in another. For example, the same outfit or sense of humor could be unforgivably lame in one circle, neutral in the second, and appreciated in the third.
- Don't do lots of things that make you unpleasant to interact with, like being insulting, whiny, prone to stirring up conflict, and so on. Everyone has their flaws, and some people maintain higher status in spite of them, but overall you're likelier to be seen as low-status if you're annoying to be around.
- Know how to stick up for yourself and fend off teasing. I'm not saying it's okay, but some social groups have a dog eat dog mentality. They'll test each other by acting disrespectful and insulting in little ways. If someone shows they can't handle it, then their status falls, and they'll often get hassled even more. The lower-tier members may get ripped on constantly for everyone else's entertainment. Now one solution is to steer clear of these cliques entirely. If that's not possible, you'll need to know how to assert yourself, and not let any teasing get out of hand (e.g., being a good sport to a point, but shutting it down if everyone's doing too much of it.)
Just because you see yourself as low-status doesn't necessarily mean you are
Some people feel down because they believe a) status plays a pivotal role in social success, and b) they don't have enough of it. The thing is their social status is just fine. At worst it's average. In some cases it's even high. Most of us have known someone who had a ton going for them, but they couldn't see it themselves.
Fighting too hard for social status can make you unlikable
Ironically, one way to be unpleasant company, and lose status as a result, is to try too hard to be the dominant, high-rank person in every interaction. Maybe you've met someone who's gone too far like this:
- They talk over people, boss them around, or make catty comments.
- They give off aggressive, confrontational vibes.
- They're thin-skinned and paranoid and treat every harmless joke as a challenge.
- They brag or get into pointless pissing contests.
- When they sit down on a couch they sprawl themselves out to an obnoxious degree, because they read high-status people aren't afraid to take up space.
- They act stoic and humorless, because they believe if they were to laugh at someone else's witty comment they would be conceding some of their precious power to them.
It's one thing to naturally gain status because you have some leadership qualities or you're skilled in an area your friends respect. It's another to be a jerk who tries to step all over everyone.
Why do some people get too caught up in worrying about their social status?
So social status isn't totally irrelevant, but it also isn't the one factor that will make or break your happiness. But some people are prone to focusing on it too much, especially younger men. In fact, a few of the people reading this article may devote a lot of their mental bandwidth to their social rank, and think its message that average status is often all you need is encouraging a mediocre loser mentality. Why do some people get too tied up in raising their social status? Here are some explanations:
- As I've said, some sources of social advice put a lot of emphasis on status. If someone doesn't have much real world experience, and that kind of advice is the first thing they come across, they may just assume it's true and not know there's an alternative perspective.
- There are plenty of messages from advertising, the media, and society that tell us social status is everything. The sales pitch for lots of products is, "Your status isn't high enough. You're missing out. Buy this to fix it." Some people know to be skeptical of these messages. Others absorb them without any critical thought.
- It varies from place to place, but some high schools or universities have that stereotypical culture that really emphasizes social status (e.g., you're nothing if you're not in one of the "right" fraternities or sororities). Being a student in that kind of school teaches you that social status is everything, whether you like it or not.
- Some people were treated awfully earlier in their life because they had lower social status, like being bullied in middle school. They want high status because they believe it means they'll never be treated like that again.
- Other people weren't necessarily tormented for their lower childhood or teenage social status, but they certainly received the message that they weren't as good as everyone else. They want high social status to feel better about themselves, and to compensate for how lowly they felt when they were younger.
- Others still are insecure for entirely different reasons, but believe attaining high social status will make them feel worthy.
- People with poor self-esteem can think of improving themselves in an all-or-nothing way. Like they may believe, "If I'm not super-funny and entertaining, then I'm completely lame and boring." They can think of their social status like this too - "If I'm not the most respected, dominant person at this party, then I'm a pitiful loser." They don't consider that there's a middle ground, where they have an average level of status that's more than enough to get them what they want in life.
The problem is that when you chase social status due to your own insecurities, it doesn't solve them in the long run. If you suddenly gain a bunch of status you may feel better for a while, but it will wear off. You may then start to worry that someone else will take your position from you. And no matter how much status you gain, there's always someone with more (short of becoming one of the most powerful, charismatic people on the planet).
It's better to directly challenge the beliefs and motivations that lead you to believe high status is so essential. Ask yourself if you've unquestionably been following messages from the media. Examine your thought patterns. Do you look at status in a black-and-white way? Are you insecure and think becoming popular will heal all your childhood wounds?