Prestige, power and possessions

Posted: August 4th, 2017 | Columns, Featured, Life Beyond Therapy | No Comments

By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy

The above title came from a TED Talk I watched recently. In it, the speaker — a contented, wise elder — said that only young people expect that prestige, power and possessions will bring them happiness, and that spending a lifetime searching for them is to invite unhappiness and disappointment.

Sunday, as I was watching “Meet the Press,” I was reminded of this phrase as I listened to one of the president’s minions say that Trump “has been a great success in business because he has spent his whole life pursuing power, influence and wealth.” 

Hmmm, it sounds like Trump has been fixated on a life of physical trappings, money and fame … and look how he’s turned out. Does he seem like a contented, mature, wise person to you?  

Me neither.  

When we’re in our 20s and 30s, it’s normal to want “things” like a nice car, house and clothes, as well as a prestigious job and hot/smart boyfriend/girlfriend. This is — according to developmental psychology — what we should be going for. In my experience, we all need success at the beginning of our lives. We all need to know that, yes, damn it, we can set a goal and achieve it. We can get into law school and finish it, we can pursue the career that we want and become one of the best in San Diego and we can buy our first house or first new car with pride that we worked hard to earn it. 

In the long run, however, this strategy is awfully limited.  

How long will you keep accumulating more stuff? How much stuff is enough? And, more importantly: How will you know when you’ve “made it”? 

In my observation, it’s an internal experience: You feel it inside and when you “get there,” you’ll sense that you can ease up and relax a little. 

Or, you don’t and you keep on a relentless search for a bigger house, fancier car, more prestigious job, a more beautiful (younger) girlfriend/boyfriend. Then, by the time you hit 40, you start to panic. Why? Because you may be at the peak of your success, and where do you go from here?  

A friend of mine is a theater director in New York City. Years ago, she went on a women’s guided spiritual retreat with a famous teacher/facilitator and five other women, one of whom was Barbra Streisand. My friend said that Ms. Streisand was discouraged and depressed because, in essence, she’d done it all, seen it all, won it all … so, what was left for her to do? 

Luckily, Ms. Streisand realized there was a whole lot she could do. She established The Streisand Foundation and became active in political, ecological and health-related issues. She became a powerful force for good and used her fame and fortune to advocate for causes she believes in. 

She realized that prestige, power and possessions can only take you so far. And, dear reader, I invite you to consider that the same is true for you. 

Once you’ve had your successes, achieved your early life goals and acquired lots of nice possessions, isn’t there still an emptiness that remains, in spite of it all? You can buy a Maserati (as a neighbor of mine did) or an airplane (as a client did) or even take your nearest and dearest on a five-week trip to Europe (as a friend did), but, when it’s over and you’re home alone, that empty feeling always comes back. 

Why? Because, now that you’re older and wiser, it’s time to up your game and ask more sophisticated questions, like: “What is my purpose here?” “Where is my peace of mind?” “What am I here to teach and what am I here to learn?”… you know, that kind of stuff. 

Michael Kimmel

In my opinion, Donald Trump is a person who hasn’t gotten to those kinds of questions. He hasn’t really grown up. He’s still acting like a needy adolescent (with the intolerance to match). He hasn’t learned that prestige, power and possessions are fun — when you’re young — but, as you mature, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things, things that are more internal, more spiritual, more psychological … and much more deeply fulfilling. 

—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit


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