I attended a function recently where a friend of mine was introduced as a city tycoon with a chain of businesses.
Rather than take the compliments positively, the gentleman looked a bit offended by the remarks. Later on our way back I asked him why he was offended by the introduction.
He told me, “You know those folks when they see you driving a big car and living in good house they think you are a rich man. They don’t know how we hustle day and night to pay school fees and put food on the table after paying those mortgages and car loans. I am in business yes, but I don’t really own any stock. I am technically a broker who sells other peoples things and earn a commission.”
I was surprised that he considered himself hustler in Nairobi yet I too considered him wealthy and very successful. I wondered who then is a wealthy and successful person if he is not one of them.
Well, many wealth and successful people don’t consider themselves so simply because they suffer from a condition called relative deprivation.
Relative deprivation refers to the feelings of deprivation and discontent due to lack of mostly what other people within your social circles or reference group have.
For example if you are a senior manager, you are likely to measure your success using other managers of your rank as the benchmark or reference. You would like to drive similar car, lead a similar lifestyle and so on.
Relative Deprivation theory is attributed to sociologist Samuel Stouffer, who formulated it while studying social psychology during World War II.
He discovered that soldiers of the time measured their personal success not with the standards set by the military but on the experience they had within their individual units. In other words they compared themselves with others.
In business and in society in general relative deprivation is one of the greatest impediments to contentment and success.
Some people try too much to be like others as a show of success. For example one may feel compelled to join an expensive club, establish offices in an expensive location and adopt a lifestyle that their business income cannot sustain. If they lack such things while their peers have, they consider themselves not successful, hence deprived.
For instance psychologically you feel a failure when you are performing below your immediate friends or reference people, yet you could actually be very successful generally.
The bottom student in a highly bright class may feel like a failure when actually if they were in another class of below average students would be very happy to be in position one even with lower grade.
Awareness and ability to control oneself from the fangs of relative deprivation is an important ingredient of business success especially at start-up stage.