The “owning a guitar will make me a guitar player” lie.
Owning an apple laptop will make me a better writer.
Owning a snowboard will make me a snowboarder.
Owning running shoes will get me in shape.
Owning a blackberry will make me organized.
This lie has about a billion variations, but they all come back to the same truth - a possession will never create desire or talent.
I thought it did, which is why I got a $1,000 Martin acoustic guitar. I played the first few notes of Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” about four times and then stood it up in a corner of my home office. Every day it would mock me with its existence when I’d come downstairs.
“Look at me you loser. I’m a freakin’ Martin! Play me. You are killing me.”
I’d look away in shame and then go about the rest of my day. My younger brother is a musician and when he’d come over, he’d tune the guitar and quietly apologize to it, “It’s OK, I’m sorry. Don’t worry, I’m trying to guilt my brother into giving you to me. I’m sorry.”
I was sorry too. I wanted to be a guitar player. I liked the idea of it, the concept of being a guitar player was appealing to me, but not the actual work involved in learning how to play. When I got one I didn’t instantly find myself a guitar master. I sucked at it. Like I sucked at painting despite the professional oil paints I bought. Like I sucked at snowshoeing despite buying really nice snowshoes. Like I, well you get the point.
Why do I do this? Because when it comes down to it, I hope that the things I buy will help me be who I want to be. That contentment is not something slippery, it’s something available at the mall. But stuff never satisfies. It’s such a temporary high and my in-laws basement is a museum of purchases I’ve made in the hope of being satisfied. Like the boxes of skateboard decks or comic books or basketball cards. There’s always a “next,” when it comes to shopping your way to satisfaction. Stuff never really allows you to stay very long in the now because if you did, you’d realize that buying something didn’t make you a different Jon, it’s just made you a Jon with more stuff.
And if you realized that, you might not buy more stuff, and stuff hates that. What stuff hates even more than that is when you ask yourself honestly why you’re purchasing something. When you pause long enough before you get to the cash register and ask what you’re expecting this purchase to do for you.
I do this regularly with Specialized Mountain Bikes. I have an old one in, you guessed it, my in-laws basement that I have not ridden in three years. But I subscribe to Outside magazine and often they’ll have an article about some Swedish guy named Jorn that has mountain biked some remote corner of the world. And when I’m stuck on a Saturday night at Chik-Fil-a and one of my daughters is finger painting with ice cream on the window and the other one is screaming about not wanting to eat her dinner, and I look outside and see a guy with a mountain bike strapped to his Jeep I wonder what life would be like if I owned that.
Would I be somewhere jumping logs in the forest instead of apologize to patrons at a fast food restaurant? Would I have really cool scars and probably a tattoo and a dog named Mack that wore a bandana? Would I have friends that didn’t shower that often but were great at Frisbee and camping? Maybe. Maybe that mountain bike would make all that possible.
But it won’t. I know that deep down inside. And usually by the time we’re driving home I’m laughing at something my three year old has said and singing along to some Veggie Tales song on repeat and grimacing that I might be the worst dad in the world for thinking a mountain bike might make me life more exciting than raising a family.
It’s not accidental that I slip into this logic, most marketing is geared to making us think that a particular product is the missing piece to a happiness puzzle. Jewelry ads are great at this. I saw one the other day for diamonds that said, “What extraordinary love looks like.” Imagine walking into that store and telling the cashier, “Hi, I saw your ad. I’d like to buy some extraordinary love please.” I saw another one for a watch that had Kate Moss in it before all the cocaine. The headline read, “Who will you be in the next 24 hours?” The truth is, that if you buy their watch, you’ll be a lady with a new watch. But the hope is that you’ll think, “I’ll be exactly who I want to be, thanks to that new watch.” Again, what would that conversation look like at the store, “Hi, I’m unhappy with who I am inside. Do you have a watch that could fix that? You do? Great. I’ll take one for each wrist.”
But it’s just a watch. It’s just a guitar. It’s just a blackberry. It’s just stuff. And stuff can never save the day.