I’m not going to pretend no one flexes or I’m above it. Everybody flexes.
Even monks who have taken vows of poverty are flexing. They’re just using different metrics.
The right move is flexing the right way to the right audience.
Let me show you how with eh, better, and best examples.
The eh way to flex: Expensive Toys
Audience: the average person
You just made a killing on some NFT bullsh*t you flipped and you finally get to buy a Lambo.
Except don’t buy a Lambo.
Lambos and Gucci are what nouveau-riche think rich people want. And before you accuse me of being a hater, I won’t lie—I can’t afford a Lambo right now. But if I could afford one, I would rent it for a day to see if it’s fun. If I liked it, I would lease it—but that’s another story.
Billionaires with taste don’t bother with flashy. They go for classy, understated, and timeless. Part of that is trying to hedge the downside of a depreciating asset. The other half is because of who they are trying to impress, which is usually not the not-yet-rich. The uber-rich flex with yachts and real estate, typically not cars (unless that just happens to be their particular hobby).
Typically, if you want other people to know how rich you are, you either haven’t been rich for very long or won’t stay rich for very long.
There are obvious exceptions. But there’s a reason you only know the names of a handful of probably no more than 10 billionaires (even while there are 614 in the US alone). So you only know of 1% of the 1%ers. How many in the UK? About 171, but we only know who Richard Branson is because he likes the publicity.
Most rich people have learned the value of staying lowkey. They impress who they want to impress.
It’s like a salesman. If you are trying to woo a client, you aren’t flyering outside of their home or business. Two weeks of putting mailers in their inbox is less effective than a single, well-timed gift.
I’m not saying to never buy cool toys. But let your primary reason be you, not for people who don’t actually care about you.
The Better way to flex: Social Connections
Audience: Movers, Shakers, and Investors
You can’t buy relationships. Not really.
You can temporarily buy access, like with memberships to exclusive clubs. That gets you “in” but won’t actually make anyone like you.
I went to a university with a lot of rich, wannabe-rich, and legitimate European nobility. That’s not a flex—I was a total hick in comparison. But I learned a ton watching these people.
Some of the social climbers were so gauche. After a few years, their antics were pretty obvious to everyone. Those who tolerated them were those who found them useful, but I could tell they were not actually liked or respected by anyone.
You can’t fake a genuine connection. Or at least, you can—but it’s transparent to anyone with sense.
Rich people can buy anything. The thing they can’t buy is trust.
Trust is the currency of the powerful. It’s more valuable than gold. If you can be trusted, you are fast-tracked into inner circles with people who can have an outsize impact on your life.
One of my friends is demonstrating that beautifully. He works two levels under a C-suite executive for a company you have definitely heard of. While his title and duties say one thing, the real reason he has his job is he consistently does favors for the executive. He knows a lot about the executive’s personal life and is very discreet about it. He’s not blackmailing the guy by any means, but he is demonstrating he is worth the man’s trust (which directly translated to a very lucrative job).
The same thing happens in startups. Founders often notice how hard it is to get funding until another investor they respect gets on board. Very few investors do due diligence themselves. Most rely on someone else to do it (which is why they all wait for someone else to make the first move).
The Best way to flex: Be Tremendously Valuable
Audience: Kings and Kingmakers (unironically)
Similar to the startup investor one, the best way to get positive attention is to be really good at what you do. It matters a ton less what that thing is and more that you’re the best.
Naturally, this will drive you to become better in rarer categories.
There is immense glamour in being an elite athlete, musician, or actor—but hot dang, that competition is tough. I love Nashville tremendously, and I’m always amazed at the level of talent I encounter there. Most of them won’t go anywhere though because there is just so much competition (even if they are so, so good already).
The best marketer, writer, jeweler, motivational speaker, boxing coach, business leader, whatever—they will all be invited to mingle with other top performers.
Tony Robbins may be the best motivational speaker in the world. Because of that, he’s had an audience with every president since Clinton.
Fortune 500 types and Tim Ferriss podcast listeners love talking about being “top performers” as people that are strikingly mediocre (but have good connections). They’re just good at networking. Very few are adding outsize value.
(No shot on Tim, I think he’s solid. I’m more talking about the fanboys.)
I’m not putting myself in this category, by the way. I do not have elite-level talent yet. I’m still developing. So I say this with all humility.
But one day, I and many others will be mingling with world leaders once we reach the top of our game, inshallah.