Jesus Didn’t Grasp for Status. But I Sure Do.

He “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” I dread admitting I don’t have a fancy new job.

This past spring, I finally finished my master’s program—adviser emailed, final submitted, graduation forms signed. But instead of relief or accomplishment, the primary thing I’m feeling is dread. After 50 applications and multiple interviews, my job offer total is zero.

The source of my dread is not just my lack of employment, I’m realizing. It’s the feeling that I lack status. I’m reminded every time small talk takes the inevitable turn: So, what do you do? Finishing up a master’s is great, yet I feel like I’m in an awkward spot—falling behind my peers, not quite where I should be, not quite measuring up.

I’m not alone in my craving for status. Psychological r esearch indicates that humans are widely driven by this desire for esteem, respect, or affirmation based on social rank. Psychologists have described status as a fundamental human need alongside safety, love, and meaning. While there’s debate about how deep this need goes, it’s hard to deny that the way others perceive us influences our beliefs and behaviors. Even if we tell ourselves we don’t care about status, our brains typically do.

And it’s not just status in some absolute sense but status compared to other people. For example, a Harvard and University of Toronto study about “air rage”—passengers erupting in angry fits mid-flight—suggested status comparisons were a major factor. The most common factor in some 4,000 cases of air rage wasn’t delays, fees, or lack of legroom. It was whether the flight had a first-class cabin. Economy passengers were eight times more likely to burst into air rage when they had to pass through the …

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