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One-upmanship: The Game We All Play But Hate to Admit It

27/01/2014 12:27 GMT | Updated 27/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Not wishing to brag or anything, but I have a friend who works for a large investment bank. He recently snapchatted me a picture of his new Rolex (I assume time was of the essence when he felt compelled to broadcast the purchase). Aged 23, he appears to have decided the time was right to visit a Mayfair dealer and purchase a vintage timepiece with some of his £70,000 plus salary.

Apparently unaware that he thus completed his self-parody of the profession, he's also partial to champagne and frequent, vigorous gym sessions. He's the reason I recently visited Madison, a high-end roof terrace bar in central London with views overlooking St. Paul's. Basically, I'm thinking of putting him on show as a modern art installation piece entitled 'The Banker'.

I'm sure there's a point to this story. It could be that people live up to what's expected of their job title. Back before he entered the world of institutional finance, he wouldn't have dreamed of spending hundreds of pounds on a bottle of Dom Pérignon, or actively choosing to inhabit the most pretentious nightclubs imaginable.

Or it could be that you some of the things that come with professional territories can be pretty unsavory. I for one have found my output of 'schmoozing' increase greatly since becoming a journalist, and often get excessively angry when people don't respond to an email within half an hour.

Excessive mingling and veiled sycophantism, however, are generally considered integral to the journalistic profession, even if you do run the risk of a repetitive strain injury from replicating the same handshake ad nauseam. My friend's 1963 Rolex isn't even waterproof. I doubt it has any kind of alarm to keep him punctual for his many client meetings, all of which I am assured are incredibly important.

It functions well as one of the many pointless status symbols we carry around with us on a daily basis though. Because God forbid the average passer by can't readily ascertain your profession from the other end of the street. It's not enough to live whatever life we lead, we also need everyone else to know exactly how great it is to live it. (Again, I trust that my frequent jaunts about town with a notepad and/or camera very visibly in tow don't count. I avoid taking them to dinner parties at any rate.)

Job titles are one of the clearest, and often least informative, ways in which we do so. As someone practiced in making people's professional designations sound as awesome and authoritative as possible, take it from me that a great deal of polishing is often required. And even then I'm not sure what half of the titled people I quote actually do.

It's a very modern version of 'keeping up with the Jones's'. If you hang out with 'consultants', it suits you to throw in an additional word such as 'executive' or 'management' alongside it. It makes you sound special, different from all those other regular consulting people. 'Managing partner' sounds much better than simply 'partner' doesn't it?

Job satisfaction should all boil down to what the position actually entails, and how much you enjoy doing these tasks. But it doesn't, because the tagline that goes with the position is inextricably linked to the later. In my world, no one really wants to be called an 'editorial assistant' at some place or other. The word assistant just sounds too unimportant. They'd much rather say they are a writer or reporter, even when their role allows this only infrequently, and 'general dogsbody' covers what they actually do far better.

Same goes for everyone on work experience who calls themselves an intern, even though what they're actually doing is exactly the same. All because soon, they know full well they'll walk into a bar, or a dinner party, or go on a date, and someone will ask, as a perfectly innocent opening question: "So, what do you do then?" And if they can't say something immediately impressive sounding, even if its factually dubious, they, like every normal human being, will feel like they've been put on the back foot from the start.

So that this never happens, we'll buy the Rolex and inflate the job title, even though neither is strictly necessary to living perfectly satisfied lives. The defense mechanism of perceived one-upmanship will preserve our fragile egos. Until we meet someone with a more impressive timepiece of course...