With a business that was bringing in so much money he had two Rolls-Royces in the garage, Greg Palmer couldn't figure out why he wasn't satisfied with his life.
To answer that question, back up 18 months. Palmer's check-cashing store had become a chain. He lived in an upscale neighborhood. He owned multiple cars and motorcycles. He was also thrice divorced and post-break up from another significant relationship.
As he began looking at everything around him, Palmer said he realized they were just things and they weren't making him happy at all.
"I never really made what I would consider to be good money until our company got going," said Palmer, 56. "When I finally got to the point that I was making good money, I was like that kid who comes out of college with that big contract."
Palmer bought cars and bikes and houses. He wasn't happy with just one kind of car, so he bought one of each: luxury, sports, truck, sport utility vehicle. Same with the motorcycles: chopper, cruiser, collector's edition.
Palmer's philosophy was live large and leave nothing.
But as he struggled to understand what was missing in his life, Palmer came to the realization that one of the problems was his reliance on props — the cars, the women, the whirlwind lifestyle.
One day last July, Palmer, who lives in Bird Rock, decided to write about his observations. Encouraged by positive feedback from his business partner, the man who never read a book cover-to-cover in his life, completed a 197-page manuscript by the end of August.
Palmer defines propology as "the science or study of the origin, development, organization and functioning of using props to establish one's status, lifestyle or character or desired portrayal of such."
Essentially, props are status symbols. They are the external devices — fashion labels, plastic surgery, the company one keeps, drug and alcohol habits, and so on — that people use to define themselves or convey a certain persona.
"When you think about props, props can be as simple as name dropping," Palmer said. "The problem is that a prop is required to support something incapable of standing on its own. And when that something is one's identity, props can mislead, confuse and misrepresent."
Palmer attributes society's reliance on props to programming that begins even before birth.
"For example, if someone is expecting a little girl, she is going to receive gifts that are pink," he said. "We're saying, if you want to be feminine, pink is the color associated with femininity."
In his book, Palmer explores the history of props, prop mentality (that's the chapter titled "We're All Like Sheep"), how the grass-is-greener dynamic lends itself to prop dependency, and "prop" culture (programming vs. free thought).
"Once you put props in perspective, you can truly live," Palmer said. "What you find is that your thought process changes. In order for us to truly be fulfilled, it has to come from the inside and that involves living to your full potential, not obtaining the fullest potential of props that you can."
No avoiding the truth
"The only problem with writing a book like this is that you become so aware of your props and others that it really changes the game on you," Palmer said.
In June, Palmer told his business partner that he wanted to walk away from his company. Instead, he wants to complete his master's degree and return to teaching.
"It's a 90 percent pay cut," he said, "but there's a lot of fulfillment in it."
Palmer has also learned that there's not much money in writing and publishing a book. When he began navigating traditional publishing waters and found they weren't necessarily welcoming to new authors, he created his own company, Wind n Sea Publishing. He estimates that he's given away more copies of his book than he's sold.
"The big change in me," Palmer said, "is that two years ago if I were to have written this book, I would not have been satisfied unless it sold a whole lot of copies. But now I'm satisfied with the experience."
"Propology 101" is available in paperback for $9.95 at amazon.com or as an
e-book via download for $7.95 at propology101.com.
On a related note
The Associated Press reported Jan. 11 that a new study led by Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, has found that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youths of the same age who were studied in the Great Depression era. The findings were culled from responses to a popular psychological questionnaire used as far back as 1938.
Mental health professionals speculate that a popular culture increasingly focused on the external — from wealth to looks and status — has contributed to the uptick in mental health issues on high school and college campuses.