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The $1 Negativity Experiment

One of my favorite financial authors, Ramit Sethi, sent one of his free e-books to me 15 Little “Life Hacks” That Can Change Your Life, and it has inspired me to come back and reinvigorate BreakingNorms with a journalistic feel to document my pursuit of BreakingNorms.

As November is coming to a close, his e-book could not have come at a more perfect time for me to kickoff December with an experiment taken from his e-book. For the sake of giving it a more catchy name, I have decided to call it The $1 Negativity Experiment.


To paraphrase Ramit’s description of the experiment, here’s an outline of the experiment:

Goal: Improve the quality of life for myself and the people around me by eliminating negative comments (about myself or anyone else) from my daily conversation.


#1. I will go to the bank tomorrow and take out $50 in single dollar bills.

#2. Every time I make a negative comment, I have to give a dollar to the person I’m speaking to. If I am speaking to the person over the phone or online, then I will ask that person who they would like me to give it to (whether it’s a stranger or whomever).

#3. If I run out of single dollar bills, I will go to the bank and withdraw another $50 in single dollar bills.

#4. At the end of the month, I will record how much money I have remaining.

#5. I will continue this experiment until my monetary ratio of money withdrawn to money given out is 1% or less.

This may sound crazy to many of you, but I’m with Ramit on this one when I think that this will have a dramatic impact on my life if I’m successful. So here’s to the first of many crazy experiments to not only breaking the norm, but living a fuller and richer life.


The True Meaning of Poverty

Today’s post is inspired by John Scalzi’s post – Being Poor – Whatever.

Here on BreakingNorms, my number one goal is to provide an alternative opinion, a different perspective, a slightly new spin on something that we think we know so well. Today’s post is on something we all know how to define: poverty. The mindset of those who are poor however, is something completely different entirely.

I normally ask those who have time to go visit the blog post, but this time I implore you to visit his post.

These twelve (in no particular order) were perhaps the most eye-opening ones for me:

  1. “Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.”
  2. “Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.”
  3. “Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.”
  4. “Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.”
  5. “Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.”
  6. “Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.”
  7. “Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.”
  8. “Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.”
  9. “Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.”
  10. “Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.”
  11. “Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.”
  12. “Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.”

I think we all forget how luxurious the word choice is. To be able to choose to do something different is a luxury that some simply do not have. It is not up to us to scorn them or judge them for the position they are in. To think that we are better because of a lucky break or being born in nurturing environment is a travesty and is a thought we should all do well to eliminate from our minds.

I hope that you’ll take a moment to really let this sink into your mind and carry it with you the rest of your life. We may not all have grown up with hardship, but we all should do well to treasure and appreciate everything we have because it would be a shame if we waited until it was too late to do so.

Finally, I leave you with his final statements, which in my opinion, stand alone as if it were a poem.

“Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.”

What were some of the most eye-opening statements for you?

It’s Time to Step Things Up

In conjunction with last week’s post on the illusion of busyness, I thought it only be appropriate that we talk about “stepping up our game.”

Joel Runyon’s post, An Unexpected Ass Kicking, did exactly that to me when I happened to stumble upon it one day.

For those of you who do not have the time to read the post in its entirety, it is essentially a journal entry about how Runyon was sitting in a coffee shop working on his new Macbook Air when the the guy who invented the computer (Russel Kirsch) decides to bestow his time and wisdom to Runyon.


In their ensuing conversation, the following statements will forever stick out in my mind:

1. “I guess, I’ve always believed that nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do. Most people think the opposite – that all things are withheld from them which they have conceived to do and they end up doing nothing.”

In other words, as Runyon paraphrases quite nicely, “If you’ve conceived something in your mind, decide to do it, and are willing to put in the work – nothing can stop you.” Now there are clearly many exceptions to this statement, but why let personal or environmental obstacles serve to determine your reality? I’m not proposing that people be delusional, but stop with the excuses and get out there!

2. “Do things that have never been done before.”

I know that naysayers and Debbie-downers will always try to interject about things can’t be done, but isn’t what makes life so interesting the fact that we often have the opportunity to turn ideas only thought to exist in dreams into reality? Just as people do with the whole notion of busyness, we find that most often people’s usage of the verb “can’t” really should just be replaced with “won’t.” Because in reality, most things aren’t about capability, they are about the willingness to move forward regardless of the challenges that we are faced with.

So here’s to the improbable, and not the impossible!

Think You’re “So Busy?” Think Again.

Anxiety by Brecht Vandenbroucke

“I’m so busy… I never have any time for myself… Relax? What is that?”

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does, because at some point we all have probably thought something along those lines.

In the article “The Busy Trap” by Tim Kreider, Kreider brings up some great points regarding the whole notion of “business” within our society.

#1. “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. “

Isn’t this quite the interesting notion? Most people would probably argue that society has “forced” us to be so busy. Yet, Kreider is completely on target with the fact that the only person to blame is ourselves, not society. Society have provide certain environmental guidelines, but history has shown us again and again that it is up to the individual to abide by the conditions around them.

#2. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

In The Shawshank Redemption, the famous quote from Tim Robbin’s character Andy Dufresne is: “Get busy living. Or get busy dying.” With our topic being about the whole notion of being “busy,” it’s kind of ironic that “busy” is the primary verb of the popular quote. Yet if we think about Kreider statement, it becomes apparent that many people do not realize that there are different types of busyness.

The type of busyness that Kreider focuses is on is the one that most people choose to occupy themselves with. It is generally full of noise and action, but very often there is nothing to show at the end of the day.

The type of busyness that Andy Dufresne talks about is one that is full of purpose where each action has an overarching goal behind it. This is the type of busyness that we should be occupying our time with, not the normal busyness we so often find ourselves spending time on.

#3. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Case and point. Sleep.

Even the most brilliant minds of our time require space and time away from their work. In fact, just as Euclid leapt out of his bathtub and went running naked down the streets when he discovered a new physical law, these times of peace and quietness are often where a good deal of our inspiration and innovation comes from.

In the end, do you want to recall your life as one gigantic blur of actions? Does it not strike you as odd that we work so hard for a “successful” career in hopes that we can “one day” actually “live” our life? I think the Dalai Lama summed it up the best when asked what surprised him most about humanity:

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The word “life” is akin to the word “live.” So why not live your life with a purpose that transcends the whole notion of being “so busy.”

Happiness: Elusive or Illusive?

Happiness. It is a simple concept that every person would say they are familiar with and could explain to another person. Yet, in actuality, how many of us truly understand what the meaning of happiness really is? After all, is being happy simply a chemical reaction of feeling elated? If so, would one readily agree that putting everyone in a drug induced state be the equivalent of making everyone happy?

In “Don’t Indulge. Be Happy.,” Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton approach the whole notion of happiness from the idea that happiness is connected with money. They even bring up an interesting notion regarding how $75,000 is considered to be a comfortable salary. In many regards, I’m sure most of you would agree with that sentiment. After all, it’s difficult for most people to envision a “happy life” where they did not have the means to support themselves or buy the things they wanted.

Yet in reality, money ends up being a short term goal that society has informed us to chase like dogs on a racetrack. We are told that we should focus on getting “high paying jobs” so we can “afford” things that we want. In addition, we are told that we “need” to make a certain salary to survive in this world. After all, isn’t that why we all went to school? For the opportunity of making more money?

Although it can be a fantastic distraction that can serve as a motivator for some, the sole pursuit of the acquisition of money always ends in an empty life. And unless you have any evidence to the contrary, my research and experience in life has taught me that there is no lasting happiness to be found in money.

So we know that drug-induced highs and money isn’t what happiness is, but where does that leave us? Family? Friends? Career? Power? Politics? Self-actualization? Love?

After a great deal of thought and soul searching, I’ve been thinking that maybe there is no such thing as happiness.

Think about it. Happiness is entirely relative is it not? Let’s take the following example:

You and your team have just finished a big project for your company that you are really proud of. The next day, your boss comes into your office and congratulates you on a job well done and hands you a $50,000 check for doing such a great job.

I’m pretty sure most people would describe their current feeling as “happy” no? After all, there are some people who’s annual salary is that much!

Now ten minutes later, your fellow teammate comes in to inform you that the boss stopped by his office as well and gave him a $60,000 bonus check.

Wait a minute… that so called “happiness” probably faltered for a moment there didn’t it? In fact, if you are like most people, you may even have felt the completely reverse emotion. I mean after all, what did your teammate do that made him earn $10,000 more than you? Aren’t you worth it?

Within that short time frame, the thing so many call “happiness” becomes “jealousy” and even “anger” or “hatred.”

Curious no?

In that case, perhaps  it’s just that society’s portrayal of happiness is an entirely empty notion. And with that in mind, the conclusion I’ve managed to draw from my own experiences is the following:

True happiness is the ability to appreciate the present moment regardless of the conditions around us.

I know that this may seem downright crazy, but this is one concept that many people fail to grasp their entire lives. They spend all this time and energy trying to pursue this notion of happiness that society has defined to only end up never really getting to truly enjoy their lives. Think about it: perspective is everything. What seems amazing in one respect can be completely awful from a different perspective. Being able to grasp this can make all the difference in your life.

Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Remember that no matter what tragic event has befallen you, it is not the end of your story. There is no telling when your story will end, but you would be selling yourself short if you were to choose your story to live out as a tragedy.

The time you have now is the best opportunity of all. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, and there is no way to change the past. The present is the only time you have complete control over, so stop letting that time pass you by any longer. After all, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s greener where you water it.

Today’s post is inspired by Don’t Indulge. Be Happy. –

“Should you accept a job you don’t want?”

To most people, the answer is probably pretty straight forward: “If you don’t have a job, you accept whatever comes to your doorstep!”  And to the majority, I don’t blame you for reducing the rationale of answering that question to a one step statement.  The fact of the matter is however, that a person should consider a variety of factors before simply saying “yes” to any employer who waves a job offer in his/her face.

I recognize that in these difficult economic times, it seems that while jobs seem to be available to apply to, job offers simply are harder to come by.  You might think that I’m crazy, but let’s not take my word alone shall we?  Our second opinions for today’s post comes from “Should you accept a job you don’t want” by Sonia Acosta.

#1. The Pigeon Hole

I get it.  You don’t have a job.  Any job seems lucrative at this point.  But hang on there, the question I pose to you is this: “Do you have a dream job that you’re trying to get?”  If you have no idea right now, feel free to move on to the next points.  But if you are, think about the fact that more and more positions these days are asking for X years of experience in the field of interest.  If you get pigeon holed in a dead end career with no chance of transition, what chance do you think you’ll have of ever getting your dream job at age 30 and 7 years of experience in a career you don’t give a shit about?

The Exception: If the job you’re taking (e.g., Customer Service Representative) can help you leapfrog into other positions due to networking and semi-relevant tasks to the field you want, then by all means, take the job.

#2.  Burning Bridges

Acosta brings up a great point here regarding the fact that you don’t want to burn bridges.  As she states, companies invest a lot of money in bringing new employees up to speed (e.g., training and other employees’ time) and are looking for at least a two year commitment.   If you think you’re going to leaving within a few months, I’d reconsider taking the job since it would just end up being a bad mark on your record.   Plus, employers talk to each other more than we’re aware of, imagine if your the hiring manager for your dream job knew the company you left abruptly.   Bad karma.

The Exception: It’s true.  Sometimes we do end up in a position where we’ve only been at a job for a short period of time and we miraculously are offered our dream job.  In that case, while it isn’t the most ideal situation, you have to leave and pursue your goals.  It’s your life after all.  No one is going to give you any brownie points for giving up your dream so some people wouldn’t be mildly offended.

#3. Affordability

Why did I wait till the last point to deal with the one everyone is probably protesting about when I say to not take any job even if your jobless?  The answer is because it’s just not as simple as “needing money.”   Acosta brings up the point that if the job is extremely intensive and your entire life is thrown out of balance because the 40 hour job actually requires 60 hours and pays you on a salary basis with no bonus potential, it might not be worth it.  There are many factors that come into play when accepting a job, and you have to weigh all the variables when making your decision.  After all, why accept a job to support a life that you don’t find is worth living?

The Exception: If you have a family that your supporting (and particularly kids), you absolutely must take whatever job comes your way.  I don’t care if your dream job is being a computer technician and all that’s available to you is a job where you stare at oranges to ensure that the juice comes from concentration.  Your duty is to your family.  (I’m not proposing that you give up on your dream, but you’ll need to take a different route than the one I’m suggesting in this post.  More on this at another time).

Fact of the matter is that there is no clear cut answer to whether you should take a job (unless you are the bread winner for your family, to which I reiterate that you take whatever comes your way).  Although it may be tough to stomach turning down a job, try and remember the big picture and the long term effects that come with rash or poor decisions made out of desperation.

If anyone would like me to help weigh in on a decision like the one we discussed today (or any others for that matter), feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email and I’d be more than happy to help out.

“I Love My Job, But It Made Me Poorer”

This week’s post is to help put some perspective on the alternative methods that I’ve been presenting lately.  In the article, “I Love My Job, But It Made Me Poorer,” by JD Samson, JD talks about the misfortune of having a job that she loves yet does not enjoy the financial success that many others seem to have.  In JD’s scenario, she pursued the one avenue that draws a lot of criticism: music and the arts.

Let us assume that you are like JD, and your passion lies within the arts.  Unfortunately for you, even though American society is far more open to the idea of trying to become a successful musician or artist (as compared to Asian culture), I’m pretty sure that a majority of parents would still have their reservations about pursuing this field.  Though it pains me to admit this, they have good reason to have their reservations.

For many of us, pursuing our passion and deviating from the norm is risky.  There is a solid chance that we might not be successful, and possibly end up in a less than desirable situation.  Many of us could end up like JD, in a position where we are questioning where we went wrong in our path to breaking norms and living a different life than the factory produced life so many seem to have.

In the end however, even that struggle to figure out what went wrong is simply that: a struggle.  What people forget is that you took a shot at what you wanted to do.  You stepped up to the plate, and you swung for the fences even though you were about to strikeout.  Even though it’s easy to look at those who have achieved success and admire them, there is a great deal of respect and admiration for those who have tried, failed, and got back on their feet so that they could move on.

We all know that life is ephemeral and nothing we do or create will ever be permanent.  Even the safest routes have their struggles and obstacles, so why not struggle and fight for something you want and believe in?  Take a deep breath.  Step forth.  Have no regrets.  And go forth with what your heart desires.  It’s your life.  Live it to the fullest.