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 I will continue this experiment until my monetary ratio of money withdrawn to money given out is 1% or less.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


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!

The Best Solutions in Life

In anticipation of Labor Day Weekend, I’ve decided to release the post early since I’m sure everyone will be off having fun on Monday. So, to kick everything off, I hope you’ll take five minutes to watch the following speech from Kenneth Cole – “The Birth of a Shoe Company.” This lecture is different from the typical TED Talks in that it is only a few minutes long and is an anecdote about how Kenneth Cole created a successful company amidst a recession.

If I were to select the single most memorable moment in the entire lecture, it is the following statement:

“Invariably, we remind ourselves that the best solutions are not the most expensive but are the most creative.” – Kenneth Cole

Although it seem incredibly obvious, it still blew my mind as to how simple and true his statement was. Yet, when I looked at myself and the others around me, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many of us seem to purposely avoid the creative solutions.

Let’s take the following example:

In the pursuit of the idea of entrepreneurship, I thought that it might be a good idea for me to get an understanding of marketing. After all, how can I make a successful business without an understanding of marketing? So with that in mind, I immediately hit Amazon to find all the best books in marketing I could find. Before I knew it, I had about $100 in books that I was ready to order. Then, on top of that, some of the books mentioned some brilliant marketers who were selling courses online. Next thing I know, I’m waist deep in online course material from people who’ve “made it big” and created “viral online products” that “generated thousands of dollars in passive income.” 

If we take a step back, I’m sure it doesn’t take a scientist to notice that my immediate approach at the solution was to spend money. Perhaps it is because that in my mind I equate spending money on something with obtaining something of value. To some extent, it’s not completely invalid. For instance, by purchasing a credible and informative book on marketing, I will have obtained the value of marketing knowledge in the form of a book.

Here’s where the problem occurs:

A. Most people who buy the book feel satisfied in simply buying the book, and the next thing they know the book is collecting dust on the bookshelf.

B. The 10% of people who actually read what they buy will then decide they need more knowledge and go purchase more books or even enroll in a some seminar or class.

C. The cycle repeats itself and no one gets to where they originally intended: obtaining the skill of marketing.

While there are some people who go through Situation B and actually obtain something of worth, let’s be realistic with ourselves in knowing we are not that 0.01%.

So the question is how we avoid these types of common pitfalls.

#1. When approached with a problem or goal, your first solution should NEVER be to spend money.

#2. Once you’ve suppressed the impulse to spend money, do your research online. Let’s not forget everyone, the chances are extremely high that someone else has already encountered your problem and posted about it online. So why don’t we just take a minute or so to see what the vast internet has for us?

#3. If it seems that you need to purchase something, make sure you’re well aware of what you already have and see if you can re-purpose anything you have instead of spending more money.

#4. Roll your sleeves up and dive right into the problem. Don’t make excuses for why something can’t done. Just take action and by doing so you will progress forward.

At first it may be a little difficult to be creative with what you have and make clever use of your time and energy, but the great thing about starting this process is that it will get easier and easier over time. And before you know it, you’ll be coming up with things that seem common-sense to you; but brilliant in the eyes of those around you.

The Foundation for Any Promotion

Today’s post is inspired by @Passenger00 for her suggestion to discuss a critical aspect to people who have jobs: Promotions.

Let’s face it, I don’t think there’s a single in this universe employed person who wouldn’t be psyched at the idea of getting a raise. I know I know… didn’t I just say that we’d be talking about promotions? Well, for the majority of people, they are only interested in promotions because it comes with the notion of being paid more. The types of people who acquiring more responsibility for their own personal fulfillment tend to do so on their own, so we won’t talk about that group for today.

Before we jump into understanding the foundation for getting any promotion, it’s important to keep the following caveats in mind:

  1. Organization’s Financial Standing – Let’s face it. Even though you are the best of the best in the organization, if their profit margins can’t support the salary you’re looking for, you better not hold your breath in anticipation.
  2. Career Earning Potential – On the flip side of the coin, if the career path you’re getting into has known salary range of $30k to $70k, I wouldn’t sit idly in my ivory tower waiting for my charming supervisor to come rushing over with a grandiose salary of $100+k.
  3. Your Organization’s Earning Potential – Sandwiched in-between caveats 1 and 2 is the fact that the salary of the people you work with would be a VERY good indicator of what you could potentially stand to make. It doesn’t matter that your career has an average starting salary of $80k a year. Because if the organization you chose to work for only pays entry level people $50k and your supervisor only makes $80k, fat chance getting that six figure salary.
Disclaimer: As with just about anything in life, there is an exception to every rule. These caveats are no exception to that. Read on to find out the single exception to these caveats.
That being said, the #1 thing that you have to understand when it comes to getting a promotion is that it is all based on one single factor: the value you provide to the organization.

Now many of you will retort that with other aspects that come into play, such as trust, reliability, and so forth; but I would argue that a person who truly provides a solid value to the company that is recognized by his/her peers and supervisors inevitably has all those other traits. After all, I would say that it would be difficult for you to be valuable to the company if they had a hard time trusting you to get your work done on time or doing you work well.

So the question ends up being: How do I provide value to my company that will increase my chances of getting a promotion?

1. Bring in new business

That’s right. Sales… revenue… profit… donations… endowments… in the end, it all boils down to new money.

Let’s remind ourselves what the ultimate purpose of 99.999% of every organization is: avoiding going in the red(i.e. avoid debt). (I know most you probably thought I was going to say something along the lines of “make money,” but I’ve already thought of the non-profit rebuttal and thus you lose your chance to be a smarty pants. Muahaha.)

For those of you smarty pants, you probably also suspected that this is the ONE exception to the caveats I posed above. After all, if you can bring in new business and increase your organization’s profitability, you can be damn sure they are going to pay you well. And here’s the thing, if they don’t, someone else DEFINITELY will. If you can bring in new clients, customers, donations, you will not only be one of the most valued people in your organization, but chances are you will also be one of the most well paid as well.

But in all honesty, so sales is something that doesn’t jive well with most of us. And let’s face it, if that was one of our stronger suits, we’d already be in sales. So since #1 won’t work for most of us, let’s start with the next best thing you can do to get a promotion.

2. Be present in your organization.

This sounds REALLY simple, but I assure you that MOST people fail to do this. Because ultimately, being present in your organization is far more than just showing up to work and getting your work done on time. This is about being engaged with the people and culture that constitute your organization.

Remember the following, unless your organization is completely backwards and likes Mr./Ms. Outside Hire for higher level positions (in which case I’d suggest you leave as soon as you can because you’re never going anywhere), the people who will end up recommending you for your promotion will ALWAYS come from within.

Invest time in your co-workers, supervisor, clients, and just about anyone else you encounter at work. Each genuine and well-executed decision will serve as another building block to your recognition and eventual promotion/raise. After all, it takes nothing more than an ecstatic customer who sends a letter of gratitude to your supervisor for you to be put on the radar for that next position.

So go out to happy hour, eat out with your co-workers when you can, and enjoy your work environment as much as you can. After all, we spend 40+ hours a week there, so why not invest some time and money in making it a place that’s enjoyable?

Also, while these are all great things to do while at your job, these are things I would recommend avoiding:

  • Working from home for a majority of the time – Yes. I know. Working at home can be awesome and relaxing, but I assure you, just as quickly as you forget about the office and stop worrying about people looking over your shoulder as you fire up the TV as you sit on your laptop, the people at the office will also forget about your existence as well. I don’t think it takes a genius to see how this might be disadvantageous to you if a promotion/raise is something you’re gunning for.
  • Being a kiss ass – While some people enjoy having someone kiss their ass, this is a high-risk approach that will most likely leave a nasty impression on the people around you. Being kind and genuine is one thing, but the moment people start noticing that you’re fake and insincere, you are going to have one hell of a time digging yourself out of it. And a great work environment is about trust and mutual respect, not about selfish people out for their own benefit.

Remember that every relationship you invest in will only serve to benefit you in the future. This could range from letters of recommendations, networks into future employment, possible entrepreneurial ventures, and so forth. So don’t forget that being genuine and honest will not only serve you well in your career growth, but many other aspects of your life as well.

3. Be crazy productive at your job.

In all honesty, I wanted to leave this one off the list. Unfortunately, I cannot deny the fact that a lot people do get promoted based on this very fact. So here we go…

To start, let me clarify that being good at what you do and being crazy productive are two different things. Being good at your job is the prerequisite to any kind of promotion, but just being crazy productive at your job is one of the worst ways to get a promotion. Before you go off, disagreeing with me though. Hear me out.

The logic for this fundamental is as follows: Produce a lot for the company, therefore you are valuable to the company.

From a simpleton’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. If you consider the complexities of well, life in general, it actually exposes you to a huge threat. What is that threat? It is the threat that you will work tirelessly to be the most productive employee in your organization and only end up with a plaque at the end of the year that says “Employee of the Year.” I don’t know about you; but to me, that kind of recognition is another way of saying, “We thought about paying you more, but we’ve decided that all we can afford is this plaque and some cheese/veggie/cookie trays. Good job kiddo!”

I’m not trying to discredit the fact that it is important to be recognized and that being “Employee of the Year” wouldn’t be an achievement. It is a big deal and is something to be celebrated; but let’s not lose our focus here, you want a promotion/raise. I know that some people will argue that it is a step forward in being recognized and an eventual promotion, but I think that people in modern society are trying to live their lives more efficiently.

That may sound weird to you at first, but think about it. Who in their right mind would want to wait five years for a promotion? Even if you were to say you’d get one in three years, let me remind you would have spent those three years toiling away at your desk and not living it at all. If this recent recession and job scare has taught you anything, it should be that layoffs don’t discriminate between anyone. After all, why pay one person a lot of money when you can just lay him off and make lower paid workers simply do more or just outsource? With the exception of sales, whether you like it or not, you can be replaced. And in a time like now, your “productivity” can be replaced for a much lower price tag.

We’re part of a new generation that is realizing that ideals such as “work-life balance” are things that are actually achievable if we give it the effort it deserves. So why follow an old model of career promotions? I can tell you for certain that I will not be waiting around for someone to hand me a promotion because I’ve been super obedient and give up the one resource I can never get back.

In the end, if you are still going to insist on using this route, then let me ask that you revise your approach to the following:

4. Be one of the best in your field.

I know that sounds really ambitious and can be very vague for a lot of people, but believe me when I say that this is a far better path than being “crazy productive.”

The reason for this is because it is precisely this kind of drive and ambition that open doors of opportunity for people. When you aim to be one of the best in your field, you are talking about one of the most prized traits that people try to systematically create but can’t: innovation.

I hate to leave this approach with such a short description; but that’s the thing about innovation and drive, there are no formulas that will guarantee your success. I will say that based on a person’s personality, circumstances, and skills, I could craft a guideline for him/her. But as far as generic advice goes, I can only recommend that you read more about the concepts of creativity and innovation. And if you need role models to remind you of the great things you can do, I recommend reading more books about entrepreneurs and the amazing things that they are doing.

In summary, most of you will be utilizing a combination of the approaches above. If I were to recommend a single approach to work on however, it would definitely be #2. The thing you have to realize is that ultimately, promotion or not, people want to live their life as fully as they possibly can. After all, there is no guarantee that any of these methods will result in a promotion. If I were to promise you anything though, it’s that growing your social skills, ability to be genuine, and being engaged in your life will be an inspiration and joy for the people around you to see. And if I’ve learned anything from my own experiences and the people I know, it’s that the people around you are what really make your life worth living.

Beginning Your Job Search

For most of our lives, we’ve had everything planned out for us. There were some deviations that were permitted along the way (e.g., elective classes); but for the most part, we were always quite sure of what lay ahead of us and never had to really worry about going outside the box. While this may seem all dandy for the first twenty of so years of people’s lives, the shock of reality comes when we find ourselves confronted with a job hunt that is more open ended than we could have possibly imagined.

It’s ironic that choosing a major seems to be of such importance when most students never truly confront the question that is posed to them numerous times throughout high school and college:

“So what do you want to do (with your career/life)?”

Most of us shrug it off with “I’ll figure it out later” and go on wandering aimlessly through college. While this may work for some, there are many others who end up at graduation with little to no idea as to what they will do to combat unemployment.

The most common way that most people go about narrowing the job hunt is to start by focusing on jobs that request for their degree. This would seem to be the most logical method, but this is the #1 way to end up in some random job that you start second guessing before your first week is even over.

Instead of trying to narrow it down from such a huge range of positions, I would start the other direction: Start by looking at positions that sound interesting to you. This means any positions with a job description that you think you would want to do. The reason I recommend this is the fact that there are too many people who find “entry level” positions and try to tailor their resume toward this hollow job that they don’t give a rat’s ass about.

If you find a position that you actually care about and think that you might actually enjoy, chances are pretty good that the resume you will begin to craft and the application process you are about to embark on will be a much more meaningful journey.

Some concerns that may occur to some of you is the idea that you will not always qualify for the jobs that you actually want. For this sentiment, I would put forth the idea that when you find that position you are unqualified for, that’s the time to start working backwards to figure out how to get to where you want to be.

Give this method a try. It might be kind of unconventional, but I assure you that you are much more likely to find your dream job this way than to search for jobs the way everyone else is doing.

New Month Resolution Tactics

As promised, here are your tactics for creating your
New Month Resolutions for 2012.  

If you haven’t had a chance to read the background to these tactics,
please feel free to read it here when you get the chance.

When it comes to crafting your resolutions, we’re going to follow the SMART model.

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Reward
T – Timely

For these tactics, let’s go ahead and steer away from weight loss since that example has been done so many times you could probably recite it in the comments without blinking an eye.  So I’m going to go ahead and use a skill acquisition goal that I’ve been procrastinating and hopefully you modify these techniques to your own goals.

New Year Resolution: To learn and become well-versed in calligraphy.

So this is a pretty simple and straight forward goal.  I want to learn calligraphy.  I want to be good at it.  And I want to do it in a year.  This is certainly an achievable goal (unless for whatever reason I broke hands or something).  This skill is a little harder to measure, but since we want to make sure that it’s a measurable goal, let’s go ahead and say that becoming well-versed in calligraphy means that I can write in at least 10 different font styles without referencing anything.  

  • REWARD: The reward is the new skill of calligraphy, but like I said before, this overarching goal will probably fail unless we set up monthly checkpoints.  So onto the next step.

First Month Resolution: To read “Calligraphy: A Course in Hand Lettering” and learn the fundamentals techniques of calligraphy.

Again, this goal is very simple and straight forward.  It calls for completion of a single book (the specific and measurable aspect), and to learn the fundamental techniques of calligraphy taught in the book.  This is certainly attainable since the book is not that long and as long as I put aside the proper time, it’s perfectly achievable.  The timeline is a month to do actually a pretty simple task.  By keeping it simple and easy to achieve, the likelihood that I’ll actually do it is increased that much more.  If I had made this month’s goal overly ambitious, I may not even want to get started on the goal, much less complete it.  

  • REWARD: A brand new calligraphy set.  Nothing too fancy.  This reward works particularly well because instead of spending a whole bunch of money to try and accomplish a goal you think is achievable at first, you will invest a little bit of money, and then prove to yourself that you’ve invested a whole month of time into actually doing something.  And as a result, you deserve to invest some more money into accomplishing the goal.

Month (2-10) Resolution: Learn one new font per month.

From this point on, it’s a matter of breaking down the goal into simple actionable steps that are easily achievable.  Based on my understanding of my own abilities and calligraphy, one font a month shouldn’t be terribly difficult for me to do.  

  • REWARD: Dinner of My Choice!  Now this may seem like a small thing to you, but I LOVEEE food.  So a chance to go wherever I want guilt free would be GREAT!  Plus, in light of the fact that I’ve learned a new font, I will write invitations to people I want to celebrate with me in the new font I’ve learned!  Talk about a great way to show off my new skill while celebrating in style!
Final Month Resolution: Practice alternating between fonts and recalling them at a moments notice.
This is more a wrapping the loose ends type of goal.  It allows for a little breathing room in case some of the fonts from the other months are a little harder to master than others.  By doing so, you ensure that the goal will be properly completed by the year’s end.
  • REWARD: I know I said the reward was the skill of calligraphy.  But screw that, my reward is going to be a brand new tech gadget for my awesome arsenal.  No idea what it will be as of right now, but if I manage to complete this big goal, a shiny new toy is waiting for me.  Muahahaha.
So there you have it.  An actionable plan that will ensure that your goal is actually accomplished.  And in case you are feeling super ambitious, go ahead and break the monthly goals into Weekly Resolutions that have mini-rewards as well.
One piece of advice though, don’t break your goals all the way down to Daily Resolutions.  Too much planning and micromanaging of your goals can actually end up killing the process since life is unpredictable and having your process interrupted constantly will end up being very discouraging.
Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read this.  2011 has been a rough year for many, but let’s go ahead and seize 2012 for our own shall we?  And for those who want to tell me the world is ending, well, I guess we better be extra productive with the time we have left then!  Happy New Years!