in Musings

Do the Opposite

“But everyone else is doing it!”
“But everyone else has one!”
“But everyone else thinks so!”

I would whine and use these phrases as a kid whenever I tried to convince my parents to let me go to a party or stay up later or buy me a new toy. They were my go-to phrases, in fact, because I thought if all my friends were doing something, it had to be right…right?

I’ve since realized how wrong (and bratty) I was, and how bad of a general principle this is. If my future kid ever used the same argument, I would 100% not agree to whatever his demand was.

The fact that everyone else is doing something means you should be very hesitant about following suit. Mark Twain once said whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect. I would add to that, to say pause, reflect, then strongly consider doing the opposite. 

In fact, the recent financial market crashes this past decade can be largely attributed to the fact that too many people did what everyone else did. Before the dot-com bubble in 2000, everyone’s neighbor and garbageman knew that buying Internet stocks were a good play. Market crashed. In the years leading up to the 2008 housing crisis, again, everyone and their grandma knew that buying a house was the right thing to do. Market crashed, as did the entire US economy. There were, of course, other underlying factors, but the fact remains that people were caught up following the herd, doing what everyone else did, and ended up paying for it.

When you look at statistics of any sort that categorizes populations by averages, what you’ll largely find is mediocrity.

  • The average person watches 30+ hours of TV every week (that’s 4-5 hours a day). [1]
  • The average household has $15,000 in debt. [2]
  • The average person is overweight. [3]
  • The average person works a job they dislike, wants to quit but never does. [4]
  • The average household spends $540 on lottery tickets a year. [5]

So the best way to avoid this trap of becoming the average is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Of what’s normal. Think of any application where conventional wisdom tells you to do one thing, and figure out a way to do it differently.

Of course, this is easier said than done. But most people are unaware that life can even be any different than what it is. They look around at their friends and coworkers, see they’re largely talking about and doing the same things, and feel as if they’re OK, that what they’re doing is considered “normal.” They feel reassured, and continue following the prescribed social norms.

Don’t let the opinions of the average man sway you. Dream, and he thinks you’re crazy. Succeed, and he thinks you’re lucky. Acquire wealth, and he thinks you’re greedy. Pay no attention. He simply doesn’t understand.
-Robert G. Allen

The thing is, I don’t think anyone sets out to be average. As kids, we all had lofty dreams and our potential was essentially limitless. We could be anything we wanted. Mediocrity was not in our vocabularies. As we grow older, though, external factors force us to create limiting expectations of ourselves. People tell us to “be realistic,” that we should be grateful for what we have (read: guilt-tripping us for wanting more), and try to confine us to a box of who we’re supposed to be. And we conform, along with the rest of the world.

Some people truly do just want to go through life not really standing out, not wanting to be in the spotlight, just wanting to fit in. That’s fine, but for the rest of us, we who want to be above average and live a remarkable life, can only get there by doing things that other people don’t.

It means sometimes we’ll stick out. We’ll be put in uncomfortable positions. We’ll face criticisms and judgments, piss people off, and lose acquaintances and friends in the process. It’s the price to pay sometimes to stand out from the crowd.

Yet we can find comfort in the discomfort, knowing that when we experience these things, we’re on the right path. Doing the right things will inevitably piss people off, but so be it. The only way to avoid any criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.

Two roads are thus presented: the tried and true, well-worn path, leading to the populous land of average, and the other less traveled, leading you where only you can know as you forge your own way in this world, leaving your own trail behind in the process.