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The Herd is Wrong

I always had high hopes for each of my romantic relationships since college, but the truth is, each was destined to fail.  Every time I started to get into a relationship, I changed who I was (well really I just lost who I was) because society told me my usual behavior wasn’t kosher.  In the beginning I discuss how I followed the herd to tell me how to act in my relationships (the same herd that is statistically destined for divorice, mind you) and how following the norm wasn’t good for me.  Then I’ll talk about a situation where I set out to do exactly the opposite of what most people were doing and how well I fared in that.

Workaholics Anonymous

If I have learned anything from TV, it is that men who are too into their work are destined to have a terrible family life.  Their wives will feel lonely and ignored.  Their children will constantly be disappointed with a father who is too busy to play or show up for a recital.  I’m sure you’ve seen a show like this, and of course the guy always tries to do better but some outside circumstance gets in his way and he blows his last chance.  I don’t want to be that guy.

To show that I cared for my significant others, I’d spend more and more time with them.  I’d let them distract me at work with instant messages or emails.  I’d answer their calls if they called while I was at work.  I’d forgo opportunities to earn extra money and I’d stop monitoring my expenditures.  By losing the persona of being a person who worked hard, I felt like I was making a small sacrifice to show her that she was loved.

Unfortunately this never worked out.  Eventually I’d lose my passion and the relationship would get caught in a rut.  By giving up the things that made me feel strong and confident, everything grew stale.  I figured that society knew better than me because I was heading into uncharted territories.  I did what I thought everyone was expecting me to do and it ended badly.  These periods of time for me are filled full of regret, but no one is there to share the blame besides myself.  The funny thing is, if I really followed the herd, I’d spend less time working, more time at a bar, and the same amount of time with my significant other that I naturally would.

The Ring of Regret

ringpop

When my ex-fiancee and I were discussing marriage, she convinced me to go try on rings so we would know each others’ size when the time came.  Of course she couldn’t stop there when the sales lady was encouraging her to try on the fanciest rings in the store.  She was putting on rings that were over 3 times the price that I felt was reasonable for such an item.  Her eyes glistened and she had no problems telling me that she needed the biggest and nicest stones.  I argued that really the value should be meaningless and all that really matters is the symbol of our love and connection.  A ring pop should serve the same purpose.  We got nowhere; we both lived in such different realities that a compromise seemed impossible.  So I looked to society for an answer.  Everyone I talked to encouraged me to spend as much as I could.  Why?  I was given all sorts of reasons like, “it will be worn every day” or that it would somehow “show my commitment to her.”  Unfortunately I neglected to ask the people who were the closest to me.  I asked the people who were convenient, not the people who knew my core values.

So feeling the pressure of the herd, I caved.  I told myself that even though it didn’t feel right, there were more-experienced people than me who said this was right.  I thought it was just another small sacrifice I would have to make to show how much I cared.  Or to show how good of a husband I would be.  Again, I am now filled with a deep amount of regret for trusting the general population, but there is no one to share my burden.  I am looking for a way to get rid of the ring, but it turns out that diamond rings lose about 1/2 of their value the minute you buy them.  It really sucks, but I’ve decided that 1/2 of the money will provide more benefit than just some metal sitting around.

The Herd Picks ‘em

This last example is the converse of the above two.  I did exactly the opposite of what the herd told me to do (really as part of an experiment) and it actually led me to pretty good success.  Remember back in 2008 when the economy wasn’t doing so hot?  Anyone who watched the news knew the recession was coming and that stocks were about to lose value.  The 3 American automakers were headed towards certain doom.  Anyone who watched what was happening began to move their money from stocks into bonds.  Stock prices to dropped further and the bond prices began to rise.  The trend caused even more people to leave the unsafe stocks for decently performing bonds.  As stocks were reaching an all-time low, I decided it was time to make my move and I invested in the US auto industry.  I purchased stocks in Ford and GM.  Two people I carpooled with actually chastised me very heavily for buying stocks…especially in such a bad industry.

So what happened?  As we all know, GM went bankrupt and the stock prices plummeted.  When I actually got around to selling GM, I ended up losing 2/3 of the money I initially invested.  Maybe the herd got this one right?  (Hint: no!)  Do you know what happened with Ford?  I purchased my shares of Ford at $2 even.  I sold them at $7.40.  Although I lost a decent amount with GM, I made such an obscene amount with Ford that it doesn’t really matter.  In the overall transaction, I earned a 220% return in just over 6 months.

My point is that sometimes if you do exactly the opposite of what the herd would do, it works out very well in your favor.

Staying True

What all of this really tells me is that we need to stay true to ourselves.  The general society will always move in one direction or another.   Sometimes we end up choosing to go the same way as society or sometimes we choose to go the opposite.  In my experience, choosing the opposite direction leads to more frequent success, but there is never a guarantee.  Besides, being different for the sake of being different doesn’t seem smart either.  It is our responsibility (no one else’s!) to pick what direction is the right way for us.  Being in tune with what is most important to us and refusing to let others dictate the direction we take will lead us towards infinite happiness.

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