I have an annoying habit of assuming everyone around me is wrong. Wait, that's not exactly right. I don’t think everything people do and say is wrong. I think when people do things in a herd, it's often the wrong thing. The more people that choose something, the more I think "It's probably the wrong something." If I saw a thousand people running in panic, in the same direction, my instinct would be to run in the opposite direction. When I hear everyone around me praising the benefits of this diet or that book, I think, “This is not for me." I almost automatically go against the crowd.
I have no idea where this contrarian mindset came from. Sometimes, it causes me to make mistakes. Huge ones that people around me can say, “Look at that fool, we all knew better!” But lots of other times, almost the majority of times, it has served me well. It allowed me to side step things other people fell victim to. This tendency is really what enables me to live in a fantastic place like Hawaii. I really don't think I could have pulled any of this off if I had followed what everyone else does. It's brought me down the road less traveled. And, I think, it's what is leading me to find the purpose I was meant for.
The pressure to do what everyone else does is overwhelming. We see it on TV, the news, our friends, our neighbors. We are told every day what everyone else is doing and how we would really just be happier if we did the same thing. And if you don’t, people will laugh at you. Our society seems to have a rule that if the majority believe something it must be true. If the majority believes they shouldn’t eat carbohydrates, then there must be something to it. If the majority thinks the world is flat, it must be so. We don’t understand science, therefore it must be a lie. I think this is why I have given up on the news. I no longer care what the majority think.
|This was a good example of the herd being wrong|
The stock market is the perfect example: It's fairly easy to use the internet and learn in a few minutes what the herd is buying. For those who don’t follow the market, the herd is what institutional investors (a.k.a. the big boys) call the individual investors and mutual fund holders. They say, “Look, the herd is buying oil stocks.” I always chuckle when I hear people using the term. It automatically implies they know better. That they are not part of the herd. But so often they are. They feel they are smarter buying Johnson and Johnson while the ‘herd’ is buying Pfizer ( both drug companies). The truth is, most everyone is a fool when it comes to the market. Studies that have looked at long term returns for professional investors have shown that the majority of them do worse over 10 year periods, than simple stock index funds. This means if you add up all their experience, degrees, and all the ways they cheat to know the future, all of it adds up to less than a simple stock index of large US companies. You can outperform 80% of them by simply ignoring both the herd and the big boys and simply buy and hold a few stock indexes. Don't you love it?
My two children are home schooled. It was not something I ever pictured myself doing. I went to public school as did my wife. Our free education served us well; I have no complaints. When we first enrolled our son in public school in Hawaii, we learned about the strange phenomenon of our state's school system. By 6th grade, more than 60% of the students are in private schools. That shocked me. Especially considering that most private schools cost about $15,000 per year. Several of the better ones cost upwards of $20,000! I sure as heck was not going to do this! That would cost me 35K per year for my two kids. How stupid!
So we dug in to the public schools here. We volunteered at them. We helped out. I taught my son’s second grade science class. Once a week, I became Mr. Science. I did this for the entire year in his second grade class. My wife helped in reading groups. We were both very active parents at the school. That’s how we learned what the problem was in Hawaii. It’s the pervasive group mentality that causes it to lag. The majority of people on this island believe that if you really love your child and if your child is smart, that you must put them in private school. This point was driven home by my son’s third grade teacher. I met with her because my son felt he wasn’t allowed to write long essays in class. He thought she had punished him for writing too much. No way! I went to talk to her. It was true. She explained to me how the class was not writing at the same level my son was. Her job was to move the whole class along at the same pace, so his writing too much and too well was somehow disrupting her plan, so she told my son he was in error. But what she said next is the final straw that led us to home schooling. She said. “Your son needs to be at Punahou School. That is where my kids went. That’s where kids like your son will be challenged. I am the best teacher in this school and I am doing the best I can. I can’t make this place Punahou for your son.” Just for your information, President Obama attended Punahou school when he grew up on this island.
We were being told we should pay for private school. This is what all the other 'smart' parents did. . She was certainly not the first person to tell us this. Several other teachers had told us more or less the same thing, just more eloquently. No one who sits on the Hawaii state school board has their kids in public school. No principals put their children in the public schools. The attitude is, you are a loser parent if you do. Obviously, you don’t love your kids as much as the ones who spend 35K a year to give their kids the best education. And so, the public schools lag. The very parents who are most capable of fighting for better public education have their kids in private school. No one remains to fight for better school. To ask for a better education. The kids left in public school are thought of as those less deserving.
So I saw this herd moving toward private school and I thought, no. There has to be a better solution. We discovered a way to get very good online curriculum from a provider called K12. We go through a local charter school that pays for all the curriculum, books, and even the computer. Our children attend school there one day a week. The rest of the time, they are home working on the computer with their work. They are excelling. They are working ahead almost 2 years of where they would have been in public school. We have several ways to constantly test them to be sure they are learning what they need. My son writes beautifully for an 11 year old. My daughter is doing math 2 grade levels above her old class. It is also a LOT of work and time on my wife and me. We are able to split our schedule, so I am with them 2 days a week at home, to do their schoolwork. They are with my wife for 2 days and the charter school for one. We have really had to struggle to find ways for them to be around other kids socially. But all in all, the final product is worth it.
If I look at any aspect of my life, I seem to gravitate toward the path few are on. Most therapists are simply employed by others; I have my own practice. Most investors “play the market.” I buy and hold with a passive investing style. When I realized I could not afford to buy a home in Hawaii, I bought a home with rentals instead. My retirement plan is something very few would consider. Since I don’t work for a company, I have no offer of a pension or stock options. Instead, I own shares of real estate investment trusts, oil pipelines, and several index funds. It is not your typical portfolio or plan. Someone at my brokerage recently reviewed it and said “I really don’t understand what you are doing here.” Good! I like it that way. I just ignore their calls.
I am not trying to say everyone needs to copy me. In fact, I don’t want anyone to do what I am or use me as a model. That would make me a herd leader! Please don’t. Instead, think about one aspect of your life that you are unhappy with. Maybe it's something you are doing because that's just what you are suppose to do. Maybe it's dressing a certain way or putting your family on a certain diet. Maybe it's selling something or bringing your child to some after school thing. Deep down, you may be questioning this. Listen to your deep down feelings. Stop doing this thing. Just for a week or two. See if your life is better or worse without it. I will bet you, it's better. We really don’t need to do all the things our friends and neighbors do. Your child does not need to do two activities after school every day. You do not need to join that multi-level marketing thing. Your family is okay eating gluten. I am speaking in generalities here. Gluten might also kill them. My point is, we all need to break free. We need to hear our own music, and you can’t if you are listening to everyone else.
Write to me if you try this. I would love to know.