Do the Opposite of Normal

normal spongebob

To get an uncommon life, do uncommon things. Do the opposite of normal.

I have no idea what the future will bring. Heck, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing now. But everything turns out pretty well for me because I possess what’s scarce. My secret is to find what everyone is doing (easy), and then do the reverse. Collect scarcity by doing the opposite.

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
Jerry to George, Seinfeld

The method of doing the opposite works because if everyone is doing something, it’s abundant. If it can be obtained anywhere, it’s cheap. Rarity makes something valuable. Gold is rare, as are doctors. And that makes both of those things expensive and desirable.

Become expensive and desirable.

I kept getting fired. That’s how I first learned the strategy of doing the opposite. All of the normal decisions had gone really badly for me. Since I was unemployed, where was there to go but up? If you would rather be in a different place than you’re at right now, why not try something new? New decisions will lead you to new places.

I turn down free money. A company scammed us, so I left them over a dozen bad reviews online. The owner of the company offered $2,500 as a way to bribe us to take the reviews down, because the rest of their reviews were great. We told him to stop harassing us.

Normal people take the money. But Alicia and I enforce standards on the world, not the other way around. Steve Jobs was notorious for having a “reality distortion field”. He imposed his will on everything around him. I’m not Steve Jobs, but every time I push back on the world, the world moves. (And I’m always surprised when it does.)

We sold our house. Normal people keep upgrading their home, aka “spreading their roots”. We dumped our house. Not having a house allows us to be anywhere in the world at any time. It allows us to have zero debt and save money. Oddly enough, traveling around the world is cheaper than living in the US.

No house = permanent vacation + save money + and no damn yard work

People told me that being a professional gambler was a mistake.

My mother cried when I told her I was going to play poker professionally. Everyone assumed I was dealing drugs or living off the government. But I was a pro for 2.5 years, paying for our destination wedding to Aruba, my wife’s engagement ring, and her BMW.

It’s not normal to give up a stable career like programming for professional gambling. But I did.

I had no idea at the time, but the math and psychology books I read during my gambling stint paid off when I went into marketing. In a way that I could never have seen, being a poker pro opened the door to much larger things. It improved my skills as well as my mental toughness. Both have proved more valuable than sitting in a dark corner office writing code.

I stopped letting fear stop me. There’s a lot of scary stuff in the world, and it’s very normal to feel afraid. But fear is useless.

Fear stops 90% of people from living the life they want. That means I only have to compete against 10% of the population. I eliminated 90% of my competition just by learning to ignore that whiny voice in my head. It takes effort, but it’s doable.

We work less than we could. Normal people wear overwork as a badge of honor. Alicia and I keep turning down work even though we could make more money. This keeps us fresh instead of burnt out. We don’t miss deadlines or expectations from having too much to do. We enjoy Monday through Friday instead of dreading it because our workload isn’t overloaded.

I value time over money. Normal people don’t waste items, they store them until those items become useful. I give items away to the Goodwill or throw them away to save the time of storing them. There were some things I’ve purchased more than once because I kept giving them away.

But not having possessions saves so much time. No spring cleaning. No cleaning the house because there’s nothing to make a mess in the first place. Laundry takes little time because we only have two backpacks worth of clothes.

When we visit our parents, there’s always more at their houses to be cleaned, organized, and fixed. We help out because it reminds us of all the time we save by not having it at all.

I don’t value money. Normal people are protective of their money. I make bad decisions like smashing my car with a tank. The car could have been sold for a few thousand dollars. I paid a few thousand dollars to destroy it instead.

I see money as infinite, even when I didn’t have much of it. You can always make more. With that attitude, I don’t have stress over money like most people do. Less stress means more energy for more productive pursuits, like making money. It’s an upward spiral.

I’m writing a book. That’s a bad idea on paper because out of the 300,000 books written per year, only 200 of them become hits. That’s 0.00006%. The lottery offers better odds. But the book can be more than selling copies. At a minimum, it will be a good conversation piece. It’s something I can check off my bucket list and feel proud of accomplishing, no matter the outcome. And there is the chance that the notoriety can lead to something greater.

Normal people don’t spend a ton of time without potential reward.

I have no idea what the result of the book will be. There’s a 90% chance it’s nothing more than a funny story. All I know is that few people do it, and doing the opposite hasn’t let me down.

I have no idea what I’m doing nor do I pretend to be able to see the future.

But I do know that every time I do the opposite of normal, it works out. Maybe give it a try: trying new things isn’t normal.

Duolingo will replace US foreign language teachers


Duolingo will replace US foreign language teachers in the US. And those teachers deserve to be replaced. Correction: those teachers deserve to be fired, put on a rocket, and shot into the sun.

Foreign language class in the US looks like this:

The students show up for the new year, and struggle. The teacher scraps the lesson plan because the class is performing poorly. The teacher sticks with the basics for the entire year. At the end of the year, the teacher passes the class even though they didn’t get through nearly what they should have. The students enroll in the next level even though their knowledge is crap.

Repeat the above for 6 years, and you get my joke of a foreign language education. Every year we learned the absolute basics of the language and nothing else. Every year the teacher was somehow shocked that we knew nothing, but still passed everyone on to the next level.

Unlike US teachers, Duolingo doesn’t let you progress until you actually know the material. Shocking!

If I sound mad, it’s because I am

Alicia and I took a 4-day Spanish course in Buenos Aires. I learned more in that 4 days than I did in 6 years. In 20 hours of class, we covered more subject material than my schools did in 6 years. My classmates and I spent hundreds of hours for nothing.

Wait, it wasn’t for nothing. It was for thousands of dollars because I was in private high school and private college. That’s much worse.

Foreign language teachers in the US have wasted the time of generation after generation. It’s institutionalized failure. Teachers keep passing students instead of failing them because not having a second language isn’t a big detriment in the US. There’s no accountability. So generation after generation keeps failing their way through the system.

Language myths

Myth: “It’s a good thing Timmy learned [Medicine] when he was young, because that’s the best time to learn it!”

There’s no other subject out there that uses age as a crutch. Doctors don’t need to learn their profession when they’re young. Ditto airline pilots.

Computer programmers learn other languages far past childhood age. If you don’t think programming languages qualify, do me a favor and view the source of this webpage. Complicated stuff, isn’t it? Reading and understanding your average JavaScript function is a ton more complicated than saying “I will eat a cookie”. And yet, after 6 years of Spanish I can’t even say “I will eat a cookie”. We didn’t get that far.

Myth: “Martha wouldn’t have passed [History] without that immersion program.”

Kids learn math without immersion. They learn complicated algebra and calculus while the foreign language classes are struggling to say “I will eat a cookie”. See how stupid that is? Why do we continue to accept this?

People who have foreign language proficiency usually participate in immersion programs, often by studying abroad. Studies show that classrooms suck:

  • “The formal classroom students made no significant gains”
  • “The summer immersion students made significant oral gains…”
  • “The study abroad made significant gains, but less than the immersion”

If immersion is the only way, fine. Then don’t waste time with non-immersion classes. But I don’t think immersion is the only way. I think the classroom is broken.

Myth: Language is different/special

People learn new languages all the time! Listen to any professionals talk to each other and try to understand what they’re saying:

Programmer: “The data layer to the CMS threw an exception in a concurrent thread. It’s a race condition.”

Poker player: “I merged my range when I bet two-thirds pot with Irish position on a monotone board with top set.”

Do you know all of the above words? Yes.

Do you know what those sentences mean? Not even remotely. Just like I don’t know the language of your job.

My parents are a doctor and a nurse. I’ve been listening to them talk about the hospital and patients since I was a kid. I translate what my parents are saying to other people, even though everyone speaks English. Because professional jargon is a different language with its own rules, words, and syntax.

Let’s stop practicing failure

Throwing more money at a broken system isn’t the answer. My class sizes were never larger than 25 (usually ~20 in high school and ~15 in college). These schools cost $15K/year for high school and $40K/year for college. Money wasn’t the issue.

I’m OK with the performance of my other teachers. I’ve used algebra, calculus, statistics, and geometry over the years to solve problems. It’s not a memory issue since I can recall other information taught to me decades ago.

Today I had to take a proficiency test for the Spanish classes Alicia and I are taking. 50 questions. I filled out the first two and handed in the rest of the questions blank. My professors didn’t teach us infinitives, past participles, or future tenses in 6 years of Spanish. It was the same ser/estar/gustar verbs in the present tense, every year.

Depriving generations of education has to stop.

I think Duolingo, or something like it, could be a better way forward. Anything is better than what we have right now. Accountability would work as well, but schools haven’t been accountable so there’s no reason to think they’d start.

Duolingo effectiveness study: “The study estimated that a person with no knowledge of Spanish would need between 26 and 49 hours (or 34 hours on average) to cover the material for the first college semester of Spanish.”

The study shows that an app on your smartphone is more effective than college. Oh, and it’s free. And it takes way less time.

So we should gather all the foreign language teachers in the US, put them on a rocket, and shoot them into the sun while we actually learn something using our phones.