The Other 99%


In a few paragraphs I’m going to tell you a story about why 99% of society fails. It has to do with challenges and speaking up and being you.

I get a lot of positive reaction on this blog. I get some negative reaction as well. I welcome it all.

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you disagree. Tell me I’m going about something incorrectly.

I respect being challenged. (But back it up.)

The truth is I want to be wrong. I want to be challenged. It’s the only way I’ll grow.

You should feel the same.

You don’t form strong opinions without being challenged.

You don’t do anything of value without plowing past challenges.

Challenge me, challenge yourself, challenge everybody.

Ruffling Feathers and Speaking Your Mind

A lot of people seem to be too afraid to state their opinions for fear of ruffling feathers. While diplomacy is all well and good in certain instances, if you don’t speak your mind and stand your ground regularly you turn into a number. You’re not a number, so don’t act like it.

7 years ago I was in a marketing class at Wayne State University (I wouldn’t recommend it; the class or the school). My teacher, who ran a small Web design company, was “teaching” us about Internet marketing. Little did she know what I did for a living. :) Anyway, she started talking about Pay Per Click (Google Adwords) and stated “Don’t bother with this if you’re a small business. It doesn’t work. It’s too expensive. It’s only for big businesses.”

I hate arguing. It’s completely useless. (Life Lesson #8)

But I had to say something. (Which is sometimes a good sign that you’re in a situation that won’t turn out well.)

So I spoke up in this massive, useless, class of 50+ students.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I use Adwords profitably every day. Do I look like Coca Cola?”

(I know, I was an asshole, but I was steaming at the toxic information she was spewing and I didn’t know how to handle it.)

“Impossible, it’s only for big businesses,” was her ignorant response.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. How did you get this job? You are giving all of these people, who are already brainwashed by this system, sadly incorrect information.” (I left out the brainwashed part, although it was true then and and it’s true now.)

Then another student spoke up: “Hey, be quiet. We just want to get this class over with.”

My first instinct was to stand up and choke slam the dude. (I used to have a temper. haha)

Instead, I gave up. “Whatever.” This was a losing battle with losers who had nothing more to lose. They had already given up on life as far as I was concerned. No good could come from dealing with these people.

This situation reinforced what I already knew: not only do I not belong with 99% of society, I do not want to belong.

99% of the world doesn’t care. They don’t want opinions. They don’t want challenges. They just want to skate through life with as little friction as possible.

You can be like the 99% if you want.

Or you can ask yourself, “What challenges will I take on today?”


  1. I agree completely Karol! The only way to grow is to challenge yourself and to take risks. Otherwise we become stagnant (and boring). Here’s to taking a risk today! (and Congrats on the 72 hour sale success)

  2. I’ve had many discussions about this over my life. Working in corp america, as I do, if everyone thought like you, it could get dangerous (which in my opinion could be a good thing).

    The way I look at things sometimes, I question, am I the only one seeing and hearing this??? The truth is, it’s just what you said…most don’t care. Most are happy just doing what they are instructed to do. Jump…OK. Roll Over…OK. Whatever you want…OK. The power of the mind and actually using it, is too much trouble.

    On the flip, a lot of corp leaders preach about “thinking outside the box” the most overused group of words in corp america, yet are threatened when someone actually does so. They want followers for the most part. It’s easier that way.

    I guess in a lot of ways, perhaps we need the 99%, though couldn’t we get by with it being 50%?

    I’m rambling, as my thoughts are not totally refined as of yet…but I’m there with you on doing the uncomfortable and challenging. That’s why I’m playing top tier basketball talent. I want to get better. I could easily play and beat a lot of people, but that would be too easy. That is what the 99% would do.

    Thanks Karol. Always have enjoyed the way your mind works! Keep it going!

    • “The way I look at things sometimes, I question, am I the only one seeing and hearing this?” – haha! Yes, I know the feeling. :)

      I agree that we need the 99%. I’m not knocking them in that regard. They are necessary for the 1% to be the 1%. :) Would life be easier if 99% was 50%? Yeah, but where’s the challenge in that? ;)

      • “Am I the only one seeing and hearing this?” – Thanks to Kenny and Karol, at least now I know I am NOT the only one FEELING this!!!

        True that I din’t like Mom’s scolding on my report cards…but I enjoyed writing Newton’s laws in my version (which differed everytime I wrote them) even though I remembered the actual version! I don’t love my mistakes but most of the times I am left wondering was it a mistake or just that other’s say its a mistake ( I thought it was an adventure!).

        There was this saying…people laugh at me coz I’m different…..and I laugh at them coz They are all the SAME!!!

  3. Hi Karol,

    During my life, I learned that there is no failure as long as you keep learning. Besides that, I recall several people like yourself teach other people that “failure is your best friend”. Most people I meet are very much willing to learn, even though they are not always competent to do so.

    So I think it is too easy to dismiss 99% of society as a failure just because they appear to be ignorant. In my experience, most people do the best they can. The fact that they cannot do better than average is because they haven’t learned as much as people like you.

    It is a choice to (try to) pull yourself out of this perceived ignorant society, but in reality you will be part of it anyway. My choice is to participate and change the world from within by being a light, an example and teaching people to challenge themselves.

    It is totally true that I have to challenge myself first to be able to do that. But I think in addition to that, both love and respect for “what is” is key to be a true example in the end.

    • “So I think it is too easy to dismiss 99% of society as a failure just because they appear to be ignorant.”
      Very good point, Patrick. I believe there are lots of people out there who would welcome the One-Percenters turning on the light switch and helping them wake up. But it’s hard to wake up if you don’t know the options.

      • Good observation, Laurie. In my opinion, there will always be “an average majority”. That’s just how society works. It is not a bad thing. It becomes bad when it challenges the natural balance of our world in a negative way, which is what it does at this moment according to many.

        So instead of dismissing this entire majority, we actually have to focus on waking up a smaller percentage so we can turn around the demise. 1% of 7 billion earthlings is still 70 million people. Is that enough? Or do we just need to stop counting? Stop dismissing people who do not share our vision because they are less competent of just have a different point of view? Stop putting people in categories?

        If 99% of the world would be truly ignorant, why would we bother anyway? But then again, we cannot just identify the 1% of the people that see things differently and create a new country with them. Even then, 99% of that 1% would be ignorant in the eyes of the minority anyway. It’s a spiral and we will never be satisfied because there will always be someone who knows better.

        So let’s focus on being an example. A positive example. And work from there.

        • Yes, focus on being a good example and stop with the numbers. Sort of like the “100 Thing Challenge.” It’s become rather a status thing in the Minimalist world, as if “I’m cooler than you because I only have 97 things.” I think the 100 Thing Challenge is an awesome way to get people to really *look* at their possessions and find ways to live a life where their stuff doesn’t own them. But numbers get in the way.

          Each and every one of us has something different and unique to offer the world. I’m finding mine and having a blast doing it, even as it scares me sometimes to be open about it. Rather than focus on how cool I am to be aiming for the 1%, every day I’m looking for ways to shine a light for those who may follow me on the path.

          • I don’t see competition among a group as conducive to progress. I strive against myself to become better at being me. No-one else can do that better than I can so, only I can become better at it. I know that as I push against the wind of complacency in myself, I am lifted up and I can fly. The new ideas that you present Karol, have been rumblings inside of me since childhood. I have started a new journey and whether I do it with 12 items in a backpack, or a houseful of stuff back in storage, I am more excited than I have been in years. I am 54 and have rediscovered the 9 year-old me again! Thanks for allowing me to be one of the many by making a lot of this open source!

      • Do not blame the 99% for intentionally misinforming or misguiding people. Only a very select percentage of the people is doing that. Some of them consciously, others unconsciously.

        You are guiding people towards minimalism and entrepreneurship. How come you are so sure that is the right way, apart from the fact that it feels so great?

        My point is that there are more people who are willing to learn than people who are genuinely ignorant. We should help those people instead of bashing them.

        Remember your day in class when you started your rant against the teacher with the totally disrepectful comment of “you are wrong”. You only knew she was wrong because you had experienced the thing she dismissed. But you did not know how to lead back then. Now you do.

        People are willing to listen to people who respect them. Lead them or ignore them if you wish. Do not bash them. Bashing makes you look bad.

  4. I know I may fall to the 99% side every once in a while, but my life goal is to be part of the 1% and usually I am that. Trust me, I am hated/disagreed with quite a bit (

    I went to Commuter U (Sacramento State) so needless to say most of the people (inc. teachers) were looking to get in and out. I swear some of the students goal was to see if they could not disagree/discuss anything all year in class. Unfortunately for them, I was the Karol Gajda of the class and constantly questioned everything even if I disagreed with it.

    Loved your example Karol….

    David Damron

  5. I like to be within that 1% too. Krishnamusti said something like this: “It´s not a matter of health to be adjusted to a sick society”. Check out the trailer of Zeitgeist 3 on You Tube, it talks about this all in a powerful way.

  6. Hey Karol, hope you got a bit of rest after the 72-Hour Sale :)

    I never wanted to be in the 99% either, but I have been because I didn’t always have the right keys to break out of it. Being pushed and challenged is scary, and depending on your personality, for some of us it’s harder than for others. That’s not going to stop me now ;) I was never a feather-ruffler. One of my worst fears is that of confrontation and arguments. But more important than that now is the importance of changing stuff in the status quo (like the education system) that is broken. If I can in some small way help to make that better I will do it, even if the many academics in my family and circle of friends get their feathers ruffled. It’s up to people who know better to help the 99% see that they have options. You’re helping me to break out of it. I in turn can help someone else, and so on. The circle will grow :)

    • I’m not much of a feather-ruffler either. Arguments are pointless. My real point, which I didn’t make very well, is that you need to challenge everybody internally more-so than externally. It’s OK if you don’t speak out in public as long as you speak out within and don’t let toxic information infiltrate your system.

      • The problem with that is that the very system that is supposed to be here to fill us with all this knowledge and wisdom is an illusion. Education system? Media? Governments? They are providing not only most of the toxic information, but providing the toxins. This is where most people not only get all of their information, but that very system quashes any attempt to speak up or tell any truths (or try to…yay interwebs!).

        It scares me every day how much more like some Orwellian nightmare the system really is showing itself to be. I know you already know this. I’m just getting myself put on all the watchlists today :-D

      • Do you think constructive arguments are pointless? Or is “constructive argument” an oxymoron? And what do you mean by “speak out within?” Is that when you know yourself well enough to be able to filter the toxic stuff effectively? I don’t mean to be naive…I’m just trying to understand. :)

        • I don’t think I’ve ever been in a constructive argument. But I guess it is possible. :)

          Yes, I mean filter out the toxicity effectively. I know you can do it Laurie. :)

          • Thank you :) Maybe “argument” is the wrong word. Maybe “disagreement” would be better. Lots of your posts promote constructive disagreement, in my opinion. Iron sharpens iron :)

  7. In my experience, there’s nothing like an intimate relationship to show you how wrong you really are. Love has a sharp edge!

    Karol, how would you handle that classroom experience if you lived through it today knowing what you now know?

    • I’m not sure exactly. I would definitely quit the class. That’s a very dangerous “learning” environment to be in.

      I would like to say I’d go to the head of the department and do my best to get that “teacher” to stop teaching, but it wouldn’t be worth the effort.

  8. “99% of the world doesn’t care. They don’t want opinions. They don’t want challenges. They just want to skate through life with as little friction as possible.”

    This is a great point. It’s so frustrating, as you found, that people don’t challenge each other. Of course there is a balance between learning from people and challenging authority, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept everything that people tell you.

    Great post. (Not that I’m blindly accepting everything you say here, of course. ;-))

    • Thanks Joe. It is frustrating. It’s a fine line between arguing and showing someone the light as well. Once it gets into argument territory nothing can be gained so it’s time to quit.

  9. I’ve heard that it’s not lonely in that top percent … just less crowded :)

    These are the exact lessons my husband and I hope to pass on to our daughter. Challenge everything and embrace being challenged!

  10. Hey Karol –

    Something like this just happened to me yesterday when a student (in my speech class) was giving a speech on vaccination issues and how “everyone” should “always” vaccinate their child because one child died from measles. I wanted to strangle her! I like her as a person but it was a stupid speech without a lot of facts and only one side of the story.

    Whenever I speak out about vaccination I try to explain that it is a personal choice and everyone need to educate themselves about each and every immunization they decide to give to their child or have themselves. When I speak out about pharmaceutical companies and tell people to research whatever medicine their doctor is telling them to take ….. the majority just say “uh huh” and just follow the AMA like sheep.

    Anyway, I know where you are coming from. Thanks for the timely post. And congrats on the 72 hour sale. The products look awesome. I have a lot of work ahead this month!

    Gayle Thompson
    Los Angeles, CA

    • Good point Gayle. So many of us blindly accept what professionals tell us because “they *must* know the answer, they’re professionals.”

      Thanks for your support!

  11. I think you should have gone on. You are 100% right about standing up and speaking out, of not being like the other 99%. The thing is, nothing will change if those who have the courage to stand up, sit down too quickly. Sure they were losers and just wanted the class over with, but why let those few hanging on the cliff slip off without throwing them a rope?

      • I understand, I have been there way too many times! It’s just that I have always sat down instead of pushing forward. The world will never change as long as the changers sit down too quickly. Sure, you have to pick your battles, but sometimes you gotta beat the fools with their own rope before they see it right there in front of them! :-)

  12. Yes, Yes, YES! I cannot understand people who just skate through life. It doesn’t make sense to me. I would be bored out of my skull, crumpled up on the floor crying ‘I have ambition! I need goals!’

    I had a college prof who had recently discovered blogging and had us set up Blogger blogs to post all of our assignments. She wasn’t doing any real harm, just overly enthused, so I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d already been building sites and blogging for almost 10 years.

    • “I cannot understand people who just skate through life.” – Thankfully, it’s not our job to understand. :)

      As for your prof: yeah, doesn’t sound like it was much harm. At least if they’re not teaching anything new it’s good when they’re not teaching something wrong. ;)

      Thanks Sarah!

  13. I’m an artist and art teacher and have always felt like my views were not often in sync with society. Still do. It can be a lonely place, especially when you are young and cannot understand why. However, do not give up on those 99 percent! I am finally in a position where I feel I can influence children, parents and other teachers for the better. I have spent the past few years developing and teaching art classes where the children experience, explore and expand their capabilities in all areas of their lives. Right brain thinking at its best. Yes, some were and still are skeptical – they can’t get away from the cookie cutter crafts and open their minds to new ideas, but I have won over many and am so thrilled to be expanding my program and helping kids expand their minds. Easy – no way. Important – vitally. So just keep plugging away, people will notice.

  14. I think in the other 99%, there are actually others who want to break out. A few months ago at a meeting at work, I made a stand against something that was very emotional for me (it was a joke that was culturally inappropriate that a leader had made). When I got back to my desk, a co-worker had IM’ed me and thanked me for what I had said, and recognized that it was a difficult thing to do. I had to go against the grain even if I upset people or ruffle feathers, as you say.

  15. Long time background reader and blogging upstart. Actually my favorite part about this post is before the body of it. “I want to be wrong.” Nothing is more beautiful than the desire to succeed through the willingness to fail.

  16. I totally concur that there are a lot of people out there who label things as “impossible” just because they can’t or won’t do them. What’s even more amazing is the number of people willing to listen an accept these conclusions as true without further evidence.

    Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

  17. i know the feeling i sometimes feel that im the only one doing things that 99% of the world says that can not be done.


  18. I actually found your site by getting in on the minimalism book sale – I just got to your book and I’m enjoying it immensely!

    With that said, while I agree entirely that you were RIGHT in class, it’s also important to remember that you’re not always right about everything…and the poor teacher might be ignorant, but as you admitted you were a wee bit confrontational. Softer wording might have resulted in a longer dialogue and better information for everyone. I never suggest everyone back down, but it’s always better to start diplomatically and work outward.

    With that said, I do think it is absolutely crucial to examine the facts you are given, and to keep track (as much as is humanly possible, anyway) of roughly where you got your information. Was it a first hand experience? A textbook? Hearsay? *whisper* the internet?

    Often, the source is every bit as important as the “fact” you picked up.

    • Yes, if the teacher hadn’t responded with “impossible” I would’ve been more diplomatic. This will make me sound like more of an asshole, but her telling me “impossible” when I was very likely making more money with Adwords (exactly what she said did not work) than whatever work she was doing pushed me over the edge.

      Also, “poor teacher”? No, no, no. The poor students. The teacher was getting paid to teach lies. The students paid to learn them.

      • well i feel sorry for everyone involved period, the students because they are being told false at min and worst case down right dangers info.

        dangers because they may never use something that is good for business, as for the teacher i would like to know more about what happen to her.

        does she hate adwords or is it something that can simple be fix using a better model or person to fix it?

        i would go back and spend the whole day with her if possible to see what is going on. Trust me i tend to do this i try not to be to bull about it still if i can do something and teach it to some i have to try.

        • if i was teaching the class and both of you where there guess who would be who partner. you guessed it both you would be partners.

  19. I think if you were to ask, most people feel they are the 1%. They feel they are the ones who see things differently.
    I do agree that most people don’t want to hear they are wrong. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.
    Also I am curious, how are you measuring the 99% failure?

    • I was hoping somebody would challenge that. Hidden in plain sight test. :) There are no statistics to backup a 99% failure rate for something so general. It’s generally a given that a small percentage of people who buy a product (book, course, etc) finish it and use it. Some say 1%, some say less than 5%. So the headline came from that. Not doing, not taking action, not challenging yourself is a failure. Thanks for challenging me Rosa! :)

  20. There’s truth in what you say, Karol, and I share your frustration. Particularly with the low value received in post-secondary education which is priced like a Rolls Royce and is often the quality of a Yugo. But here is another perspective. All of us take turns fitting into the “99%” that are ignorant and failing to take action to better ourselves. Somewhere there is a medical researcher who has evidence of how we can be healthier or live longer – and he can’t get you and me to listen or take action. Somewhere there is a marine biologist who has evidence of how we can save oceans – and she can’t get you and me to listen or take action. And on and on. And the longer I live the more I realized that the hardest issue isn’t transmitting or receiving the knowledge – it’s getting people to take action. Any action.

    • You make very good points Pete. :) The thing is the info about how we can be healthier and live longer and how to save the oceans is already available. Most people won’t listen because it’s much easier to eat McDonald’s than save the world.

      • Exactly! And the same people think it’s easier to curse their cubicle job and live a life of scarcity than it is to live the way you, I and many others live – with personal freedom and a life full of choices. The information is there but they need to take action. That’s a massive stumbling block for most people.

  21. I’ve had a situation just like it. I tottally undetstand your reaction.

    Sadly, in this world, we have a lot of people etaching stuff they read about on wikipedia in Universities. In many Universities, all it takes to be a teacher is a masters or doctor’s degree, nobody cares if the person is a specialist in the subject of teaching and their teaching skills (most important of all, actually). I had a teacher giving me lessons about entepreneurship although he had never had a business in his 60 years of life and I had a nice successful one while on the sophomore year.

    • I almost feel like if Wikipedia was available when I was in school and my teachers used it I’d have learned more. :)

      “I had a teacher giving me lessons about entepreneurship although he had never had a business in his 60 years of life…” – this is the issue I have with most (not all) teachers and our whole educational system in general.

  22. The other thing about learning is …. you have to be ready. Yes, it is good to hear it over and over because then eventually you become ready. But, I am back in college as a mature adult, and I had to take a few lower division classes because of changed GE requirement. At the end of my Critical Thinking class … our teacher talked about why this class was so important and how we now know how to look at arguments and assess them and really understand if the argument is rational etc. He is really a great professor with a lot of passion and very caring. He was doing his best to get through. But, most of these 18, 19, 20 year olds …. I could tell they were bored and because this was more a personal talk rather than “stuff that would be on the final” they were just not ready to hear it. Sad. All they want to do is pass the final and have one more class under their belt. It all takes being open, ready and willing to not be part of the 99%

  23. I totally agree Karol.

    This is exactly the reason I write an opinion column for my school paper. Also the reason I regularly call other students out in class for accepting things the teacher or popular media tells them even though it clearly makes no sense. I get a lot of flak for both, but not being a sheeple is worth the trade-off. :)

    I have, however, been fortunate in having quite a few teachers with real world experience. I am studying creative writing, and most of the teachers are published authors (on varying scales). And when I was studying film, every professor I had save one (ironically the one with the most formal education in film) had a great deal of real film production experience.

    Since I am considering becoming a teacher or a professor, I am going to make a point of doing real work in my field before I teach it. If that means taking some big risks and putting myself out there rather than taking the safe, easy path, then bring it on.

  24. Exactly! And the same people think it’s easier to curse their cubicle job and live a life of scarcity than it is to live the way you, I and many others live – with personal freedom and a life full of choices. The information is there but they need to take action. That’s a massive stumbling block for most people.

  25. Wait… maybe I’m missing something… I skimmed through the comments but didn’t see this brought up.

    (By the way, I just came across this blog, and Karol I REALLY LIKE what you’re writing- I didn’t mean for my first comment to be a criticism, but I just couldn’t help but speak up here. I’ve got a lot of positive things to say too).

    That being said… What’s with this assumption that 99% of society fails?? That’s crazy. I know a lot of people, and I wouldn’t say that 99% of them “fail” or “are failures.” Do we think that 1% of people are doing all the contributing to society?

    Also, how are we defining “failing”? As not speaking back to authority all the time? As not living by some criteria that one person thinks is important? That all seems a bit presumptuous. I guarantee you that 99% of people/society don’t see themselves as failing… who are we to say they’re wrong? If someone is happy, and thinks their life is meaningful just the way it is, who is anyone else to say they’ve failed because they don’t have a blog or business or degree or a lot of money or whatever? Or that they’re not clever because they’re not constantly questioning everything around them? (I’ve been around people like this – it gets tiring, and they’re usually not as brilliant as they think).

    I remember learning in some of my psychology classes in undergrad that around 80% of people think they’re “above average” when rated on various characteristics (generosity, attractiveness, intelligence, etc). Are we perhaps seeing that a little here? It seems like 100% of the people commenting think they’re in the top 1% of “not failing” or of being “anti-authority.” Seems statistically unlikely.

    Although I think there are a lot of good points made in the post and comments (it’s definitely important to question assumptions, especially in the traditional education system), I’m overall bummed out by the air of superiority and negative view of humanity that is reflected in some of the post and comments here.

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