$140 in 12 minutes, 28 seconds

“There’s no such thing as the real world – just a lie you’ve got to rise above” -John Mayer

Your world is negotiable. What you perceive as normal will cause the world to conform, if your conviction is strong enough. For major change, you’ll need incredible strength, which often throws us off. But nobody lifts 500lbs on their first deadlift, and no one can be expected to cure cancer with their first try. The worst mistake is assuming that even small change will be too difficult.

I’ve never liked conflict. Even as a baby, I’m told, I didn’t cry and complain as much as most babies; I didn’t cause problems. When I was eighteen I took a personality test that determined my motivation was “primarily peace”. And there is nothing wrong with peace, as long as healthy boundaries are maintained. But sometimes minor conflict now yields amazing benefits.

“Si vis pacem, para bellum. [If you want peace, prepare for war.]” ~Bonaparte

I woke to a disturbing message from Mint: my bank account was over-drafted. Worse, it had four overdraft fees. Four! At thirty-five dollars each, I was being charged one hundred forty dollars in one lump sum, the same amount I’d just spent on a round-trip ticket all the way to Hong Kong!

Now, I’ve paid my share of fees to banks. In the past, I would have looked at this, determined I was bad for not paying attention, decided that the bank was fair for punishing me, and felt guilty for being bad with money. The consequence? Guilt and a low bank balance.

Today, I decided that the bank re-ordering my transactions so that it could double the fees wasn’t reasonable. I decided that paying $35 because of a small mistake and hanging returns (foreign ATMs don’t post immediately) was something forgivable, and that I would fight to have the fees removed.

(On a separate note, it’s not just forgivable, but also very avoidable, so I’m going to keep a $500 cushion in each account for now until I have a better system to track spending.)

So, I called up Wells Fargo. The first customer service representative was helpful, and instantly offered to remove one of the fees, plus half of the other three. That was an $87.50 credit for a 3-minute phone call!

But I wanted the whole fee removed, and I decided to keep pushing. I asked for the remainder of the fees to be refunded, which required her to speak to her supervisor. She came back apologizing for both the hold and the fact that she couldn’t credit any more back to my account.

I thanked her, but wasn’t ready to let go, and asked to speak to her supervisor. A few minutes later I the supervisor reiterated his subordinate’s offer. I explained the issue with the hanging returns, and again asked for the full refund. Two minutes later he was quoting me a reference number and promising the full $140 refund within 48 hours.

That is the most my time has ever earned. It wasn’t difficult, but it did require me putting aside my fears and old assumptions. More than anything, it makes me wonder, what else would change in my life if I were a little less reasonable?

Special thanks for Ramit Sethi for inspiration. Try this yourself.

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