The Power of Perspective

“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

 

As you speed or plod your way to financial independence, there will likely come a time when the going gets tough. You might be hurtling towards your goal at ninety miles an hour when Life decides to kick you right in the family jewels. You might be moving determinedly forward like the fabled tortoise, when you come upon the next hill to climb and suddenly find yourself so tired that you can’t imagine taking another step. You may think that you have your baser materialistic nature well under control, but when you least expect it the Beast rears up and demands to be fed.

When the time of struggle arrives, I hope you will reach for one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal: Perspective.

 

An Experiment in Perspectives

Imagine that you are looking at your finance spreadsheet after a rough day at work. You are 34  years old. You lock eyes with the total: $220,000. Did it really take you seven long years to save that paltry sum? How impossibly small it seems when compared to your goal of $1,500,000!

Now try this: close your eyes and imagine that your current total isn’t your nest egg. Instead it is debt. You owe someone $220,000. That number that seemed insignificant a moment ago now appears larger and scarier than a T-rex. You break into a cold sweat and feel the bottom drop out of your stomach.

This is the power of perspective.

You can’t change what is. You can change how you view it, and therefore how you feel about it.

 

My Father Taught Me About Perspective

When I was a kid my family took a long train trip from where my father was currently posted to the place where my grandparents lived. It was a journey that was supposed take around 36 hours, and involved one change of trains. Unfortunately, train number one was greatly delayed, and we missed our connection. The way the Indian railway system worked back then, there was no recourse. Nobody cared that it wasn’t your fault. Nobody was standing by to help transfer your reservation and get you to your destination. So there we were, our family of four, with two young kids, one eight, the other four, stuck in the middle of nowhere. Do you know what I remember about that journey from hell? That it was the Most. Awesome. Adventure. Ever.

My father is the reason why my memory of this event is so divorced from reality. The whole time we waited, sitting on the floor of the platform, for a train to come by that wasn’t overflowing, the entire subsequent endless journey meandering from one small town to another, hopping from one train to the next, sitting on our single trunk and on the floor of the train, right by the toilet because we didn’t have a reservation – my father converted all of it into a fun escapade. He pointed out the absurdity of our situation, made us laugh and made up games for us to play. He actually managed to make us feel that we were so lucky to be having this crazy experience! I remember feeling sorry that it was all over when we finally reached our destination.

Power of perspective
Photo by Justin Lawrence on Unsplash

My father did this sort of thing all through my childhood, and it is only now, all these years later, that I can truly appreciate how lucky I was to grow up around this man. He didn’t have rose coloured glasses – he had magical, rainbow tinted glasses that he would slap upon our noses and the world would transform.

He taught me to shift my perspective. To choose to see things in a way that would make me the happiest. On an ordinary trip to buy our weekly supply of vegetables, he would suddenly turn down a side road and yell “Let’s go exploring!” We never went far, but he would weave stories that incorporated the people, things and animals that we passed, and suck us into an adventure not 2 miles away from our home. Or he would announce around dinner time, “Tonight we are going to have an egg-venture” – which meant that he was going to convert the ordinary act of scrambling eggs into a memory that I cherish 30 years down the line.

 

Turning the everyday into the extraordinary? A matter of perspective (and some imagination).
Making the best of a bad situation? A matter of perspective.

 

Perspective and Financial Independence

 

If you have the kind of perspective, like my father, that allows you to transform the ordinary into the magical, well imagine the power of that. You don’t need to spend money to have extraordinary experiences, because you can choose to make the everyday special.

On the journey to financial independence it quickly becomes apparent that while you can have nearly anything you want, you certainly can’t have everything. In order to achieve your goal, some measure of sacrifice is necessary. How you feel about what you give up though – that is a matter of perspective. You can choose to focus on everything you don’t have – the big house, the fancy car, the latest gadget, or you can change your perspective and focus on how much more you have compared to most everyone else in the world. A mindset of deprivation may make you hunger for more. A perspective of abundance will keep you content.

I talk a lot about wanting to create amazing memories with my family, and how achieving financial independence is going to help us do just that. When I find myself looking longingly to a future that still seems so far away, it helps to remember my own childhood. It helps to remember that while FIRE is going to make everything better, being happy right now is a matter of perspective.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Power of Perspective”

  1. Your father sounds like an amazing man and such an optimist. I love how you remember the adventures he took you on (real ones and imaginary ones at dinner time too!) I’m sure many kids remember their parents “flipping out” when things went wrong, or always hurrying to get places. Stress when things didn’t really need to be stressful – when a shift in perspective could have made things so different. Reminds me of Covey and the circle of control – your dad knew what he was in control of and took charge of his attitude. Great post!

    1. It has taken me all these years of living to truly appreciate what a rare and wonderful beast he is. One more thing for me to add to my long list of things to be grateful for every day. One more way for me to aspire to be as good a parent to my daughter as he is to me.

  2. Your dad sounds so awesome! My dad, although I love him dearly, can be very negative and see the WORST in every situation. I sometimes call him “dark man.” I this is something I’ve had/have to overcome as I move though life, because it’s ALL really about perspective. I have so much right now, yet I sometimes gravitate towards what I don’t have, then feel bad about it.

    1. Thanks Tonya!

      How wonderful though that you are self-aware enough to recognize when you are in danger of turning into the “dark woman”. Before you can change your perspective you do have to realize that perhaps it needs some changing – and it sounds like you’ve got that nailed, which is more than what many can say. Hell, with the giant advantage of the wonderful lifelong example of my father I still sometimes catch myself wallowing like a little piggy in a trough of self-pity.

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