“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.
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.