Perspective. It’s essential to leading a happy life, and it’s most definitely essential to obtaining AND maintaining Financial Freedom.
I’m not talking about perspective in the sense of having an opinion on a given topic. I’m talking about perspective in it’s most literal sense. The ability to position yourself in a manner that allows you to see the object (topic/situation) in question both clearly and accurately.
Perspective in that sense is a quality few people naturally possess. For the majority who do have it, it’s a skill set they’ve built and developed over time and life experience. Exposure to a broad array of lifestyles, circumstance, life events and hardship can provide an individual with the ability to take a very big step back, and bring things clearly into focus. Not just comparative to their own individual life experiences, but in a much more global way.
Unfortunately this type of perspective is also a perishable skill set, meaning even once you’ve built it, it requires ongoing effort to maintain, or you risk losing it entirely.
It’s why people who travel to help in impoverished locations around the world often return with a degree of calmness, and increased perspective. They now compare their day to day lives against what they’ve just seen and experienced. Those experiences constantly remind them of just how fortunate they are, how much worse things in life could be, and how a little traffic congestion really isn’t all that bad. Return to that same person a few months later, when they are back to being immersed in western culture and our day to day “needs, stresses and hardships”, and that sense of calm understanding is nowhere to be found.
Or consider the business savvy CEO who seamlessly manages the stress of their job, guide their company through successful growth, all while multi-tasking and optimizing every available minute of their day. Yet in retirement that same CEO experiences immense stress because his neighbours lawn isn’t being properly maintained and it’s bringing down his property value (even though he has no intention of moving).Perspective. It’s built on what you surround yourself with, and the demands that are placed upon you.
Lessen the demands, or decrease the exposure, and every single one of us is at risk of adjusting our perspective to the new “norm”.
It’s easy to have razor sharp perspective as a bystander. You have a built in degree of removal. And when you have that distance, perspective requires just an average degree of reasonableness. To apply the same degree of logic and reasonableness to your own life, to detach yourself from your own emotions, personal biases and investments, when you are the person at the centre of the situation, that takes a whole lot of developed perspective.
And that’s exactly the kind of perspective that we should all be seeking to build on our journey to Financial Freedom. Willingness to venture outside our own social circles, neighbourhoods, income bracket, or day to day life can bring endless opportunities to build that perspective substantially.
Managing our stress, managing our priorities, managing our needs vs. wants, if we want to do those things well, we have to mindfully develop our perspective. We have to be aware of our inner dialogue and catch ourselves when negative self-talk or feelings begin to bubble to the surface. Feelings like self-pity, victimization, unfairness, undue hardship, disadvantage, sacrifice or simply being overwhelmed. When those feelings start to arise, it’s a sure sign you are losing perspective.
When you consider that people in your very community are struggling to put food on the table for their kids, it sure makes the decision of whether or not to cut movies or dining out feel a lot less like a sacrifice, and more of a luxury that you even have the choice.
When it comes to reaching for Financial Freedom, and succeeding, divorcing yourself from negative feelings, emotional biases or knee-jerk reactions is crucial to successful decision making and the willingness to pursue and seize opportunities.
After a career in which I spent my days interacting with people experiencing the worst moments and losses of their lives, perspective was something I couldn’t help but build. But as much as my job brought me exposure to a wide array of lives, the resulting perspective wasn’t always the most balanced. Similar to watching to much media coverage, my day to day exposure was to heavily weighted to the negative, and with it went my perspective.
When your exposure tilts heavily to one side, your perspective can go right along with it. So just as it’s important to diversify in your investing approach, it’s equally as important to do so in your life experiences and exposure. It’s important to see the good, the bad and the ugly of the world in order to maintain a balanced perspective that retains it’s accuracy. You don’t want to overdo it in any one category.
Losing my perspective in retirement has been an ongoing concern of mine. My daily experiences have changed drastically, and with it my exposure to stress and negative experiences has diminished greatly. I really love the feeling of nearly stress free days, but I’m also acutely aware that my threshold for managing stress may also be steadily lowering. So I’m watching myself comments closely. If I find myself complaining about a “stressful” day at any point in time, or I begin overreacting to what I would once have considered trivial matters, I’ll know that its time for a reality check!
If you find yourself balking at cutting expenses, feel overwhelmed by your job, or resentful that your budget didn’t have room to accommodate the latest style of designer shoes, pause for a moment. Take a breath and a step back from the situation. Ask yourself if you are applying a balanced perspective to your situation. Then reassess. You might find yourself looking at things from a whole different angle.