Narcissistic Self Reflection

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One of my favorite coworkers at the hospital, we’ll call her “the DJ,”made a comment the other day that caught me a bit off guard.

I was talking about the miles game (a rare occurrence I assure you,) during a pacemaker implant.

And she said something along the lines of, “You know it seems like you’ve been a lot happier since you started playing the miles game and writing your blog.”

This was surprising and not because I hadn’t realized I was happier.

It was surprising because I didn’t realize my happiness (or lack thereof) was evident to others.

Her saying this made me think about how much happier I am, than I was, say, a year ago.

So I thought it would be interesting to look backwards, at the way that both the miles game, and early retirement, have quite simply made me a happier human being.

1. The X factor.

This is undoubtedly the most important reason I’m happier, I think, and it has nothing to do with the miles game or early retirement.

The only connection is that this life change probably opened up my mind to the unencumbered creative thinking that led to my experiences in the miles game and early retirement.

It was very important, and transformative for me. And I truly want to share it with everyone. (I’m pretty sure it would be helpful to others too.) But the fact is I’m just not ready yet.

I only mention it because it is important, and I feel that attributing all of my happiness to the miles game and early retirement would be misleading.

Sorry. And stay tuned.

2. Problem-solving.

The first problem was a straightforward one, the costs to fly my family to Japan every year were growing prohibitive.

But looking into the miles game, evaluating its risks and benefits, and acting was extremely cathartic.

Solving a problem is satisfying in and of itself, like pulling out a splinter.

But realizing that you can solve a problem in an unconventional manner is even more empowering. I would even say it is contagious and spreads into other areas of your life.

I think of the miles game as having been a gateway drug to early retirement.

The miles game showed me that acting like everybody else, often means leaving valuable opportunities on the table.

This primed my mind to be open to new possibilities. Possibilities such as saying “no” to thoughtless consumerism, and kicking up my savings percentage in order to achieve financial independence much much quicker.

3. Organization.

I am a messy dude.

So I always figured that organizing my life was an impossibility.

I mean if I couldn’t even keep the top of my desk clean, how could I get my life in order?

But organizing my bills for the miles game, allowed me to piece together a system that works for me.

(It involves a series of apps on my iPhone, rapid turnaround of my bills, constant monitoring of my credit score, and always keeping an eye open for new financial opportunities to fold into my scheme.)

Mastering this small feat, has acted like a seed crystal. Organizing for the miles game led to the organizing of my finances, which led to more savings, which led to the organizing of my investments….

images (3)Behold:  The transformative power of crystals.

3. Trust.

Taking on something new involves a leap of faith.

We are all constrained by social norms, which means that acting unconventionally is uncomfortable for most of us.

In evaluating the miles game and early retirement, since it was a bit outside the box, I did take an honest look at the ethical implications of it, before acting.

I never thought of it as a “sticking it to the man,” exercise. But I did look for risks to myself and others, the possibilities that I was doing harm, and the possibility that I was engaged in self-deception. After considering this, it was clear to me that I could play the miles game with a clear conscience. So I did it.  And as you might expect, I feel no shame about it.

With the early retirement piece, I had some discomfort discussing it because it involved money.

In many ways talking about money is the biggest taboo in our culture. Revealing how much you make and save is quite uncomfortable and raises some uncomfortable questions.

  • Is it okay for someone with a salary as high as mine to talk to others about spending and saving?
  • How do I know that what works for me will work for others?
  • Is it judgmental for me to advocate for evaluating each purchase in the context of happiness? After all, how do I know that consuming doesn’t truly make other people happy? (Admittedly I don’t.)

My final conclusion was that the realization that spending was, in effect, an exchange of “stuff” for freedom, effected powerful change in my own financial patterns.

I trusted that presenting this information to others would give them an opportunity to get their financial lives in order too if they were so inclined.

Besides I had always wanted someone to give me some hints as to how to be financially clever, so I figured it would be wrong of me not to share what I had learned.

Which leads me to “openness.”

4. Openness.

I am by nature a sarcastic and ironic individual.

I am far more comfortable poking holes in other people’s arguments, or making fun of others eccentricities, then I am in exposing my own passions and quirks.

So writing this blog about these strange subjects that mean so much to me, was not business as usual.

It was embarrassing, and uncomfortable.

I mean, I wrote a whole blog post about how I think I’m fat.

But airing this stuff out, and working out the words to do so in an honest and interesting way (I hope), is something that I grew to look forward to doing every day.

I feel like I’m repeatedly broadcasting, “I’m a flawed human being, but I’m working on it!”  Which has really helped me become more receptive to listening to other people’s issues, be they patients or friends.

My relationships have gotten stronger, (I also feel I’ve become a better doctor,) and if that doesn’t lead to happiness, I don’t know what does.

In addition, having seen change in myself,  I am now more open to new changes and new possibilities, which gives everything in my life the tincture of hope.

So there you have it, a blog post where I use the words “tincture,” and “crystal” without irony.

I think the Less Happy Me of a year ago would probably have been rolling his eyes by now and making the universal sign language sign for “barf” had he had the opportunity to read post this last January.

But you know what?  Screw. Him.


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