Brush with Greatness

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Last Thursday I had a tremendous opportunity.

Mr. Money Mustache himself was on his West Coast swing, and had planned a get together with a couple of other blogs and blog groupies (guilty as charged) at a local park in Portland.

And I just couldn’t resist the urge to go.

You see it is not an exaggeration to say that when I read this post for the first time, It literally changed my life.

At first I was struck by the simplicity of the math. And then as I thought about the concept more I recognized that the essential truth was that spending money was, in fact, spending freedom. And from this first principle came the realization that I valued my own freedom far more than I valued material possessions.

And from all of that, somehow, emerged a fragile faith that change was possible in myself and in the world (as hokey as that may sound.)

So I figured I had to meet the guy who wrote all that stuff.

Which was a bit of a stretch for me actually.

In many ways I’m kind of an introvert. I don’t like mixers, or making small talk, or schmoozing.

I’m just not one of those naturally social people who feels forever comfortable in my own skin.

But my curiosity was too great. So I found myself after work walking towards Sellwood Park with a growler of fresh hopped saison beer and a paper coffee Cup from the morning before that I ended up rinsing out in a drinking fountain on the walk over from the car.

And unsurprisingly I soon found myself at a picnic table sipping Firestone Walker amongst people with a dizzying array of fashion choices.

There were the requisite bushy beards, and waxed mustaches.

There were the flannels and the Birkenstocks. The short jean cut offs, and the programmer chic tees. I’m pretty sure there was a group of 30-year-olds next to me earnestly discussing live-action role-playing strategy.

There was even a guy with straight-bowl-cut-hair dyed pink doing prolonged handstands while twirling hula hoops around with his feet. Truly an acrobatic marvel. (And I’m not being ironic.)


Fellow Mustachian commuting to get together…

And there I was in my work clothes.

I felt a little bit like a Mormon missionary at a Grateful Dead show (aside from the growler of beer I was working on.)

But more importantly it was surprisingly easy for me to strike up conversations with my fellow picnickers. While our clothes may have been mismatched, our philosophies were not.

Here was a group of people to whom you were virtually assured you could speak about back door Roth IRAs, or single premium immediate annuities, without eliciting either a rolling or a glazing over of the eyes with boredom.

Yes, we were a motley crew but we were believers one at all. We were Mustachians.

And eventually I was able to work up the courage to slip into a circle of fellow acolytes surrounding Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) and introduce myself.

Which was kind of a thrill.

And before I get into the substance of our conversation and the most important lesson I learned from talking with Pete, Let me give you a series of entertainment weekly like bullet point impressions of the Main Mustachio.

1. He was incredibly social, and almost politician-like in his natural ease with people.

Here he was talking to a mother about homeschooling.

And a moment later he effortlessly transitioned into discussing with a fellow programmer the important facts to remember when pouring a DIY shower pan.

Next he was slagging off Oregon beer and our obsession with all things hops. (Nobody’s perfect apparently, including MMM.)

And he seemed to make everyone feel at ease without being at all condescending or chummy.

It’s no accident this guy has built up such a thriving community around his blog. He’s got some serious social skills.

2. He was probably Somewhere around 6’1″ or 6’2,” 170# and wiry. His face was predictably scruffy, and his hair was cropped short. 

3. He had a kind of a kinetic energy about him, where he was constantly shifting weight from 1 foot to the other while pulling little sips off of his beer, and then wheeling around and looking at his next interlocutor with alert eyes. And as comfortable and as natural as the conversation was, I would not have been surprised at all, at any moment, for him to have dropped and started doing push-ups. This was no well-fed coffeehouse philosopher.

And through all of these different turns of the conversation I just kind of stood there soaking it all in. Not saying much.

And then someone brought up lending club and peer-to-peer lending…

And you know my thoughts on that.

So I sort of gave Pete my spiel about how I thought lending club was a crappy investment and essentially an inferior form of junk bonds, with worse liquidity, more credit risk, and higher expense ratios.

And I mentioned that I saw a lot of evidence on the Mr. Money mustache forums of people placing dangerous amounts of money into these risky investments due (in part) to his advocacy for them.

And though it sounds kind of reasoned and cool when I write it like that, recall that I come from a large secular Jewish family where a typical Thanksgiving ended in a heated political debate where at least one participant would end up crying at the cruelty of their debating opponent. That’s just how we Dividenders roll.

In other words, I’m no Mr. Money mustache, in terms of social polish.

But what really impressed me were Pete’s responses to my criticisms.

  • He cooly pointed out that the whole thing was labeled an experiment.
  • He admitted that he wasn’t too familiar with junk bonds and asked me to write him an email about the subject.
  • And then he engaged in an almost jujitsu like move of self effacement.

He essentially said that he was not afraid to make mistakes. And admitted that he’d made a lot of them.

He said something along the lines of “I’m the guy who lost $200,000 in a construction investment, and just kept plugging away at it and finally made it work out for me.  And I was still able to retire at 30.”)

And then he talked for little while about his fellow engineers tendency for paralysis by analysis. And essentially made a very good case that you’ve got to keep yourself moving. That perfection is not attainable. That the most important thing was optimism and forward motion as best you could execute it.

And I saw a lot of wisdom in this advice.

Often times perfectionism is a crutch. It prevents us from moving forward and allows us to passively critique without creating.

And we all would do well to mix the two aspects of our essential natures together.

Both the cool rationalist and the creative artist need seats at the table to make anything worthwhile happen.

In other words there are first principles that we must trust and stick to and act on without hesitation. Like saving more, and investing passively, and treating people kindly, and driving less, and consuming more thoughtfully.

And beyond that we’ve got to make ourselves a little bit more vulnerable than might feel comfortable at first. For this is how we grow. And this is how we make progress.

I think what Pete was saying was deceptively simple but profound. The message was essentially that life is a journey and no one gets out of it alive. So we might as well bring all of our tools to the party and try hard, and leave it all out there on the field.

Which was a pretty important lesson I thought.

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4 Responses to “Brush with Greatness”

  1. Eric June 5, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Alexi, I have to say I’m liking your blog more and more. It’s a great addition to the financial independence blogosphere. I feel like this post could be describing me and the feeling I experienced when I first stumbled upon MMM and that life-changing post a couple of years ago. Maybe if he does a meet-up in my neck of the woods, I can attend and act as your East Coast counterweight as an introverted secular Jewish boy lawyer whose life changed when he read that mind-blowing classic.

    I’m looking forward to your next posts on manufactured spending (and hoping that you have some tricks to share that I haven’t already discovered in the MMM forums and other corners of the internet!).

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 5, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Eric. Always good to have a counterweight.

      If you get a chance to meet Pete on an East Coast swing, I would highly recommend it! To me at least he lived up to the hype. Seemed like a really great dude.

      I hope you get something from my upcoming travel hacking posts. Nothing too earth shattering, but some new stuff I think.


  2. Justin @ Root of Good June 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Hey, Alexi. Just found your site from the MadFIentist. Cool write up of meeting the Mustache himself in the flesh. He always seems so slick in his posts, and it sounds like he’s equally suave in real life. Hopefully I, too, can meet up with him one day.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 7, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

      Hey Justin,

      I’m a fan of your site as well. And we both love go Curry cracker!

      I definitely would not describe Pete as “slick.”to me that term implies dishonesty or a tendency towards manipulation.

      Pete seemed very genuine. But at the same time I was just very impressed by his interpersonal skills. People have different types of intelligence. And I think the ability to get along with other people is one of the most important kinds of intelligence at predicting future success.

      Pete has an envious amount of this particular skill. In addition he seems to have good values, is hard-working, and is an all-around stand up guy as far as I can tell.

      If there is a meet up in your area, you should definitely introduce yourself.

      And I’d love to meet you if you’re ever in PDX.


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