What if I had been selfish?

One of the basic tenets about writing, from emails to blogs, is that the reader isn’t always clear the tone or mood behind the writer’s words.  Let me take this moment to clear up any potential uncertainty on your part:  the following is written in a state of bemused good humor (with a dappling of self-deprecating humor).  Now, read on…

These days, I sit precariously balanced upon the economic reality of my cost of living and the financial fantasy of early retirement.  The gap between making the latter my reality turned out to be slimmer than even I might have dreamed.  But the gap is there.  Bridging that gap will likely send me back into the working world, which is less bothersome than I originally thought since “retiring” this early helped me discover that’s not necessarily a benefit if everyone else you know is still working!

So, as I dabble with various job inquiries and consider what I would like to do for money (as opposed to what I have done), it amuses me to consider how that aforementioned gap might have been much smaller (or even non-existent) if I was more selfish.

Now, we need to distinguish selfishness from being self-centered or self-involved or ambitious.  I love talking about me (though I don’t think I’m that important or interesting, I have no problem wasting your time talking about myself…hence this blog).  I certainly have problems remembering names and events in my past that don’t involve me (and even some that do, but that could just be age).  But selfishness is just not something I’m skilled at (which might also explain why I’m not that ambitious).

Careful readers (those blessed with an abundance of both time and endurance) have read through various posts detailing some of my excesses around holidays (check out “Everyone should be a Valentine” in the “Holidays” category, to name one).  Briefly, I used to give out flowers to every woman who worked in the same building with me at my last job.  At the same time, I would also send a dozen roses to all the women in my life.  And flowers on their birthdays.  And Mother’s Day.

And for the year-end holidays, I would look for appropriate gifts that could be described as “lavish” (at least for my level of earnings).  At work, I became disenchanted with the “Secret Santa” gifts that left some people with “gag” gifts and others opting out due to needing the money.  One year, I just “took it over” and bought gifts for the entire department (but still keeping the draw-a-number-from-a-sack concept).  Each succeeding year, I upped the gift limit I “allowed” myself to buy and everyone got great gifts (though no one but the VP knew it was me paying for everything).

Beyond that, there were my extensive Halloween gift-giving extravaganzas.  For many years, my famous gift bags would be duplicated at home and at work (check out the Halloween posts in the “Holidays” category for more details).  And anniversaries.  And babies.  And when people weren’t feeling well, for health or other reasons.

I had a set of charities I always gave to and kept increasing that amount each year.  When the company I worked for instituted an employee-funded “support fund”, I had them take 10 times the suggested amount out of each paycheck.  Whenever a disaster struck, I sent money to multiple charities as part of my overall responsibility to the world we live in.

Since I kept detailed records of my expenses (once an accounting nerd, always…), I shook my head sometimes at the percentage of my take home pay that I spent on gifts and charities (I won’t quote a hard number, but it was north of 20%).  I suppose not having a wife or family (or even a pet) made spending on others easier, but I like to think it was my Mom’s influence that made me a more generous man.

So it was with no small amusement that I realized the other day that if I had been a skinflint and just sent a card or phone call, I would likely be retired in actuality today.  The thought gives me not a whit of regret or doubt.  I gained a lot of enjoyment from the act of giving and believe that those who don’t have greatly underestimated that wonderful feeling.

I am becoming more convinced that I will have to re-enter that traditional work force (absent a sudden surge in book sales).  Despite that, I am happy for the time and money I have spent on others over the years.  I hope to bring myself even more happiness in the years to come.

That’s the sort of selfishness I can live with.

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