Growing up we didn’t eat out often, but when we did my family liked to go out for Chinese food. In particular, my grandpa Herbie was fond of it. I’m not 100% sure if my dad liked the food as much as we did, but he was always willing to go because it allowed him to crack the joke that “if you fart, you’re hungry again” after the meal. When you add in the fact that it was reasonably priced, tasty, and of course came with free cookies, it checked all of the boxes to keep both the adults and the kids happy.
In every Chinese restaurant we went to there was a banner, poster, or placemat (or all three) that told of your Chinese Zodiac symbol based on the year you were born. For example, if you were born in the year 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, or 2016, you were born in the Year of the Monkey. These guides also tend to include some information that’s vague enough to apply broadly, but exact enough that anyone could take a piece of it and think it was directed specifically at them. Something like “Expect great wealth this year, but beware of souring relationships.” You know, basic horoscope mumbo jumbo.
I imagine that these predictions are scattered around every Chinese restaurant in order to distract you while waiting for your meal. Or maybe it’s to allow you to adjust your life plan using something more substantial than just a fortune from a cookie. After all, what’s the point of eating Chinese food without gaining a glimpse of the future? If you wanted to go without that, you could just order take out instead.
I was born in 1977, so this means that I was born in the Year of the Snake. This also means that I exhibit the characteristics of being smart and stubborn, have a caring attitude, and don’t look for fights but won’t back down. Okay, I just made those up. I don’t know what the actual characteristics are, because I don’t believe in shit like that. I’m a very analytical person, so the idea that I should take some random horoscope reading and attempt to apply that to my own life was never a thought that entered my mind. My Snake characteristics were for entertainment purposes only. Or so I thought!
I have recently discovered a big flaw with those Chinese restaurant placemats, at least as they apply to me. They list the year that you’re born, but the list is not based on the Gregorian calendar year that we use here in the States. It’s based on the Chinese calendar instead, which begins with the new year in mid-February. In a light bulb moment, I realized that I am not actually a Snake. While there is a large overlap between the two calendars, those born prior to the Chinese new year should look at the previous year to learn their spirit animal and their corresponding personality characteristics. I happened to be born in January. As such, I am a Dragon! Wait, it gets better.
Upon searching online for my new Dragon horoscope characteristics, I found out that there’s another level of description besides just the animal. There’s a natural element too, like wood, earth, or water. So not only am I a Dragon, I am a Fire Dragon. Are you kidding?! How perfect is that? As someone who has basically had an obsession with Financial Independence and Retiring Early (FIRE) since I first found MMM, I can’t think of a better match.
And it makes so much more sense. I never fit as a Snake. I’m not now and never have been soft-spoken, passionate, jealous, and fickle. My lucky numbers are definitely not 2, 8 or 9. No wonder these characteristics and predictions didn’t apply to me. I’m simply not a Snake and can’t believe how long I thought I was. This whole time, I’d been dismissing this ancient Chinese tradition as hogwash, when it was not the Chinese that were getting it wrong. It was me! How could I have been so pig-headed and stubborn? Quite honestly, it’s a little embarrassing to publicly admit.
Having spent a number of hours studying my new and improved spirit animal, it’s simply amazing how well it fits me. Here’s the list of personality characteristics of a Fire Dragon:
Willing to delay gratification and plan for the future. Has a firm grasp on numbers. Likely to exhibit an analytical and practical personality. Enjoys time away from work and seeks life’s simple pleasures. Prefers to invest in broad index funds as opposed to stock picking. After all, diversity is the only free lunch in investing.
Okay, I obviously made all that up too. The actual Dragon characteristics follow the same pattern as those of the Snake and every other horoscope prediction. Some of them match to my personality, some of them don’t, and I could massage them as needed to fit just about any situation if I was willing and/or desperate. But just because I don’t believe in the predictive power of horoscopes doesn’t mean that having a spirit animal is not important. The Dragon is a wild and fearsome creature, known for hoarding gold, spoken of in many tales and adventure stories, and rarely if ever seen in the wild. Just like the early retiree. It’s kismet.
Happy Chinese New Year!