FIRE stands for Financial Independence/Early Retirement. I love the first part:
I hate the second:
It took me a while to figure out why, but I understand now. Before I get into that, let’s talk about a fundamental problem with the FIRE movement.
The Problem With FIRE
You’re not going to get to a place of financial independence sitting on your ass. I worked very hard for 18 years. Too hard in at least one case. Hard work is in my blood. It’s a fundamental part of who I am. And it brought me wealth.
Early on, I figured out the path I needed to go down and didn’t waste any time. My formal computer training was in mainframe programming (COBOL Y2K remediation). I knew that COBOL wouldn’t be as relevant after 2000, so I moved on. The languages that made me the most money as a computer programmer (object oriented development with Java and later .NET) were almost completely self-taught. I applied those skills at my job with full effort.
I put the same sweat into my home flipping adventures. For most of those past 18 years of my life, I had two jobs. I’d write code during the day and swing the hammer at night and on weekends.
And most of the FIRE folks I’ve met are similar. We’re a driven, achievement-oriented set. And this is why we’re not compatible with retirement.
Why I Hate “Early Retirement”
Now, let’s consider the definition of word the word “retirement”:
The part I really don’t like is ceasing to work. The fundamental problem I have with the phrase “early retirement” and more generally, the FIRE movement is this:
Hard work is what enables us to retire early. It’s ingrained in most of us FIREy folks. We work hard which leads to healthy income. How can we just shut it all down and stop work?
Recently, I came to an answer.
Imagine you inherited $100,000,000 tomorrow. You may choose to stay at your job. And that’s great! If you would, you’ve discovered your true passion in life and it happens to pay you.
While many of us are fortunate to enjoy our jobs, would we continue them if we had all of the money in the world? Is it worth having to adhere to a rigid schedule and limited time off? Most would opt out.
But, the goal of achieving FIRE shouldn’t be to quit your job. The real goal is be able to make decisions without the constraint or factor of money.
And the problem remains; how do you reconcile a driven personality with retirement? The answer comes when we redefine work. The second definition is what most people think of when they consider their job:
What’s really interesting in this definition is these words:
to achieve a purpose or result
In the traditional meaning of work, the purpose and result is mostly income. However, this changes when we become FIREd. When you have enough money, you can do whatever work you want to, regardless of money. Wouldn’t it be incredible to:
Do the work that puts a smile on your face at the end of every day.
Do the work on your own terms, when and where you want to.
Do the work that allows you to maximize time with friends and family.
Do the work that makes the world a better place.
Do the work that sets your heart on fire.
Money Is The Easy Part
When I left my job, my biggest worry wasn’t money, it was emotions:
Would writing here on this blog fulfill my need for purpose? If not, could I find meaningful work that made me feel good at the end of the day? If not, would I need to go back to a traditional job to get the feeling back? I didn’t know.
Now that I’m busy doing what what I enjoy*, the thought of going back to a traditional job holds the same level of appeal as a sharp poke to an eyeball or a kick in my boy-bits.
I used to worry how I’d reconcile the hard work that I thrived on with FIRE.
Now, I wonder how folks reconcile working five decades while denying themselves the life that they feel deep down they were meant to live.
*writing here on this blog, building random stuff in the garage, writing Rails code for a new app and even taking multi-hour, meandering walks every once in a while
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