A FIRE Burns Out of Control
Financial Independence, Retire Early – the FIRE movement, as many refer to it – is a symptom of a broken system.
On the surface, FIRE is an aspiring dream; after all, who wouldn’t want to retire early? However, FIRE illuminates our social paradigm nearing flashpoint, leading to ever-increasing burnout amongst members.
As a result, many in the FIRE community have shifted to a new paradigm where mediocracy is embraced. Under the premise of escaping bullshit, grueling, and unsatisfying jobs, the FIRE fellowship encourages participation in nonsensical employment while accumulating wealth and denouncing materialism for an inevitable escape.
While the latter realization is inspiring, the former is not because kindling mediocracy will only continue to ablaze the problem without extinguishing the flames. So, if we genuinely want to douse the inferno, we must smother the underlying, smoldering problem.
I.e., conciliatory earnings and acceptance of dreadful work.
A False Flame
The basic premise to many in FIRE is that if you put up with a high-paying job for X number of years while slashing your spending, you can walk out of the building unscathed. Everyone else, meanwhile, continues to climb in ignorance and bliss, unknowing of the five-alarm fire below. Save yourself! Escape is all that matters.
However, escapism is misguided, and the solution lies in a different paradigm shift, where retiring earlier is not the resolution. So, let us take a step back and ask what cost FIRE comes with and if there is a better way?
The True Arsonist
When FIRE becomes an obsession, we accept mediocracy, dejected employment, and fixate on the goal post without realizing another is inevitably behind it.
Life is fleeting, no matter who you are.
Cutting out materialism and consuming what matters to you is arguably infallible. However, cutting out your life for a goal is far from it.
Why spend ten-plus years chasing FIRE doing work you do not enjoy for the money? If you answered, for early retirement, let’s explore that idea.
Looking to the FIRE community for examples, we see many have found themselves working anew in some capacity, often chasing passions as work once retirement is reached. After all, many FIRE bloggers continue blogging and even write books, while others have launched co-working spaces or have become fix-and-flippers. All of these activities, while non-traditional, generate income and become new jobs. It is in our nature to crave purpose, and retiring will not satisfy this.
While some people are genuinely satisfied with never working again, they are the minority. Many desire accomplishment – FIRE is a big one after all – so sitting idly or traveling the world will become lackluster at some point, and a yearning for something more will arise.
Behind The Flames
The whole point of life is to enjoy the journey, not to reach the ending sooner. For example, when we dance, we do not aim to arrive at a particular spot in a room. Rather, we dance for the sake of dancing, as eloquently put by Alan Watts.
However, FIRE idealizes a destination without accounting for what is next, and it removes the enjoyment from the present through fixation.
Thus, the answer is to burn Retire Early off the FIRE mantra, leaving bare Financial Independence. FIRE is, at its core, not about retirement but rather about chasing financial freedom to Be Here Now. But the movement gets so lost in the dogma of reaching FIRE that all too many miss the story. If you have enough money saved to last five or more years, you are financially independent, and it is time to wake up.
In five years, you could travel the world, chase your passions, start a business, go back to school, start a family, or do whatever matters most to you. Financial independence is the ability to do what you want when you want, not sustain perpetual escapism.
A curious thing happens if you look around once you have adequate savings. First, you realize that you do not have to work a tedious or grueling job. Second, you awaken to the reality that departing for your dream life was already feasible, even before you reached a total savings of twenty-times your annual spending. The abundance of what you have and that you are no longer bound to a parasitic relationship with work becomes apparent.
Third and lastly, you ask yourself, why didn’t I live a rich life sooner, where I no longer settled for mediocracy?
The answer has been lying in the false sense of security that early retirement provides to aspirants.
Taking a step back, let’s pretend you just retired. Ask yourself, now what? And then what? Okay, and then what? Either you will answer that you do not know – all you had was this goal of escaping – or that you would suddenly be happy since you could do X, Y, and Z.
However, you will run out of answers regardless of which camp you self prescribed. Life is not something you can perfectly map out or beat. Importantly, if it were, there would be no risk.
When there is no risk, no what if, life loses its sparkle because there is no longer mystery shrouding what happens next; instead, everything is set, which becomes a recipe for a bland and unfulfilling existence.
Life is not an escapade meant to be planned to the last detail; it is about going with twists, turns, and flips. You should not defer living for a goal if you cannot enjoy the present.
So Then What?
I cannot deny the sexiness of early retirement. It sounds appealing to almost everyone. But, what if instead you had lit your current paradigm afire and started anew, comingling work, play, and life happily? The answer is that FIRE would be amended since retiring early would no longer be a necessity.
Want to travel the world? Great, take some time off and do that. Want to raise your newborn and be a stay-at-home parent for a couple of years? Awesome, you can. All you need is financial independence, not early retirement.
By changing your focus and striving for financial independence, you can free yourself while not compromising the present.
So, I challenge you to burn the retirement off of Finance Independence Retire Early. That is nonsensical; what you are after is the freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to live life on your terms.
This is a commendable aspiration.
As long as you live thinking that FIRE is the answer to happiness, you will fall into a fallacy. It is time to wake up and realize that our society and FIRE have both propagated… Life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at that end, and the thing was to get to that thing at that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played. [Alan Watts]
So, stop waiting for early retirement and go live now! You do not need complete financial security to chase your dreams or to give up mediocracy. What you need is enough to live again. Nothing more.
Life is precious, cherish it and treat it with respect by enjoying it now.
[Please take a moment to review the website disclosure statement here. I do not make any money from the link to Amazon above.]
Mile High Finance Guy
finance demystified, one mountain at a time