Thursday, April 18, 2024
HomeMake MoneyAppeals to a common desire for financial independence.

Appeals to a common desire for financial independence.

When I first started saving and investing money for my future, I didn’t have much of a defined goal. My main motivation came from not wanting to work forever.

As I began teaching myself about how to invest on my own, I came across the idea of FIRE: financial independence, retire early.

Proponents of this path say that if you are willing to save aggressively for 10 years (usually made possible by eliminating as much spending as you can to free up cash flow to allocate to investments), you can retire as early as your 30s or 40s.

This blew my mind when I first read about it and seemed to make so much sense. Why spend most of your life at a job you hate just so you can maybe have enough to quit once you’re in your 60s or 70s?

Why wouldn’t you commit to a relatively short amount of time of extremely frugal living if it meant you could be free from having to work at all once you built up enough assets to provide the income you needed?

I quickly became obsessed with the idea of FIRE, but it took me only a few years of following this strategy to realize that a more balanced, less extreme approach to financial independence was the better path for me.

Why FIRE felt so appealing in my early 20s
FIRE as a strategy promised that if I just cut all my unnecessary spending (which, to many FIRE fans, can mean essentially everything but food, water, and a minimally appointed shelter) and saved as much of my income as I could, I could stop working.

I fixated on the retire-early aspect more than anything because I hated my job. This was worrying to me; I was 22 years old, had two years of real-world work experience under my belt, and was already wondering how soon I could retire.

But my job wasn’t the only thing that I didn’t like very much about my life. I didn’t like where I lived, I didn’t like my lifestyle, I didn’t like the relationship I was in, and I didn’t much like myself.

Reaching financial independence so I could retire early seemed like a solution because I assumed everything external to me was to blame for my unhappiness: job, home, boyfriend.

But the truth was, I was the source of my unhappiness. Achieving FIRE as quickly as possible wouldn’t have solved any problem; I dove into the pursuit of it as an escape from my problems.

Had I stuck with it, I might have been able to retire at 30. But I would be just as unhappy, and I can’t imagine how devastating it would be to finally achieve that huge goal to stop working, only to discover I was somehow still miserable because I hadn’t addressed the real source of my dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

The problem isn’t FIRE — the problem is living in extremes instead of finding a balanced middle ground
Like most other 22-year-olds, I wasn’t quite sure of who I was or what I wanted. Essentially, pursuing FIRE was me running away from something (a life and a self I didn’t much like and wasn’t initially interested in working to improve).

It was a distraction from other problems that were going to be much harder to solve than, “How do I save half my income?”

Eventually, I realized that I would probably be happier if I ran toward something out of passion and interest rather than running away from things out of fear.

I started falling out of love with the idea of FIRE when I realized that if I didn’t work on myself, learn who I was, and then align my time and my energy with what I actually valued, all the money in the world would not make me any happier.

When I got clarity on my values, priorities, and goals, I realized I didn’t even want to retire early. I just wanted to do work I found meaningful and useful because I derive a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from purposeful labor.

During the years that I was obsessed with FIRE, I assumed that the future would somehow magically be better than the present. I didn’t think it was a big deal to put the present on hold because I was so future-oriented, convinced that was when I’d finally enjoy life.

But at some point I realized, right now is really all we have that’s guaranteed. The future is unknowable, and “someday” isn’t a real place that you can go.

During my FIRE years, I delayed experiences and said no to opportunities that I can’t get back. I was so busy obsessing over my dreams that I missed making actual memories. I wasn’t living my life.

I still save a lot of my income. My biggest financial goal is still to achieve financial independence. But I’m in less of a hurry to get there. I don’t even think about quitting my work. And I’m much more interested in being present and staying open to all the experiences I can have along the way.

Today I believe there’s a balance to maintain between enjoying your life right now and ensuring that you’ve planned appropriately for the future. It doesn’t have to be extreme; this isn’t about choosing between FIRE and YOLO.

You can live somewhere in the middle, and that’s the place I strive for now.

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