I’ve been catching up on a website that heretofore I haven’t really bothered with much, that of The Mad Fientist. Not so much the site itself, which I’m sure hosts great content, but I’ve been visiting to download the back catalogue of podcasts available of The Fientist interviewing various “stars” of the FIRE fraternity. I’ve already listened to quite a few of these and enjoyed them all so far.
The other night as I walked back from the library in the rain, I was listening to an episode in which the interviewees are Mr and Mrs 1500 from the “1500 Days to Freedom” website. Liberally dosed with quantities of alcohol, the interview teeters on the verge of irritation, but just gets away with it due to the undoubted, and possibly unguarded, honesty of the participants. And, from my perspective, they were discussing a subject close to my heart and experience, namely the difficulty of giving up work when you actually quite enjoy it. How refreshing to hear Mrs 1500 unequivocally state, “Early retirement is such a stupid term”, as she went on to explain how, after eight years of being a mum, she was desperate to re-enter the workplace. Mr 1500, on the other hand, and to an extent the Mad Fientist himself, told of how they could barely imagine giving up their coding jobs which, they averred, they would do for free – never mind being highly paid to do it. “I just feel I’ve got hold of a winning lottery ticket that just keeps paying out”, said Mr Fientist. “Why would I walk away from that?” Mr 1500, who actually sounded to be a bit of a workaholic, was heavily in agreement and seriously doubted his ability to walk away from his work even when he was financially more than able to.
So, are we listening to the only three people in America who like their work? I doubt it. The same I feel can be said – but isn’t said too much – here in the UK. I haven’t come across many blogs on either side of the Atlantic extolling the virtues of the office. We’re all suspicious of anyone who goes on about how much they love going to work, unless the job is one of these “dream roles” that you see on the telly which make you ask yourself why, instead of accountancy, you didn’t train to be a microbiologist in the Bahamas?
The conversation then turned to what, I think, is a much more rewarding line of enquiry, that of Financial Independence. Now, try as I might to think about how I can rain on this parade, I find it difficult to see the downside in attaining this goal. For a start, it makes the workplace a choice. If you don’t really need the money, you don’t have to stick the job, and that might make all the difference to your mindset. To be fair, I haven’t found it to make all that much difference to mine, because some days work still feels like work and there are more complex attachments to a job than just the wage packet you receive for doing it. I would admit, however, that I have a sense of security at work that I don’t think was always there before. After all, “the worst” happened to me in terms of losing my previous job which, in the midst of it, left me feeling as if it was actually the best thing that had ever happened to my career – but largely only because the severance package I received brought my FI target over the line some years before I’d expected to hit it.
One of the other subjects that Mr 1500 touched on, that I also felt in agreement with, was the attraction and satisfaction to be had in choosing to live a frugal life. The small joys to be found in going without, of not accumulating stuff, of making and mending, of making cash work for you instead of the other way around. The feeling of being in control and refusing to go along with the social pressure of keeping up with the Jones’s. (Don’t get me wrong, I also think there’s a lot of positives to be found in competing with the Jones’s, just as long as the Jones’s don’t necessarily know about it!) It’s the lifestyle that I think attracts a lot of us to these sites, reading about the Millionaires Next Door who appreciate the abundance of the world we live in, but don’t gorge themselves upon it until they’re sick.
Once you reach your chosen level of Financial Independence you can choose to retire, or not. You can take a risk and try to change jobs completely, strike out on your own, do what you feel you want to do, even if that’s to stay at the job you’re doing. The goal of retiring early was a great motivator for me, but the reality of it wasn’t quite what I expected. Maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but hardly a day went by when I wasn’t working that I didn’t say a small prayer of thanks that, for me, finding a job wasn’t a financial necessity – and that’s the part of the FIRE equation that I’ll always feel there are just no downsides to.