Choose Life

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.

8 thoughts on “Choose Life

  1. Well said.

    The independence that the FI part of FIRE provides is the ability to control your time. That is a huge thing, very rewarding.

    It is also challenging because it kicks away some of those excuses we all hide behind. Doing a job they hate, working for a boss who is the devil, subjecting themselves to a horror commute, maintaining an out of kilter work/life balance.

    Once a person has achieved FI they can do something about those things, either make a change or perhaps choose to care a bit less about them. Those who fail to make changes about things that are making them unhappy are missing an amazing opportunity they have worked hard to enjoy.

    However is life is already good, then why would anything post FI need to change? Just because a person could choose to quit, go caravanning, or write a novel doesn’t mean they should.

    Find the happy I say, then enjoy it.

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    • Probably most of the stress at work is when you feel that you’re not in control and, worse, some idiot you can’t stand seems to have control over you. But, because so many people are (as a headhunter friend told me) “one pay cheque away from oblivion”, what’s to be done? FI is the answer, but when you ask the question is more important.

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  2. Both Jim and Slow Dad make some excellent points. I have striven for FIRE for these last 20 years, lived frugally etc and put my myself in a position to accept a redundancy package which should be the iceing on the cake.
    But as the reality of leaving my job of 10 years has become real, I am realising what I will be giving up – shared purpose, camaraderie, regular salary etc. Ok there are bad days as well. For me though the motivation of aiming for FIRE has driven me to save like a squirrel but now I can actually leave my work, I would far prefer to stay…
    The RE part of the equation for me has been brilliant in the abstract but now faced with the likely impending reality of it, I am not so sure. Choose life? I woukd choose something else…

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    • Totally agree – RE was a fantastic motivator for me while I was working. Retirement I just wasn’t ready for, and I was fifty, so it wasn’t that “early” either!There’s no shame in missing work, or going back to work, but sometimes I feel that the sentiment in the FIRE community doesn’t acknowledge this.

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  3. Thanks for a thought provoking post Jim.
    My SO is pretty similar to you and the 1500’s in regards to enjoying and valuing work. I’m the opposite and we sometimes struggle to understand each other.
    One of the things I experimented with several years ago was working part-time and volunteering two/three days a week. I loved the volunteering, and was really good at it; like a real job, some of it was mundane and some of it was fun. At the end of my time there, they made me a job offer. The more I thought about it the more I disliked the idea. I knew that making it a job would suck all the fun out of it for me.
    I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s blog where she talks about the ways that different people respond to obligations (whether we tend to uphold internal and external obligations, oblige external obligations, question all obligations or rebel against obligations). This really hammered home to me why I felt so badly about the job offer. It would have made it an obligation, and I tend to rebel and resent obligations.
    For me there is no ‘dream job’, I’d resent that amazing microbiologist’s job, I’d resent a job watching TV, I’d resent a job consisting entirely of picking the lint out of the dryer trap.
    It’s the same with budgeting, I hated with a passion the strict budget I needed to stick to when I was getting out of debt. Now I choose to follow a very similar budget and don’t resent it. If anything I do more overly-frugal things and really enjoy the optional challenge.
    I really like your idea of FI making the workplace a choice: it’s a much more worthy target than FIRE so that you can watch TV all day. I wonder if the FI message would spread further if it was framed like this.

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    • Thanks PWF. For me, having the choice makes all the difference. When I began to feel I was obliged to turn up at work I knew it was time to go. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I couldn’t pull the trigger and ER happened to me in the end as opposed to me actively choosing it. But I was prepared, financially, and I can’t say how thankful I was to be in that position when it happened. Do I feel differently having now actively chosen to go back to work? That’s an interesting internal debate that I haven’t worked out yet!

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  4. Great post, Jim.

    I totally understood why you went back to work despite being FI – being out of work now myself, I already miss my colleagues, the banter, the camaraderie. Unfortunately, unlike you, I’m not FI so me getting back to work is a necessity.

    My goal to reach FI has always been about choice. Even if I don’t achieve my goal, attempting it still leaves me in a far better position if I continued to work into my mid 60s.

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    • Hi Weenie, hope you’re taking the rough with the smooth with regards to being inbetween jobs at the moment. I received lots of different, and sometimes contradictory, advice about job hunting when I was out of work. Like most things, I found the more effort you put in, the more you’ll get back from it. The ‘phone wont ring by its own accord, much as I often hoped it would! I’m sure you’ll find something soon.

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