Not too long ago, I read a piece by Mr. Tako over at Mr. Tako Escapes in which he fakes a prominent FIRE blogger’s death. (He got the blogger’s permission first.) He made up the fib underscore a few points:
- How fleeting life can be
- How we need to really live
- There are bigger risks than FIRE
As he so succinctly/sarcastically puts it:
” Instead of staying safe working in an office all day, Justin was outside doing stuff in The Big Blue Room. The outside world is dangerous, and ‘doing stuff’ can actually kill you.”
In other words, life is a risk at least as much as a FIRE blogger running out of money, so why spend your life in a cubicle out of fear?
He goes on to point out that if everything does go to hell (unemployment skyrocketing, stock market plummeting), then the employed and financially independent are all in the same boat.
That’s the first point I take issue with. The employed would definitely not be in the same boat as retired folks. They’d be scared for their jobs, but they’d have a steady income and not be as reliant on the now-absent stock market dividends and shrinking 4% draw-downs that most FIRE folks depend on.
But what really irked me about the post was his wrap-up:
“You’re more likely to die falling off a cruise ship. That’s a very small risk compared to never having actually lived.”
Um… Excuse me?
Apparently, if we don’t retire early, we’ve never actually lived. So… If we stick with a job until regular retirement age, we’re forgoing a “real” life?
I left a comment saying that I bristled a bit at this implication. His somewhat crass response was:
“Go ahead and bristle away Abigail! We’re all allowed to do things our own way, and have our own unique opinions. Some people love their work and would never leave… and that’s totally OK. For them, a job *is* life. I define things a little differently. There’s so much more than punching a clock every day.”
This answer has a few problems — even ignoring the fact that he so cavalierly told me to bristle away.
I don’t love my job
I mean, I don’t know anyone who loves working in customer service. So no, I don’t love my job.But I don’t hate it either.
It’s a job, not a passion. And that’s okay. There’s more to life than either loving or hating your job. But Mr. Tako makes it sound as though it’s either one of the other: Either you hate your job and don’t really live or you live only for work.
I think it’s safe to say that neither is terribly healthy, but thankfully the majority of us seem to live in the middle ground, not being thrilled about working, but not hating our occupations either.
So okay, I spend eight hours a day at work, and it’s not pursuing my passion. Does this mean I’m not really living either? I just can’t win here!
I’m more than my job
Tako wrote, “There’s so much more than punching a clock every day.”
Ummm… Who says that if you work, all you do is punch a clock? I don’t know about him, but I don’t spend all of my downtime in stasis. I enjoy TV and movies; I go out with friends; I overly obsess about my finances; I work out to get healthier.
In other words, I don’t let the eight hours a day that I’m on the clock define the rest of my time. It never occurred to me to define myself by my job. (Maybe because mine is kind of boring?) Instead, I consider my life to be mainly what happens in my off-hours.
And that’s the thing that a lot of FIRE bloggers seem to forget — or at least omit from their writing: Even while you’re working you can be more than just a job. You can be a spouse/partner, a parent, a sibling, a friend, etc. You can travel in your off-time (even if you do less of it than a fully retired person). You can have hobbies and a social life. In other words, you can work eight hours a day and still be a well-rounded person.
Arguably, FIRE bloggers define themselves more by a job than the most of us, since they spend so much time and energy trying to get away from theirs. They define themselves as working people in a negative (or mostly negative) sense. Almost as though their lives won’t truly start until they’re free of the workforce.
My dark secret: I don’t have a passion
There’s no activity or cause that revs me up time and time again. Especially not enough to contend with my fatigue. It’s about all I can do to run errands, work out and see friends one to two times a week.
I suspect a lot of people don’t have a passion outside of their loved ones. We work, but we’re not passionate about it. We enjoy activities, but we’re not devoted to them. We support causes, but we’re more likely to do so with donations than elbow grease.
I’d say the closest thing I have to a passion is this blog. And I’d say it’s more a labor of love than an all-out passion.
Does my lack of passion — work or otherwise — impact my ability to really live? I’d say I still lead a pretty good life, even if my fatigue makes mine a little smaller than others’.
Some people can’t retire early
Thanks to my health problems, I wasn’t able to work much in my 20s. What little work I did manage went into covering basic expenses. There was simply no way to contribute to retirement.
Then two people’s health problems meant that expenses went way up in my 30s, and I simply didn’t make retirement savings enough of a priority to compensate for missing out on my 20s. I’m finally able to get serious about saving for retirement — which is far better than nothing — but it means that I’ll probably never have enough to safely retire.
Other people simply don’t make enough money to max out (or even start) their IRAs. Like me, they may have jobs that don’t offer 401(k)s. They simply can’t save enough to retire.
Does this mean they’ll have never really lived?
Of course not! They have families and friends. They have hobbies. They may manage to travel, even if it’s in and around their jobs. In short, they experience the world plenty.
Some extra free time is ideal for a lot of people. It may even seem like the gold standard to many folks. But no matter how much you value free time, you can’t negate the validity of people’s existence just because they’re stuck in a job they don’t love. Or diminish your own, pre-FI existence either. You shouldn’t feel like your life only truly begins once you leave your job.
No, a life is what you make of it. To so much as hint at anything else is to diminish, if not flat-out invalidate, someone’s entire life.
Do you feel like people who work forever aren’t really living? If you’re FIRE, do you think that your life won’t really begin until you’re free of your career?