Okay, obviously I’ve never been in corporate America, so I can’t say how unhappy the average worker was before the FIRE furor started. But it seems like I’m hearing far more about job dissatisfaction in the last couple of years than I had previously.
And I feel like FIRE is part of the reason for this.
Chicken and egg
I know that people rarely love their jobs. Heck, I don’t love my job — though I love my bosses and my pay. So that’s close enough for me.
But I feel like jobs were usually something people tolerated relatively well, even if they weren’t doing cartwheels about it Now, though, it feels like things have shifted and there area lot of people rabid to get out of the workforce and retire early.
So was mass unhappiness always fomenting, and people just didn’t know they had options?
Or is it that people learning they do have that option making them look at work in a much harsher light? Is finding out that early retirement might be tenable suddenly making their jobs seem more awful and onerous than they previously thought?
Obviously, work isn’t fun
I think it’s mostly the latter. And to an extent, I get it.
I mean, really, who wants to work for a living? Yes, there is a small percentage of the population that truly love their work. But most of us tolerate our jobs because we want the paycheck and the financial stability it provides.
So I can easily see how finding out that many folks are freeing themselves of their 9-5 could cause a major shift in mindset.
Suddenly, you learn that you might be able to opt out of something you thought was non-negotiable. Suddenly, you have the chance to choose how to spend your time, not dress in office attire, not answer to anyone else. And that is awfully appealing — and the idea of that freedom probably makes work seem that much worse.
Honestly, if you didn’t have to work til the normal retirement age — if you could start your own business or travel a bunch or otherwise choose how to spend your time — it’s pretty tempting to jump on that bandwagon. Well, unless you’re like me and pretty happy with what some would consider a small life.
And to be clear, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
Ideally, everyone with the means should be working toward financial independence. (Unfortunately, there are many for whom that simply won’t be possible.) But that doesn’t mean that I think jobs have earned their seemingly now-reviled status. I feel like everywhere I turn, people are talking about how awful it is to work within the corporate structure or deal with bosses and meetings etc.
Obviously, those were always some complaints. But it feels like a lot more people are voicing them now. So I have to wonder whether people’s perception of their work is being colored by realizing they may not have to work as long as they thought.
Of course, I’ve never had to sit through meetings — pointless or otherwise — or coordinate with hapless people on projects or deal with unpleasant or incompetent bosses. So I can only imagine how frustrating those things are. But is that level of “bad” really as common as FIRE people are making it out to be? Or is it just that the prospect of waking up without an alarm clock and exploring hobbies (or the world) just making it all seem tedious and terrible by comparison?
Words have impact
Clearly, I think it’s the latter. I think that once you find out that something less-than-fun isn’t necessary forever, it instantly seems worse. And that’s understandable, but not healthy. And I think the FIRE-fueled job unhappiness is being made worse by the movement’s terminology.
Where people probably never enjoyed meetings or bureaucracy, they usually seemed to tolerate them. Now you more commonly hear people say that their time/lives are being “sucked away” or even “stolen.”
Um… You’re being paid? Yes, that’s not as good as having completely free time. But it’s not as though meetings routinely take more time out of your job than you’d normally spend.
(Yes, I know some people have to work extra hours to complete all their tasks, and certainly meetings would exacerbate that. But by and large, folks, you’re being paid for the time spent in meetings. So they’re not sucking away anything except perhaps your level of interest.)
FIRE’s words have a big impact
The thing about this type of wording is that it casts the worker as a victim rather than a willing — if hardly gleeful — participant in the trade of time/labor for money. And when you see yourself as the victim, everything is going to automatically seem worse: more onerous, more awful and perhaps even tinged with malice on the part of the company.
FIRE people talk about “escaping” the working world. As though it’s a prison or hostage situation or some other awful fate. Again, I know it’s not a fun (or even particularly rewarding) fate for most people, but it’s hardly the same as being kidnapped or incarcerated. So that kind of hyperbole isn’t helping people keep perspective.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that FIRE folks seem to like to use the phrase “wage slave.”
Actually, do let me get started on that: STOP SAYING ANYTHING OTHER THAN LITERAL SLAVERY IS SLAVERY. Let alone a job you were not physically forced into and that pays you.
You are not a slave to your company. Even if you’re working 80-hour weeks, you are not a slave. To cast yourself in that ultimate victimhood is beyond insulting to the people who are still struggling with the fallout of that institution.
So the term “wage slave” — and to a lesser extent, maybe even “freedom” — needs to be struck from the “I’m unhappy with my job” lexicon.
But it’s enticing
So yeah, “wage slave” is pretty bad. But if you’re just getting started in FIRE and not socially aware enough to realize how awful and downright ridiculous the term is, then you could easily adopt it. And using that phrase puts you in a very distinct, very martyred mindset.
Suddenly, it’s not that you’re being compensated for your time and effort. (You can argue whether you’re properly compensated, but you are compensated.) No, you’re not only unappreciated, you’re at the mercy and whims of corporate “masters.” You’re just a thing to them, not even a real person.
And putting things in those terms, how could you not hate that situation and be desperate to “escape”?
So I think the wording used by FIRE aspirants is making some people far unhappier in their jobs than they were before they heard of the movement.
And again, this isn’t to say that the overall goal of FIRE is bad. It’s a good idea to strive to be financially stable and, preferably, independent. It’s great to have FU money if a job does get intolerable due to corporate/supervisor changes, life situations, etc.
But not to the extent that it actively makes your job seem miserable.
I’m outside looking in
Certainly, it seems like a lot of FIRE folk (especially the bloggers I see) are in high-stress, long-hour jobs. I get not wanting to do that forever. But it also seems like, as the FIRE movement has become more mainstream, a lot of people in any type of job are suddenly desperate get out of the working world.
And some people reading this post who are working toward FIRE may resent my assumptions. Because of course I don’t know their individual situations. I don’t know how bad their jobs are or aren’t.
Like I said, there are people in some truly awful situations. And even if your job isn’t objectively that bad, if you genuinely believe it to be supremely distressing and depressing… Well, then it is.
But the question here is whether you’re making it that bad, that soul-sucking. Because if you are, then you need to stop feeding that mindset.
Folks, reaching FIRE — especially if you’re starting pretty much from square one — takes years and years. It’s not healthy to live hating your present situation for that long, to live for an envisioned future happiness. Not if there’s a chance you can make it more tolerable in the interim.
How bad is it really?
If my many years of therapy have taught me anything, it’s that sometimes we make situations worse by viewing them through a negative lens or mindset.
FIRE folks need to ask themselves how they felt about their jobs before they learned that there might be an early way out. Were they really at their current level of unhappiness, or is envisioning a life on a beach/traveling the world making an acceptable-if-not-great job seem unbearable?
No, working for someone else isn’t generally a grand time. But is it really as awful as so many people are making it out to be? Or has American individualism crept in to where we all believe we need to lead epic, independent lives — and that once you consider that, nothing else can compare?
People ardently striving for FIRE and currently miserable need to ask themselves whether they’re undercutting their chances of contentment by idealizing their future. They need to find a way to achieve at least some happiness in the now.
And that begins with being more careful with wording, with trying to find and focus on the good.
So instead of talking about being a “wage slave,” say that you’re tired of trading your free time for anything — even money. Say that you want time to yourself pr that you want to dictate your time. That you’re tired of the corporate world. That you want to get out of the rat race.
If you need to express some truly negative feelings, then go for “overworked” or “working too much” or “not paid enough” or, if you must, even “corporate drone.” But I still think those would feed into the cycle of dissatisfaction.
Just do your best not to manifest more unhappiness. Try to shine a spotlight on any good parts of your job, whether it’s a feeling of satisfaction from a job well done, praise from a superior or just a particular task that you enjoy.
You can want to leave the working world behind but still find positives in your day-to-day life. The two can coexist.
Perhaps this vocabulary exercise sounds silly to you. It did to me when my therapist suggested it. I used to say that I was “too lazy” to do something when in fact I just didn’t have the wherewithal — due to tiredness or depression.
So she made me promise to substitute “tired” for “lazy” for a month. And I internally rolled my eyes.
But it actually helped.
By not framing myself in such a negative light, I was able to better see that I was working with limitations rather than just being indolent. By using less critical wording, my point of view changed, and I started liking myself a bit more.
So I know it sounds ridiculous, but the way we frame things does affect our reality. If you make your job seem like an awful fate, like it’s victimizing you every moment, I can pretty much guarantee you will be more miserable than you need to be.
Criticizing the wording, not the goal
Again, none of this is to say that FIRE is a bad idea. The problem is with how a lot of people react to their new, closer finish line.
As I said, everyone who feasibly can should try to become financially independent. You never know what life will throw at you, when you might need to walk away (or when you might be tossed away) from your current situation. And of course, you might enjoy your job a bit more once you don’t officially need it to get by.
No, the emphasis here is that people pursuing FIRE should make sure that they’re not framing things in such a way that they’re making everything pre-FIRE riddled with unhappiness and discontent. That, in talking about a better future, they’re not making their present worse.
Does anyone else think job dissatisfaction has gotten worse with the FIRE movement? Or is it just giving voice to that many unhappy people?