When I first heard about Financial Independence as a structured concept, it was through the Early Retirement Extreme blog. Here was a guy who had saved like an absolute lunatic for five years and amassed enough money never to have to work again. I was hooked. If I could just pull through the hard bit, this could be me full-time in a few short years:
Well, here I am five years later, and I’m still not retired. Why? Was I too lazy to save hard enough? Did the Protestant work ethic get to me? Not exactly. The fact is, whilst I’m a big advocate of Financial Independence, I can take or leave the Retire Early part of the FIRE movement these days. Here’s why:
- Pure idleness is unhealthy. Humans have evolved psychologically to work hard, so in the same way as it’s not natural for a tiger to be cooped up in a cage, it’s not natural for a human brain to be cooped up in its own inactivity. “Work” definitely doesn’t have to mean the typical 9-5. There are plenty of other ways to get mental stimulation. But some form of meaningful structured work can be a good source of stimulation.
- Work becomes much more fun when it’s optional. A lot of the stress of work is knowing that you have to take the bullshit because you can’t afford not to. The mere fact of knowing you could tell your boss where to go can turn a horrible job into a decent experience overnight – for example by daring to ask for homeworking, part-time hours, or using your newfound freedom to take more risks (which actually often improves your performance).
- Some goals are far easier to hit in work. Let me give you an example. If you want to have a positive impact on your community by improving the design of your city, this will probably be a lot easier if you work at the city’s planning department, and piggyback on their resources, rather than building your own solo initiative from the ground up.
- It’s hard to shift from 100 miles per hour to zero. If you have the drive to save up a lifetime of wealth in five years, you probably have too much drive to be satisfied with lazing on the beach long-term. A bit of decompression – sure. But as a permanent lifestyle, it’s something that requires slow, gradual adjustment if that’s genuinely a transition you really want to take.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t kick the day job as soon as you hit a “magic number” and move to the Bahamas. But as with everything, it’s probably worth a bit of introspection first!
What would you do if you could retire tomorrow? Would you still do your current job? Would you still do any kind of “traditional” work?