Why Try to Set Shit on FIRE?
I think they the interesting question is: Why do I want to be a part of the FIRE movement? My motivations are very different than many of the other bloggers out there, or at least I think so. It’s interesting because some of them seem to want to be nomadic and travel the world. Others want to be able to stay home and spend time with their kids. Still others hate their jobs. I would say that I do not fall into any of those categories. Let me explain.
I do not want to live a nomadic lifestyle. I’m not even that big on traveling. The furthest away I’ve ever gone has been to Hawaii. In order to do that, I had to sit 9+ hours on the airplane each way, each time wedged into a seat like an itty-bitty little sardine, worrying that I was going to get a DVT which was going to turn into a pulmonary embolism, and that I would die before reaching the destination. So to me, travel is not all that appealing. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve made a bit more money and have been able to upgrade to economy plus or business class or things like that, meh, it’s a little better. It’s still not high on my list though. You could argue that I have a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder or Asperger’s or something like that, but waking up in different places all the time where I’m not sleeping in my bed, with my pillows, with the coffee I like, and the food I like, and the gym I like available when I wake up… After a few days, that gets a little stressful for me. Also, the longer I’m away, the longer I’m away from the things I love, which, outside of the above, would primarily be things like my dog, my friends, and potentially my family. So yeah, a week here and a week there are fine for me, but I think that anybody who has animals or other beings in their life to take care of that can’t necessarily travel with them probably don’t really enjoy traveling. I guess you could say that those types of people are homebodies. Sometimes I think I would like to have an RV and take the dog with me and do some traveling around the country, but the whole international travel thing is not my lane.
Now the staying home with kids thing, that’s a little closer to the above. I don’t like kids, I don’t want to have kids, but I may eventually want to have more animals, dogs, horses, maybe even some others. And if I have them, I want to be able to spend time and enjoy it with them. Right now I walk my dog every day that it is physically possible for me to do so, so basically barring freezing rain. There’s nothing that I would like more than to not have to try to plan around both my job and the weather on any given day in order to get a walk in, and to not let things like working dictate how long I spend doing those activities, because I genuinely enjoy them. You can’t argue here that by staying home with my dog that I’m saving all kinds of money on child care or shit like that, or that I morally believe that people should take care of their own dogs and not drop them off to daycare, or any of many of the other common childcare type arguments, but yeah, I do want to spend time with the critters. So maybe there’s a tiny little bit of overlap there.
I also wouldn’t say I hate my job. I like doing what I do in a theoretical sense. I love having students. I like the research and nerdy part of my job as well. I think that I would prefer to do it on my own terms in that I haven’t maybe found the exactly perfect setting for me, but it’s hard to have a job where you can have a lot of personal control where it would be like a private practice, and also still have students because of regulatory and funding type issues, and although you could do research in your spare time, again in a private practice it would be harder to get grants and get paid for it. So it is a really difficult balance to strike there, and I don’t know that I’ll ever love what I’m doing 100% of the time, but I definitely don’t hate my job. I think a lot of healthcare workers are in this boat. They may get stressed out by the paperwork, a problematic staff member, something like that, but if they can come up with a position where they have a lot of things that they enjoy and a high degree of autonomy and control, I think they’ll stick with it for a lot longer because it is fun to do. A lot of people on the other blogs talk about going into jobs they hate, having to kind of self-medicate to keep doing them, viewing them as torture, stuff like that. I definitely don’t see my job that way. Every day I think how sweet it is I can walk into my office at 7 when no one’s there, make coffee, check my email, start nerding out, maybe get a chance to go to a cool didactic that day, and supervise my awesome students that I love for a couple hours. For the most part, my complaints are pretty minor.
Now, on the other hand, other than the wanting to spend more time with my animals, why else would I be doing this FIRE thing? The first thing that comes to my mind, even though I am naturally kind of an early riser and I enjoy getting into work before anybody else does, is the 5 AM wake ups. I am also pretty big into health and fitness type things, and I genuinely believe that humans should set their sleep wake cycles to the natural circadian rhythm of light and dark. In order to avoid rush-hour traffic and get out at a time in the day where I can get home in the winter before it’s dark to walk my dog, or in the summer I can just get out of work prior to five so I can get a few other daytime appointments done before other shit shuts down, I get up at 5 AM to get out of work at 3:30 PM. I don’t think that this is a really healthy sleep cycle for me. I find myself naturally staying up until somewhere between 9 and 10, so waking up at 5, that means I might only be getting seven hours of sleep a night, and I think naturally I need closer to 8. When I think about that alarm going off every morning, the first thing that comes to my mind is that scene from fight club where Tyler Durden is talking about how humans torture themselves by waking themselves up with alarm clocks. I totally feel that way. Any day that I can get up without using an alarm clock at all or that I can sleep long enough to wake up before my alarm clock goes off is paradise in my mind.
Some of my allegiance with the FIRE movement is also me just basically being a rebel. I tend to chafe under stupid rules and regulations. For example, why did they decide in the US that two weeks of vacation a year is the standard starting point? It’s way more in other parts of the world, and we're completely getting the fucking shaft. So I do have a bit of a problem with people dictating to me how much vacation and sick time and things like that I am allowed within any certain year. If you don’t want to pay me for it you don’t have to fucking pay me for it, but it’s my goddamned time! So that’s more of a moral and existential issue for me than anything practical most of the time.
Kind of going along with the above, grad school was one of the happiest times in my life. Thinking back, even though I was totally and utterly broke, I think it was happiest because I had a lot more control over my schedule and my time. I was able to work out up to five times a week if I wanted to. I got to, at least to some degree, pick what classes I took and when. I could push myself harder or take it as easy as I wanted to, within some pretty loose parameters. So I think about things like that; I basically just want to have that level of control over my career. Really, my immediate goal is to be able to work four days a week by the time I’m 40. I think this is because having one extra day a week off work would allow me to get in an extra workout and extra hike, maybe a couple of appointments, it would keep me happier and working longer in the long-run. So basically, it’s not that I want to stop working entirely, it’s just that I want to have more control over my schedule and be able to determine a better work-life balance for myself.
Along with that, again, looking past that point, eventually I would like to have the freedom to try out some other things that right now I don’t necessarily have the time to do. If I want to do statistical consulting, teach a class as an adjunct, or take drumming lessons, whatever the fuck it may be, right now I’m working 40 hours plus doing all that. I can’t really add all that to my schedule when I already have my other things going on, like hiking and agility with the dog, the powerlifting that I do, going to the shooting range; I mean come on, I have a pretty fucking full schedule already. So at some point if I can cut down even further, to three days a week, that again will give me a little bit more novelty in my life, which I think is important for long-term cognitive and emotional well-being. It also gives you the freedom to try shit and see if it works, that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise get to try. I do have a few ideas for income-producing hobbies and/or second careers, but again, it’s hard for me to get those off the ground if 50% of my waking hours are being taken up by my current profession. I think that’s common among healthcare professionals too. We tend to be intelligent, curious people, who have a lot of things we would like to do with our life. Unfortunately, healthcare, science, and other high-education professions are so labor-intensive and so specialized that in order to really be an expert at something and do it well, you have to focus 100% of your energy on that all the time, starting around the fourth grade. So although it makes us really really good at what we do, we maybe aren’t always as well-rounded as we would be if we had picked a different career field.
There it is, folks. I’m sure that some of you out there will think that I’m narcissistic or selfish or otherwise entitled if my main goal in life is not to have to use an alarm clock, but that’s a pretty strong motivating factor for me. It just seems like right now the popular millennial type thing to do is to go nomadic and travel all over the world, and honestly I find a lot of that very pretentious. It’s like people who travel a lot think that people who don’t are uneducated or unsophisticated or stupid; that’s not true, but we’re definitely smart in different ways. I may not be able to find my way around Bangkok, but I also doubt that they have ever done or seen a lot of shit that I have, both inside and outside of healthcare. And you know what? Some of you may just want to get out of your healthcare profession entirely as quickly as possible. That’s okay too. A lot of people find working in healthcare very taxing. Emotionally, we deal every day with life, death, disability, and genuinely horrible things happening to people, and we can’t always provide a good explanation as to why, or stop it, or sometimes we even make mistakes that make it our fault. That’s a lot of burden to bear. And I think a lot of people also don’t appreciate how physically demanding healthcare professions are, in terms of having to stand, walk, lift, deal with potentially infectious fluids, you name it. Then there’s financial liability; we have that like almost no other field if we fuck up. So although it’s not like we’re out there digging ditches all day, it still can be exceptionally difficult to work in healthcare, although thankfully, most of the positions are pretty well compensated relative to the burden.
Now I’m curious; why is it that you’re interested in FIRE? Is it one of the traditional reasons, like kids or traveling? Is it selfishness? Is it because you do see yourself burning out or being unable to do your current job eventually? Are there other reasons that haven’t been discussed yet? Gimme some love and some comments!