Back in the day, people were encouraged to put money aside for retirement. Retirement was deemed the time when you no longer worked. Generally, this was at age 65. Why? I’m guessing that for many people, their aging bodies wouldn’t be able to continue at the 9-5 pace much longer. They needed to slow down and take care of themselves. And soon, they would hit the point when they wouldn’t be able to physically work. The money they set aside needed to be able to cover their living expenses when they could no longer earn a paycheck.
We accepted this way of life. People found jobs they could stay at for 45+ years and figured out how to enjoy life. Things may not have been perfect; but it was simple, predictable, and safe. When it was time to retire, we were thankful that we had been able to set aside part of our paycheck.
Then something changed. People started wanting more out of life. They didn’t want to work the 9-5 until age 65. Why wait to travel until you’re too old to enjoy those experiences? We started craving more time, or at least more time during our younger years to do the things we enjoyed.
I wonder… Is this because our expectations for life changed or corporate’s expectations for us changed? I’m guessing it’s both.
Losing Work-Life Balance
I remember hearing about people who worked 8 hours 5 days a week, received a certain amount of vacation days, a pension, and a really nice healthcare benefit. Slowly, these incentives started to fade away. Employees were asked and soon expected to work longer hours. They were even encouraged not to use their vacation days. The pension disappeared and the healthcare benefits got worse each year. Companies started expecting their employees to live for the company’s success - working them to exhaustion and keeping them from their families. Can I say that corporate America lost its humanity?
We let this go on for a while, but as employees got burnt by their employers, we started questioning whether it was all worth it. We started looking for a change. We looked for a solution. One that would allow us to enjoy our lives more.
Solution Number One: Early Retirement
We weren’t able to fight against the long work days, the lack of vacation time, or the diminishing pension. The one thing we could control - our retirement date. Incomes were healthy and if we could just optimize how we saved, we could put away enough to retire early. We could take that vacation before age 65!
Retiring a few years earlier wasn’t enough though. We were still burnt out. We came to hate our jobs. We needed to get out sooner! This is when we learned about Mr. Money Mustache retiring at age 30.
Solution Number Two: MMM Retirement
We decided we wanted the Mr. Money Mustache retirement. But this was hard. We had student loans, credit card debt, mortgages, and families. We tried budgeting. We tried fighting against impulse purchases. While we eliminated debt and became more intentional, we found ourselves past the age of 30. If we couldn’t retire by age 30, we wanted the next best thing - retire as early as possible! But how were we going to make this happen?
Solution Number Three: The Hustle
We started hearing about other people retiring early. They were making it happen at age 40! How were they doing it? We learned that they had buckled down and began to hustle. Not only did they work their 40+ hour job, but they began to look for other ways to make money outside of their day job. This allowed them to pay off their debts faster, to put more money away towards retirement and increase their net worth.
Basically, if we were to hustle we needed to invest more time and energy into making more money. This would finally allow us to retire earlier. Having learned this, our desire for early retirement became all-consuming. The more we worked, the more we made, the sooner we could retire. But as time went on, we found ourselves burning out again.
A New Solution: Let Go
Here’s the thing, FIRE was never meant to be about the hustle.
People look at what Mr. Money Mustache has achieved and gloss over the entire premise of his story. It was never about the money, it was about living by his values. It was about making choices, such as not taking on debt. It was about figuring out his personal priorities and sticking to them; not letting the world cloud their judgment. He and his wife looked at their life, at their paycheck, and decided to be intentional from the beginning. They knew their values, the life they wanted, and figured out how to live life on their terms in the 9-5. Along the way, they realized that they could retire early.
What if we did this instead? What if we worked our 9-5 and talked about our own values. What if we didn’t focus on early retirement, but on living a fulfilling life now and in the future. Not a glamorous life, but one where we turn our focus back towards our loved ones come 5 pm, where we look for work that fulfills us instead of burns us out. And instead of making FI our life goal and getting burnt by the hustle, we slow down. What would happen if we let go of FIRE so that we can reevaluate our goals and find balance?
Maybe, just maybe, we won’t get burnt out anymore.