Hello FIRE, My Old Friend

A group of people roasting marshmallows around a campfire

I first heard about the term FIRE, in reference to the Financially Independent, Retiring Early (or Financial Independence, Retire Early) community, about a year ago. Discovering that community was like finding long-lost family that I hadn’t known existed.

Discovering FIRE

At the time, I was looking for guidance and reassurance. In the first quarter of 2018, the stock market had entered market correction territory, dropping over 10% with no end in sight. Should I hold? Should I sell? Where there any sages online who could put the recent stock market volatility into perspective?

In the course of those online wanderings, I came across some of the Deans of FIRE, like Mr. Money Mustache, Financial Samurai, JL Collins (and his comprehensive Stock Series), White Coat Investor and Get Rich Slowly, just to name a few. I found answers to my original, narrow inquiry (e.g,. here and here), but also found much more.

It was exciting to discover an entire community and treasure trove of information that was previously unknown (to me), yet well-aligned with what I had already thought and done, more or less instinctively (with much credit to my parents). I devoured numerous posts in a short span. Many posts clarified my thinking about money, work and how I wanted to live, even if everyone’s background and circumstances were different.

Hearing other people’s stories about pursuing financial independence and living life outside of the corporate world was inspiring. It also helped to crystalize my own plans.

Ignorance is Bliss?

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t learn about the concept of FIRE sooner. Had I held that as a goal at the very beginning of my carreer, it may have led to different choices. I might have focused on earning and saving in the near-term at the expense of the riskier life detours that have turned out quite well longer term.

About a decade prior, I was just starting my career as an attorney. At that point, I had invested three years to attend law school and had student debt I needed to pay off. Achieving financial independence, retiring early or pursuing otium was not at the top of my mind then.

Instead, I was focused on learning, surviving life at a large law firm (aka Biglaw) and finding my way in the working world. Retirement was a vague concept in the very distant future, but I maxed out my 401k and saved in addition to that. I also realized very quickly that I didn’t want to pursue becoming a partner at the law firm, and I consciously avoided lifestyle inflation, viewing the law firm salary as a temporary state of affairs. I tracked my monthly income and expenses on a spreadsheet, before platforms like Personal Capital and Mint existed.

Over the course of my career, in addition to my own experience, I benefitted from the perspectives of friends and colleagues, who had pursued a variety of opportunities within and outside of the law. So, I had a decent sense of what different career paths in the legal industry looked like and, more importantly, what would and wouldn’t be a good (or, at least better) fit for me.

On balance, each step of my career was better than the last and I felt like I was moving in the right direction, even if I hadn’t found something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. Still, changing jobs often felt more like an incremental change, rather than a step-change. I occasionally felt an urge to pursue something radically different, but then the fleeting thought would pass, and the days would fly by.

Preaching to the Converted

By the time I came across the FIRE community and blogs, I had been practicing law as a law firm and in-house company attorney for ten years.

Reading about people who had pursued a life of FIRE, I realized that perhaps I didn’t just need to find the right job to lead a more satisfying life. Instead, I needed to question the assumption that I had to have a job at all, or at least within the more narrow set of possibilities within Corporate America that I had been considering. Financial independence, and all of the freedom that it suggested, struck me as exactly what I was looking for.

Seriously considering the possibility of FIRE was eye-opening for another reason: when I considered my own financial situation, I discovered that consistently living below my means and saving the excess meant that, unknowingly, I was already on the path to financial independence. And not only was it achievable, it was potentially not that far away (although I’m not there yet).

Accordingly, I’ve also been thinking more and more about what the implications of financial independence are for my life. The possibility (and desire) of carving out a satisfying life, not just within the limited time when I’m not working, is a more recent one for me. Once again, the FIRE community has been there, done that, and will be an invaluable resource. But, I also look forward to charting my own path in pursuit of otium and hope to help others find their way as well.

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