I enjoyed reading a post put together by Joe from Retire By 40 not too long ago.
He posed a simple question.
You could argue it either way.
I can see how someone would believe it’s a fad. I can also understand how someone would think it’s not. Joe thinks it’s a fad.
One major aspect of Joe’s argument is that it takes an intense and lasting drive to get to FIRE, which is something that most people simply aren’t capable of sustaining over a very long period of time.
Here’s what he said:
For a normal person, FIRE is virtually impossible. The execution phase is much longer than the planning phase. Most people won’t last.
Do I think Joe is right about that?
In fact, I’ve been pretty vocal about this.
FIRE is not for everyone. In my opinion, it’s not even for most people.
I think there’s a very small percentage of the population that will understand FIRE, genuinely desire FIRE, be willing to do what it takes to achieve FIRE, and then actually thrive in a post-FIRE life. You might be able to get one or two of those things down. But doing all of it, over the course of the rest of your life, is extremely difficult. It’s virtually impossible, as Joe said.
But I’d like to take this discussion to another level.
I want to pose another question that piggybacks onto Joe’s question.
Is FIRE a paradox?
Those Who Are Most Likely To Achieve FIRE Are Least Likely To Need The Money
I’m looking for someone.
They’re a unicorn.
I say that because I haven’t yet met them.
In all of my time writing about FIRE, saving and investing my way toward FIRE, coaching clients, living this lifestyle, and meeting like-minded people all from all over the world, I have yet to meet a single young person who lives solely off of passive investment income.
Over the course of almost 10 years now, I have yet to meet someone in their 30s or even 40s who is FIRE and not earning a single dime of income from a hobby or some type of work.
The exact type of person who’s driven and disciplined enough to actually do what it takes to achieve FIRE and then thrive in their post-FIRE life, is the exact type of person who will see the value in what I believe are the “three P’s” of enjoying FIRE: passions, productivity, and progress.
Said another way, the people most likely to achieve FIRE are the same people who are most likely to continue working in some capacity past the point of FIRE. These people need constant problems to solve and challenges to overcome. FIRE is in and of itself a very exciting problem to solve. But once you solve it, you’re not going to be content just sitting around for the next 30 years.
This is why, in my opinion and personal experience, the early retirement math is moot.
A perfect example of this is Warren Buffett.
The guy is a billionaire many times over. Yet he continues to work. A lot.
As he puts it, he “tap dances to work”.
Of course he does. He loves what he does and does what he loves. Buffett doesn’t show up to Berkshire Hathaway headquarters in Omaha every morning because he has to. He does it because wants to.
And that’s the crux of the matter here. Working because you want to is a world apart from working because you have to. And a job is very different from work.
I also “tap dance to work”.
For example, I’m smiling every single afternoon as I briskly walk to my favorite coffee shop so that I can drink a delicious caramel macchiato, consume and produce content, and progress forward with productive passions.
See, having money isn’t about not working. FIRE isn’t about not working.
This lifestyle is about living life on your terms, which, for the type of person who’s driven and disciplined enough to achieve FIRE, means doing meaningful and passionate work that adds value to one’s life and the world around them. That value usually comes back around in the form of some kind of monetization.
FIRE is a platform that allows someone to “right-size” work and avoid jobs. You can live life on your terms because you can bankroll the whole thing. You become your own boss because you are a boss. For me, it’s about doing what I want, when I want, where I want, why I want, with whom I want.
FIRE is absolutely, certainly, positively not about unlimited leisure.
Look, leisure is fun. It’s great. I enjoy the hell out of some relaxation. But you can’t sit around all day for the rest of your life. You’re going to be bored out of your mind.
This is especially true for the people who go after FIRE. We see leisure as something that’s most enjoyable when it’s used as a getaway from work. Otherwise, leisure loses its meaning and value.
Those Who Are Least Likely To Achieve FIRE Are Most Likely To Need The Money
Likewise, it should go without saying that the type of person who’s not suited to achieve FIRE will probably always struggle a bit with money and never go on to become wealthy enough to have a significant amount of independence in their lives.
The very type of person who lacks the self-discipline and ability to delay gratification in order to achieve FIRE, is the very type of person who will always spend at or above their means.
It’s pretty straightforward logic here. I see it as an obvious catch-22.
These people don’t institute the good habits and best practices in their lives that allow them to build wealth and generate passive income. They live the wrong lifestyles for building wealth. Thus, they never really get ahead in financial terms.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to be dirt poor if you don’t want or achieve FIRE.
Furthermore, I’m not slamming anyone’s character here. I don’t see any kind of “moral high ground” with FIRE. There’s nothing about FIRE that is more virtuous than non-FIRE. If you want to spend your money, go for it. I don’t believe you’re a terrible person if you fail to save and invest a good portion of your money. I see no reason to be dogmatic about FIRE (or anything else).
Rather, I’m simply stating what I think is pretty salient about FIRE.
The people who lack the characteristics that are necessary to achieve FIRE (which is honestly most people in this world) are the very same people who most need the financial resources that FIRE provides.
FIRE Is A Paradox
In my view, FIRE is thus a paradox.
One could even say that great wealth and success is a paradox.
I’ve never met a successful person who wasn’t incredibly driven, disciplined, intelligent, and passionate. And I’ve never met an incredibly driven, disciplined, intelligent, and passionate person who wasn’t successful.
I don’t believe that anyone who achieves FIRE will actually end up needing much the money they save and invest in order to become FIRE. In fact, the odds seem rather good that most of one’s wealth will be built after the job is left in the dust.
I can use myself as a pretty good case study here.
Back when I wasn’t driven, disciplined, and passionate, I was poor and unhappy. I had no control over my time and life. FIRE was nothing more than a pipe dream.
But once I started developing the drive, discipline, and passion toward gaining autonomy in my life, everything turned around. I instituted the good habits and best practices toward that end, and it all became an inevitability at that point. It was only a matter of time before I achieved FIRE once I corrected my thought and action processes.
FIRE went from a pipe dream to a real dream. And then I started living that dream.
Furthermore, I quit my job in 2014. It was the day after my 32nd birthday. My FIRE Fund was worth about $160,000 back then.
Well, it’s now valued at almost $400,000.
Indeed, I have the rest of my life to continue building wealth and passive income, which means I’ll very likely end up with many times over the $160k I was able to amass while I still had a job.
I haven’t actually needed the dividend income my portfolio generates on my behalf. But knowing that it’s there gives me the courage and autonomy necessary to pursue meaningful work and right-size everything in my life. I might not have a huge concern for making a ton of money with my passions, but I end up doing pretty okay anyway because of the type of person I became on my way to FIRE.
It’s not about how much money you have; what matters is who you are and what you value. Poor values, poor wallet.
This is why lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within 3-5 years than the average American.
And it’s also why Warren Buffett continues to work way past the point of financial necessity.
All that said, this seems to be a gift and a curse. The gift is the mindset. The curse is also the mindset. Contentment can be difficult to find when you’re driven. This is why some of the people I’ve talked to that achieve FIRE never leave their jobs, or they go back to their jobs. Some genuinely like(d) their jobs. That’s fine. Some end up seeing their jobs as the most obvious challenge to continue solving.
FIRE might be a fad. Maybe it’s not.
Either way, I’d argue it certainly is a paradox.
Those who get obsessed over the 4% SWR, spreadsheets, dividend growth rates, and the intricacies and minutiae of all of the finances are totally missing the point.
Becoming extremely wealthy is, in my view, an inevitability if you live the appropriate type of lifestyle. This lifestyle is built out of a particular mindset. You’ll have good habits that are repeated over and over again. There’s a sense of purpose that drives one forward. That’s where all the good stuff is at. And it’ll serve you well for the rest of your life.
The money is a byproduct of all of that.
And so those that achieve FIRE will be the least likely to constantly require the financial resources that underpin their FIRE. They’ll be too busy continuing to make more money, which will be added atop their compounding snowball.
I think the biggest challenge for FIRE achievers is making the most of that opportunity and accurately “right-sizing” everything in their lives. Figuring out money is pretty easy. Figuring out life is much more difficult.
What do you think? Is FIRE a paradox? Why or why not?
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you’d like to achieve FIRE for yourself, make sure to check out some awesome tools and services I personally used on my way to becoming financially free at 33!