Perhaps naively, I once thought that FIRE might be analogous to a 52-week vacation.
Every day is a holiday. Every day is Saturday.
Well, in some ways, it actually is like that. I basically live my “perfect day” every day.
However, in many ways, it’s not like that at all.
I say that because most of my days are in reality filled with productivity. They’re filled with work.
Work? In FIRE?
Maybe that’s not what a lot of people have in mind when they imagine FIRE. Maybe they imagine a lot more leisure.
But I’ve learned that work is not a four-letter word to fear or try to get away from.
Moreover, work makes the leisure (what one might think of first when they imagine FIRE) more enjoyable. And vice versa.
So let’s get something out of the way right out of the gate.
I’m not a fan of a job.
As I’ve said before, a job, in my mind, is just a platform where you go and exchange a number of your resources (time, skills, experience, energy, etc.) for money. That’s it.
Maybe you don’t mind said job too much. Maybe you do. It’s totally beside the point, though.
A job is a money-making mechanism. It’s a necessity in order to put food on the table. If you need a job (which most people do), you’re not free.
It was a job that motivated me to chase FIRE in the first place. A job I hated, no less. I used my distaste for my job as fuel for my FIRE. That turned it into a raging inferno.
I would have said it was the having – no, the needing – of a job that motivated me.
But it was actually initially the not having of a job that motivated me, because I was fired from my job during the depths of the Great Recession, which led me to the epiphany of just now insecure a paycheck truly is.
However, work is something totally different. I’m a huge fan of work.
Work is a platform used to find and harness purpose and meaning. Work allows you to add value to the world by taking advantage of your inherent skills and passions. It better aligns your reason for existing with the world’s needs.
As such, work usually pays. In fact, it almost always pays much more than a job. It’s just a better and more efficient way to create and extract value. And that’s why much of the early retirement math that people pin their spreadsheets on is moot.
Work keeps you driven, sharp, talented, growing, giving, and happy.
And this is something you have to keep in mind when you think about work: working because you want to is totally different than working because you need to.
I love showing up to my usual coffee shop for a few hours every afternoon to create and consume content. I love adding to my repertoire of ideas and expanding my perspective. Compounding my knowledge makes me a more well-rounded person, and I’m better able to utilize everything I’ve been gifted with.
And my productive output adds to our conversation as a species. It, in a very tiny way, improves the human condition. I’d like to think – I hope – my legacy, when I’m all done, will be one of positively impacting a few lives out there. My wish is that people out there use my content and journey as inspiration for their own aspirations in life. If I’m able to make the world a slightly better place before I die, and enjoy the ride along the way, I’ll be happy with that.
I also love my time at the gym, which keeps me grounded. It reminds me of what real “hard work” is. There’s a tangible connection between the world and my body. It keeps me physically and mentally sharp. The endorphins kick in, giving me a chemical response. The cells in my body positively react. And I feel and see progress.
Of course, it’s wonderful to stay in good shape, feel great, and be confident with the way I look.
My work will take many different forms spanning across the epochs of life.
There’s the investor that I was intensely focused on for a good 6-7 years.
I’ve now moved into more of a writer/philosopher role that I’ve been enjoying for the last 3-4 years.
And something new might pique my interest in a few years or so, before I move more heavily into more philanthropic work down the road.
Work gets you much closer to experiencing the full potential of FIRE, which is why it’s so important to figure out your life and passions (not just the money) way before quitting your job.
Furthermore, work makes the leisure much more enjoyable.
So let’s just pretend that I stopped going to the gym six days per week.
Working out is, of course, physical work. It’s right in the name.
If I were to eliminate that exercise time, instead focusing completely on leisure during those hours, there’s no way I could possibly enjoy that leisure time. Not over the long term, anyway.
See, it’s the very knowledge that I was productive in the gym (which is able to be felt and seen, giving it a quantifiable measure) that allows me to enjoy the subsequent relaxation/leisure time that much more.
I don’t feel guilty when I eat the food I want to eat, for instance.
It’s actually the opposite effect. I enjoy all of my food because I know I can eat it without suffering from body issues. When I eat a big plate of Pad Kra Pao, or when I down a juicy burger, I enjoy it to the max.
But there’s no way I’d enjoy that food as much if I were overweight, unhealthy, and weak. I’d feel terrible about it.
And relaxing after a good session at the gym feels that much better when you know you “earned” it. The sore body feels good with that down time. And you can breathe a sigh of relief after a job well done. There’s a sense of pride there that’s invaluable, which adds to your overall quality of life.
Likewise, I’m able to enjoy my downtime in my evenings that are, by design, unproductive.
Because I’m so productive during the day with content output, I can take delight in my evenings knowing that I did something good with my available free time during the day.
I contributed something to society. There’s something there. I made a mark. It’s not all for naught.
And I even end up making money with that productivity, which thus expands my leisure options immensely. Work and leisure are complementary in many ways.
However, if my life were all about relaxing 24/7, I’d feel lost, depressed, ashamed, and useless.
I wouldn’t know what my purpose in life is.
Life itself would lose its sense of meaning as I drifted into an endless stream of listlessness. Apathy would take over. And I’d feel totally disconnected from the world in which I’m living in.
Furthermore, there’s no change to leisure.
This separates it in a big way from work (which is in a constant state of change/flux), making the one thing (leisure) we might look forward to less effective and boring, to the point where it eventually becomes something itself to escape from.
I mean, if I’m relaxing on a beach on a Monday, it’s no different from relaxing on a beach on a Thursday. You could do it for 100 hundred straight days, and all of those 100 days would be practically indistinguishable from the next.
Perhaps that’s the point of leisure – to just drift for a while – but it’s not a very good way to set up your entire life.
So life not only loses meaning with constant leisure, it also loses time. And that’s why you can end up lost and depressed. There’s nothing to ground you or give you direction. Time loses its relativity.
Work, on the other hand, gives you something different every single time. There’s a sense of change, and the productivity brings relativity to time. You have direction. You see change. There’s progress and pride. You’re not lost.
And this can make leisure much more gratifying, for it gives you a chance to take a break from that productivity and let time slip away a little bit. Leisure is so fun and desirable almost because of its short-term nature, which gives you a chance to refresh and look forward to getting back to whatever work you’re doing.
Then, when work is done, you look forward to the leisure once more.
Work makes leisure more enjoyable. And leisure makes work more enjoyable.
The two make each other better than they’d otherwise be in isolation.
In my opinion, you almost can’t have one without the other. Not all the time, at least.
Thus, FIRE gives you the opportunity to maximize the potential of both.
You can do work you want to do (not work you need to do) on your terms, all while also making sure you build in just the right amount of leisure to give you that refreshing break necessary to once more look forward to your productive time.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
But all play and no work also makes Jack a dull boy.
This article shares with you readers a major element of what my vision of FIRE really looks like.
I’ve met and talked to more than a few people now who figure out the money, go FIRE, and then feel lost and depressed. They don’t take it upon themselves to figure out what they’re going to do with all that newfound time.
They think FIRE will build a life for them. It’s as if money will jump out of a spreadsheet on your screen, grab your hand, and whisk you away to some fairyland.
Or they’re under the impression that 24/7 leisure is something to eagerly seek.
Well, that’s not the case at all.
FIRE should still mostly be about work (but not a job).
However, this work will be on your terms. It will be customized for you and by you.
You should be doing what you want, when you want, where you want, why you want, with whom you want.
As Warren Buffett likes to put it, you should be “tap dancing to work”.
And just as well, with this attitude and life setup, you’ll look forward to “tap dancing to leisure”.
What do you think? Does work make leisure more enjoyable (and vice versa)? Should FIRE be about 24/7 leisure time?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’d like to set your life up with an enviable mix of work and leisure, which FIRE can allow for, check out some phenomenal resources I used to become financially free at 33!