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What if FIRE doesn’t work?

A no entry sign with the image of a fire crossed out. Symbolising FIRE not working.

My greatest fear about FIRE1 is that it doesn’t work. That FIRE doesn’t make me happy. It turns out to be a mirage. The dream dissolves and, in a desperate attempt to retrace my steps, I go back to my old job. The lifer who walks back into his cell.

To me, this is swallowing the blue pill.

There’s a wave of doubt that’s rippled through a patch of the UK Financial Independence community that I frequent. See bloggers such as Finimus, Indeedably, Simple Living In Suffolk.2

Every time one of these FIRE-ees announces their return to work, I think of another soldier falling to cannon-fire amid the thinning ranks of a Napoleonic line. 

I take it personally, I suppose. Why? Because if it happened to them, it can happen to me.

I’ve banked a lot on FIRE being ‘the answer’.

Let me level with you:

  • I’m riddled with doubt about how this will go. 
  • I will consider it a profound personal failure If I return to my old line of work because I can’t find anything better to do with myself. 

I’m nervous about making this work because the stakes are high. 

What’s up for grabs is living a life doing things that matter to me and those I love.

As opposed to pouring my energy into hitting corporate targets that loom over everything like a dark star.

When the FIRE goes out

What goes wrong when the FIRE dream dies?

  • Boredom – life is too quiet, challenge disappears, domestic tasks don’t translate into self-worth, leisure without measure is like eating junk food 24/7. 
  • Lack of social contact – everyone’s at work, there’s a loss of comradeship, isolation sets in. 
  • Status anxiety – it’s too soon to be out of the action. There’s a sense of being sidelined, no longer needed, being a disappointment to oneself, the community and those judgy types who ask, “And what do you do?” 
  • You’re meant to be happy – but what if you’re not happy after FIRE? “If this is bliss then I might as well be paid to be miserable” seems to be the way the thinking goes.

I don’t think falling into these existential tar pits is inevitable, but I am definitely vulnerable. 

Here’s how I plan to keep the FIRE burning

I’ll need some stress – not the chronic stress I experience at work, but I’ll need a challenge in my life that makes me experience discomfort. This will mean setting myself a task that I won’t already know how to achieve, or be innately good at. It’ll involve learning new skills. It’ll mean committing to the task (perhaps publicly), so that if I pull out then I’ll think less of myself. 

Community – if I spend all day with myself then I’m going to go nuts. I need to be of use to other people. To focus on their needs and not my own for a while.

It’s important to keep one’s expectations in check here. This isn’t about solving world hunger. If you can change one person’s life for the better then it’s worth it. Though you may never know the difference you’ve made.

FIRE gives me the chance to find a deeper sense of community than ever before.  

Physical I’ve worked in an office all my adult life. Air-conditioning, monitor tan, sitting for eight hours or more a day. I’ve stayed relatively fit but, god, the balance is all wrong. I want to be active for hours at a time, not an hour a day.

I want to chop wood, walk, cycle, dig, take up a martial art.3 It’s use it or lose it time for me, and operating purely in the knowledge economy means losing it. 

Nature – I need to spend more time feeling the elements on my skin. I want more woods, water, heat and cold, dawns and dusks. 

New skill – it’s time to try something I’ve never taken on before, something I’m curious about. Perhaps it’s something I wasn’t particularly good at in the past: maths or a foreign language. Perhaps the skill-challenge can tick my nature and physicality boxes, such as growing my own food or learning survival skills.

As long as I stretch myself then this will deliver my stress-dose, too, because I’m a sucker for imposter syndrome. 

A project – this will add structure to my week, giving it a backbone that everything else can hang from. Writing for Monevator and trying to make more of it in cahoots with The Investor is an obvious example. Renovating the house with Mrs Accumulator is another. 

A project needs to be absorbing enough to soak up the hours. It needs to give me a sense of building towards something and having made progress each week. 

Later on I can research / dabble in new projects as I understand more about who I am in my FIRE incarnation. Could I get involved with the green economy? Tree-planting? Rewilding? 

Fun and relaxation – there has to be time for just aimlessly arsing about. No goal, no growth. Just time that’s mine to fritter away. As long as this is rationed like a toddler’s screen-time, then I shouldn’t turn into a Doritos-munching, couch-blob sitting in his pants all day long. 

Family – Yep, they’re gonna get more of me. Unlucky!

Ideally the above becomes a self-supporting system of goals and behaviours that keeps me right side up as I adapt to a life of FIRE. 

The overarching goal is to chisel out a better version of myself. Someone I’m happy to be, regardless of what anyone else thinks. 

That’s going to require experimentation and likely stumbling down roads I didn’t expect to take.

FIRE alarm

None of this conflicts with the false FIRE belief that purity depends on whether you’re paid or not.

It does conflict with the false mainstream belief that retirement means doing ‘nothing’. 

It’s impossible for healthy humans to do nothing.  And I’m fine with being paid to do something I want to do. 

The key difference between the next phase of my life and the last is I won’t do anything just for the money, or to polish the CV, or to ‘fit in’. 

I think it will take at least two years to adapt to my new life. Every major change in direction I’ve taken has been followed by a massive crisis of faith. Like an earthquake followed by a tsunami.

I’ve wanted to cut and run but have always held on. Breaking through the pain barrier has always been worth it eventually, but it may feel tougher with FIRE because theoretically everything’s meant to be rainbows and unicorns from here.

Life isn’t like that, which is something I need to remember when doubt gnaws at my mind like it’s a chew-toy.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

P.S. Here is a list to help you think about the things you really want to do. I can’t remember where I got this from, but it’s so good I’m just going to share it as is:

  • What can we do together?
  • What do you enjoy / value?
  • What did you enjoy as a child?
  • How would you like to make a difference?
  • How would you like to serve others, what’s the best way you serve others?
  • What would you like to be really good at?
  • What could you do for hours and never tire of?
  • What makes you happy / would make you happier?
  • What talent or skill could be built on?
  • What challenge excites you?
  • What have you never gotten around to doing? 

Hopefully someone else recognises this list and we can credit the original source. If you have a link to the original then please share it in the comments!

  1. Financial Independence Retire Early. []
  2. And before them, will-they won’t-they return to workers like RIT, YFG, SHMD. []
  3. I dabbled with Tai Chi in my twenties but it got squeezed out amid everything else. []
{ 77 comments… add one }
  • 1 MG November 24, 2020, 10:43 am

    I guess you won’t know until you try! Given the current state of the world, taking your time to figure things out is no bad thing.
    I’m very early in the journey, so its useful to learn and adjust from others who have got there, so thank you.
    PS have written down that list to work through, even a cursory glance at it has been very thought provoking for a Tuesday morning (and a bit of a distraction from settling into work…)

  • 2 Simon T November 24, 2020, 11:04 am

    I am early retiring on Monday, the past 6 months has taught me how to cope with not being in an office (I have been working away during the week for 28 years)
    My wife has also had to adapt to me being at home earlier than she thought
    I like to go to pub early doors every day for a pint or 2 and have a chat. Been missing that the past month.
    The boredom is the thing that worries me – however the OU has some great free courses that I intend to study

  • 3 AVB November 24, 2020, 11:05 am

    I’ve just taken a 30% pay cut (more if you include bonus) to switch from an insurance job in the city job to working for civil service within a government consultancy that is on hand to work on anything / for any other government department. Upside is I will be working on more interesting projects (not just insurance) that will hopefully benefit society – switching into a career-average pension scheme helps soften the pay-cut somewhat (& on similar track to FI), and i’ve been assured it’s very good/flexible work life balance (an ex-colleague also works there now)
    The reasons I’ve done this very much resonate with your list, and I hope (probably over-optimistically) that it’s one of those rare jobs where I will actually want to go to work. I guess I could have done this a while ago, but it’s a lot easier to do now I’ve built up some decent ISA savings, as well as reasonably large DC pension (been paying in 20% last few years, so i’m used to less take-home pay than my headline salary). As such, for first time in many years I’ve got the flexibility to pivot towards what interests me over what pays the most. Not quite early retirement (though I’m 40 now and that’s still doable in next 5-7 years), but still an early taste of being able spend time on what I want (albeit in a work context), that I am only able to do because of switching to an FI mindset a few years ago.

  • 4 Grumpy Old Paul November 24, 2020, 11:17 am

    If you haven’t already done so, make a list of all the things you disliked about work. That should help keep the FIRE burning!

    I’d also note those aspects which you enjoyed and why. Find ways in which you can get similar rewards within retirement.

    We’re all individuals with different psychological traits which largely persist throughout our lives. There is a thus a limit to how much other people can help you. Be sceptical about people who are “people people” and “know you well”; in my case some of them completely misjudged me and didn’t believe I’d implement certain future plans. They even told my partner of their scepticism. I went ahead with my massive life changes and have absolutely no regrets but my now ex-friends seemed to regard that as a personal affront.

    What you do now is your call. Freedom can be scary. Good luck.

  • 5 LukeM November 24, 2020, 11:57 am

    Are you in the Financial Independence UK Facebook group? Those of us who’ve FIREd still seem to be smitten with it, to say the least. I can’t think of anyone who’s chucked FIRE in and gone back to a ‘proper’ paid job.

  • 6 Mr G November 24, 2020, 12:36 pm

    It’s always struck me that the people who FIRED and then returned to work we’re high flying, highly paid and driven people. Work seemed to consume most of their time. I recall RIT writing of working 60-70 hours per week with a minimal break while there. To go from that sort of schedule to no work at all seems to be too big a leap, especially for people who have the sort of mindset and personality to get to the really high flying jobs / positions. There then seems to be a scrabble to find something to fill those 70 hours and the things available seem mundane to someone who has had influence and power in their job.

    My view is that the planning needs to be done in the run up to FIRE. People become so conditioned to going to work for 5 days a week and then cramming everything else into the weekend that any alternative blows their mind.

    I saw this with my dad when he retired. Great at first, then boredom set in after 12 months and he became self employed for another 5 years. But he had no transition, no plan for what to do in retirement, no hobbies to speak of. He looked forward to having his time back but gave no thought as to what he would do with it.

    I think work patterns will change and the social aspect of work will diminish with working from home, obviously depending on your field of work. There’s a big world out there with lots to do. You just have to go out and have a look.

  • 7 MrOptimistic November 24, 2020, 12:40 pm
  • 8 Far_wide November 24, 2020, 12:43 pm

    You didn’t mention it, so perhaps it doesn’t appeal, but travel has been my answer (5 years in now), notwithstanding the current hopefully short-term issues ref: COVID.

    I don’t mean a week here and there, but spending a month or two in nice spots. It’s still not a complete answer in itself, you still need to fill your days wherever you are, but it certainly works for me in keeping things interesting.

  • 9 ermine November 24, 2020, 1:06 pm

    > Every time one of these FIRE-ees announces their return to work, I think of another soldier falling to cannon-fire amid the thinning ranks of a Napoleonic line.

    Flippin’s heck, guys, keep the faith:

    * it’s not more than about four hours a week 😉
    * I’m not working for The Firm
    * it doesn’t change my financial position one jot (that’s the FI part)

    In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a global pandemic on. You want options under that sort of adversity. I retired early because I failed to stick my snout out and scent the winds of change which were going to do for my career. I ain’t gonna be had the same way twice.

    Keep calm and carry on. My money’s still working a damn sight harder than I am!

  • 10 Simon November 24, 2020, 2:07 pm

    FI is about choices. If you want to go back to work, do so. That is not a failure. You may enjoy post fire work more than pre fire as you don’t need the money.

  • 11 Scott November 24, 2020, 2:08 pm

    Too much navel gazing, in my view! OK, it’s not unreasonable to ask yourself how you’re going to spend your time, but this is something every retiree faces, whether 45 or 65.
    But talk of stress, projects, and goals – isn’t this the stuff you should be leaving behind? Just do what you enjoy – life is for living.

    (FIREd four years ago, in early forties.)

  • 12 { in·deed·a·bly } November 24, 2020, 2:20 pm

    There is no cheat code or magic formula that guarantees a successful “retirement“. Like so many things in life, it is what we make it.

    I’m a fan of financial independence, something I believe everyone should strive for because it removes the financial imperative from how they choose to invest their time. The early retirement part of FIRE I’m less convinced about, as it often gets used more as a gimmicky sales device than accurate description of what people really do with the next phase of their lives.

    You have a great potential to-do list there TA, but there is very little on it that you couldn’t be already doing in some form today. Doing so allows you to smooth the ride out, making the lifestyle changes a gradual transition rather than a blind leap of faith.

    The dot point list of questions is a great one, a subset of this list of midlife crisis questions.

  • 13 Bruce P November 24, 2020, 2:34 pm

    I left the City in 1997. That is a staggering 23 years ago. Since then I have helped governments, assisted small companies, helped individuals, done major aid trips to disaster zones especially Typhoon Haiyan, set up micro irrigation in an Malawian model farm . A lot of it I have not been paid for (or have been paid for well after doing the work), but when things have got tight, money has always turned up. The key thing for us has been to be avaialable, be brave and bold, and say yes (unless we really can’t) . We are Christians, and so would say that the Lord has led us into many projects. There has been plently of pain, and disappointments, but some incredible highs. Beware of FIRE becoming inward looking – we live for others – I know you Accumulator are not doing this, but i do see it in FIRE….

  • 14 Bonce November 24, 2020, 2:49 pm

    Well, as someone that has come to Monevator quite late in the game, I seem to have inadvertently covered off most of the possible problems you mentioned, so maybe I can help. Let me say that this was through no pre-conceived or astute planning by me, but more just by taking opportunities as they arose, combined with maybe a little good fortune.

    Although unfamiliar with term until recently, I have now been a FIREE for the last 13 years. I was never a huge earner, but have always been reasonably ‘careful’ – no new cars, expensive extensions, etc., and when I was 50 I elected to take a reasonably generous voluntary redundancy package. I hadn’t planned to, but when I ran through the figures they came out that I could probably survive reasonably successfully if I stopped work, with maybe a few consulting jobs here and there. However, I have never had another proper job since I ‘retired’ and the prospect of making a commitment to be somewhere every day at a set time now fills me with horror. My days are filled as follows:

    Spent the first couple of years using my IT/Excel skills to work out how to make money by betting on horse racing. Worked for a couple of years, generally making around £5k a year, but in the end the bookies always get you – you can’t make money if they refuse to take your bets (which they do if you start winning).

    Saw an ad in the local paper asking for volunteers at a local wildlife conservancy park, so turned up there and now go half a day a week (could go more if I wanted). Provides good company (a nice group of other people of similar age all moaning about what’s on the TV, what the world is coming to, etc.), but also provides plenty of physical opportunities such as digging holes for fencing, raking meadows, clearing our rivers, etc. Occasional social activities also (quizzes, barbecues, etc.).

    After a lifetime of avoiding exercise (generally no time due to long work hours) I joined a local leisure centre with my wife and started going to classes (circuit training, HIIT, etc.). In non-Covid times I was going around 5 evenings a week. You can’t help meeting people there and now our social group mainly consists of other leisure centre attendees. My advice is to avoid the gym – too boring stuck on your own lifting weights or pounding away on a running machine. Classes far more sociable, and definitely great for the waistline and general health.

    A few years into my FIRE existence I came up with a business idea with a friend of mine. This is a seasonal business and is entirely home based. Busy for about 4 months per year, rest of the year just the odd email to be answered every day. Now been running for 8 years, and provides income but more importantly keeps the grey cells ticking over.

    Bumped into an old work colleague locally several years ago who asked me to play for his 8-ball pool team. That now takes up a couple of evenings a week, with the added benefit of being a skill I am trying to develop. In fact, so much so, I am about to start converting the upstairs of my garage into a games/pool room, and it is the planning of this that is taking up most of my time at the moment. It certainly keeps the competitive juices flowing, I can assure you!

    I was amused when I saw you mention ‘Status Anxiety’ as I totally recognise it. Most of the guys I play pool with are significantly younger than me and probably regard me just as you describe (‘sidelined, no longer needed, etc.’), i.e. put out to grass. As far as I’m concerned, that’s their problem, not mine, and it makes it much more satisfying when you beat them. I don’t allow myself to be drawn into the rat race in any way with comparisons of how well someone is doing, what job they have got, etc. – I just keep quiet and don’t engage with it.

    Finally, I would say that there is never a day when I haven’t got a list of things to do as long as my arm. So stick with it!

    Apologies for the length of this diatribe – hopefully it may spark off some ideas. There’s plenty to keep you busy out there if you look!

  • 15 steveark November 24, 2020, 2:57 pm

    Those thoughts are kind of why I only retired slightly early even though I blew past financial independence many years earlier. I’m personally glad I waited until 60 to retire. Partly because it gave me such a huge safety margin financially but also because I still had things to accomplish in my career in my fifties, and I’m glad I hung around to do them. Those last few years of work were crazy, but it was something I needed to experience before I really felt ready. I had few doubts when the right time came. If you have a lot of doubts it might not be your time yet.

  • 16 Rosario November 24, 2020, 3:08 pm

    I seem to be in agreement with a lot of the above posts.

    Those that go back to work mostly do so as Ermine and Finumus have done, either in an unrelated field or in a much more relaxed manor than previous employment without the need for any significant financial income.

    Those that return to what they were doing previously are hugely ill prepared for retirement in my opinion, whether that be FIRE or more regular retirement. As other have said these tend to be the “work is my world” types. This is not the vast majority of people which pursue FIRE from what I have seen, it seems to apply to a very very small proportion of individuals. Those with no interests outside work and that thrive off the illusion of importance that their work gives them. I think the best way these people can help themselves is to perhaps take a step back whilst still in employment. Maybe in a different role or by cutting back the hours and taking up some interests away from work.

  • 17 Bob November 24, 2020, 3:16 pm

    As my grandmother used to say, “Only boring people get bored”.

  • 18 Adrian_S November 24, 2020, 3:19 pm

    I retired at 57 two years ago and I love it! I was an IT contractor and came to the end of a long contract and I knew what was coming. A change in technology meant my skills were largely redundant and although I did cross-train I was then up against newly qualified ‘big data’ graduates. I had no chance (yes ageism is real folks!). So the decision were largely made for me, and my main concern was ‘could I afford it?’. The answer was a qualified ‘yes’ even though the goalposts were moved by my wife refusing to consider selling the house – ever! Regardless, with a decent sized SIPP and virtually no mortgage (and my wife still working – her choice) I did the sums and it looked good. Then the pandemic struck and it didn’t look so good! But we’re coming out the other side largely unscathed so panic over for now. As for boredom, there are honestly not enough hours in the day. I save a lot of money by doing most of the jobs around our pretty big house and garden, that’s now my ‘day job’. I play golf twice a week for much needed socialising, I see my very elderly mother more often and have taken over her finances/house running, and also have more time to help the kids in setting up their own homes. Relaxing/getting bored? Honestly, I’m too busy.

  • 19 theFIREstarter November 24, 2020, 3:32 pm

    Hi TA,

    I’m about 6 months into my “FI” life.

    It’s “FI” as really as I still do need to work to live but I’m doing it on my own now so have a much greater degree of freedom than before, so I can’t comment too much on if you went full FI but it sounds like your post job life wants to be much more what I’m doing anyway.

    The work I’m doing is fun and interesting to me and I can pick it up and put it down whenever I want (or children dictate 🙂 )
    This in itself ticks most of the boxes you’ve listed (Stress/Skills/Project, etc…)

    The big curve balls so far have been:

    Physical – I really thought I’d up my game but have been pretty awful so far! I used to run etc at lunchtimes at work but now I don’t feel the need to escape it’s harder to motivate myself to do so. Recently welcomed a new addition to the family so I’ll just use that as an excuse for now haha.

    aimlessly arsing about – I actually thought I wouldn’t be too bothered about this one but I’ve found a fair bit of time to play some of the old classic video games I used to play as a child… and have really enjoyed it! I still get a nagging feeling in the back of my brain saying you are wasting time, but thankfully it’s starting to fade. Obviously there is a balance as you quite rightly call out.

    One other (obvious) point is it’s hard to compare myself to previous FIRE’ees as I’ve done so in the midst of Corona, so everything has just been a bit weird and had that not happened there may have been fairly significant differences to my experience so far.

    However given everything that’s happened, I’m really happy I pulled the plug so hopefully you will be too.

  • 20 Fire And Wide November 24, 2020, 3:36 pm

    If you’re thinking about how to make your life after FIRE a happy one, then you are already half-way there.

    I see so many people fixate on the financial side and give very little thought to the transition. Whereas that’s what will make or break your FIRE life I believe. The more you plan for it – and as importantly – start doing it now, the easier you will find it. Too many people use the excuse of “waiting for FIRE”, my view.

    I retired from a very full on city job just over two years ago now, at 43. It’s been awesome – but I’ve worked hard at making it so. Opportunities for living your dreams or trying new things can just happen but they are a lot more frequent when you put the effort into creating them .

    I also think from what I’ve read the virus/lockdown is causing a lot of people to struggle more. It’s harder to do a lot of the things you might want. More isolated.

    To me, that doesn’t translate into a need to go back to what’s familiar, a working life. It just means adapting with it. To find what can still be done. For example, I’m writing this from Tenerife having accidentally escaped the current UK lockdown.

    And I think that’s the best indicator of all if you will embrace or hate FIRE. – Your willingness to embrace and work with change, to grow & learn again. I think you will ace it though since already asking all the right questions.

  • 21 C November 24, 2020, 4:14 pm

    FI’d a few years back and kept on working albeit part-time. C19 has provided an opportunity to try out going even more part-time on a temporary basis. I’m enjoying it.

    Agree with many of the comments above – and will add this. When I hit my 40s (and just a few years away from FI), I starting thinking about a long slow glide to retirement and matching activities to the decade. Your 40s/50s are an ideal time to try more physical stuff as it won’t be so easy in your 60s and 70s. Later decades might be suited to different activities.

    Avoid doing the middle-aged thing of only having friends etc of your own age or a bit older. It’s a group that will sadly shrink in lots of ways. Target the polar opposites like different genders, much younger and much older as well as your peers. It’ll stop you getting stale and open up other opportunities. Be prepared to stick out like a sore thumb at the start, but you soon be accepted.

  • 22 Dawn November 24, 2020, 4:24 pm

    How can becoming finacially independent be a bad thing?. FIRE gives you choices.
    I conclude, find a career your enjoy, save and invest but enjoy the jorney too. Once FI you’ve got peace plus more choices.

  • 23 SG November 24, 2020, 4:48 pm

    Recognising your sabouteurs, and asking what you really want from life, is a great way to be prepared. I like that list of questions. Thanks for sharing.

    The best bit about my FI journey so far was when I asked myself; “if thats what I will do when I am FI, what’s stopping me doing that now?”. Out of debt, lots of learning, a little bit of security, knowing it can be done and time is on my side, and a reasonable savings rate has given me options to design my life and to get out of my comfort zone.

    When I hit my FI number, I’m hoping my life will be designed so that nothing changes and I have a steadily growing stack of “wins” that make things better.

  • 24 David November 24, 2020, 5:22 pm

    It fills me with joy to read these comments. There must be a survivorship bias going on somewhere to give us such a high proportion of backsliders in the FIRE blogosphere. Maybe the truly FIRE’d are just too busy doing interesting stuff to blog about it the whole time. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but Jacob Lund Fisker’s 10 year update is an inspiring and reassuring read: https://www.getrichslowly.org/early-retirement-extreme/

  • 25 Vanguardfan November 24, 2020, 5:22 pm

    Well, it’s that old ‘wherever you go, there you are’ syndrome isn’t it.
    It is good to have freedom and autonomy, just don’t expect a personality transplant to come with it (if you tend to fret and feel restless that isn’t going to go away).
    I’d echo lots of the above experiences, but the most important one is to get going with the things you want to do. Don’t put things off until you have ‘retired’. This one was the key lightbulb moment for me. Starting some of my retirement projects while I was working really helped energise me, and also helped me to walk away from work more easily as it was just getting in the way of my life. Sitting and trying to plan life after doesn’t create movement, actually doing stuff does.
    Covid has been odd, it has halted some of my goals, and not being at work has made me feel the isolation and lack of connection more, but as others have said you have to just work with what is possible. It has made me reevaluate how I want to spend my time.

  • 26 Alan November 24, 2020, 5:45 pm

    I agree with many of the points made by The Accumulator, but to be honest they relate to anyone thinking of giving up work FIRE or not don’t they?

    Status anxiety – it’s too soon to be out of the action. There’s a sense of being sidelined, no longer needed, being a disappointment to oneself, the community and those judgy types who ask, “And what do you do?”

    This one made me smile, at 61 I get the same thing in reverse “Oh, you haven’t retired yet / Your still working? (hidden text – what’s wrong with you, do you not earn a good salary / save / invest whatever / whatever????”

  • 27 Phillycheese November 24, 2020, 6:06 pm

    In February this year I handed in my notice to leave full time work.
    Aims: to travel, get to spend more time with our adult kids and also enjoy quality time in each others company.
    We had:
    tickets for Granada and the Alhambra
    A plan after that to by hit the road to travel Europe extensively in our van.
    FI plus A Small amount of part time flexible work left.

    As an avid follower of this excellent site, I have been captured by the FIRE principle and been planning this for years…
    Then just as we broke our contractual chains in March… Armageddon!
    Our travel plans -shattered.
    Our daughter -promptly took matters in her own hands and disappeared to a new job in Thailand.
    Best laid plans and all that!

    But it’s been fine. More than fine!
    To anyone else nervously awaiting their leap across to the other side of the FI fence, I just say this: we are all different. If you are truly defined by your career, become maybe you just need a sabbatical. Or even a holiday!
    I’ve leaped excitedly into FIRE only to be surrounded by my shattered plans, however I can honestly say I sleep better, enjoy life better.
    I have energy to walk, cycle. I can plan. My retirement list (see excellent example above) seems to get longer rather than shorter, as I think of things I want to see when the world comes back again.
    I have more time for others in my family (albeit a good deal of it on FaceTime to restaurant backgrounds in Bangkok)…
    Before I start to sound horribly smug, I would mention there are definitely some dark days. I loved my job and sometimes do feel the loss of job status, I am no longer defined by my role or expertise. I’m really glad I still have my small amount of flexible work, once a week is just enough.
    But for me the whole FIRE thing is in the ‘I’. Independence from the necessity to earn money, to make choices for the right reasons.
    Today I feel liberated, happier and calmer. It’s a work in progress and I’d say so far, definitely so good!
    (Now, can we book flights to Thailand yet…?)

  • 28 FireSoon? November 24, 2020, 6:31 pm

    Another thoughtful and illuminating post. Thanks as always. And some fascinating comments too, giving plenty of food for thought.

    I am curious about many commenters’ mentions of part-time or flexible work. Working as I do in a corporate IT Dept it is vanishingly unlikely that I could turn this into part-time or flexible work. What are these part-time (eg one day a week has been mentioned) roles and how do you get them?

  • 29 xxd09 November 24, 2020, 7:56 pm

    Is 57 early retirement? Seems to be
    Stopped a 24/7 professional career-partner in large animal veterinary practice
    Did 6months part time routine work then stopped altogether
    Was then a house husband for 2 years as my teacher wife of the same age got a “retirement package” to work another 2 years
    Began to travel -seen most of the places in the world we wanted-exited Argentina on March 14th this year unscathed -so far!
    Lucky with our timing for world travelling-won’t be so easy or cheap going forward
    Some of the other many benefits of retirement especially while fit-my sons wife had a postpartum psychosis episode-we were able to stabilise the ship over 6 months-let him keep working /run the house as the family got back on track-we had no time pressures or money worries so could be present as long as was needed
    Also now able to exercise every day -so difficult to do regularly when working -feel a lot better-result of regular exercise ?
    Not a great socialite-prefer to read -retirement suits me
    My wife -working woman-found it harder?-more sociable sex and missed her colleagues a lot to begin with
    3 kids-(3 families and 8 grandchildren ) keeps you busy in various ways though none live anywhere near us -Granny and Grandpa always available on the phone(if not travelling!)
    Slowing down now -both 75
    Had lots of luck plus some planning -John Bogle and index trackers etc
    So far- so good-tomorrow anything could happen

  • 30 Hariseldon November 24, 2020, 8:07 pm

    Both myself and my siblings retired before our father..he was 83 and is now 96. He was reluctant to do so and found retirement boring, because he is unable to switch off and suffered a loss in status in doing so, throw in the effect of ageing, not a happy bunny.

    My older brother has been retired 20 years and my self 13 years, it’s great.

    When my brother left the corporate lifestyle his boss explained the importance of the individual to the ‘company’.

    Imagine your role in the company is represented by your fist in a bucket of water, removing your hand represents you leaving the company. Look at the hole left in the bucket of water following your departure…

    We have found retirement represents a great lifestyle, you can do a side gig , you can try a career that you didn’t do, travel, explore, do what you like , you can change direction without fear of consequences, do something ’useful’. Whatever.

    If your bored and need to return to work, then be careful you don’t become like my father, where old age is shaped by what you can’t do, rather than what you can.

  • 31 The Accumulator November 24, 2020, 11:08 pm

    Great comment thread – interesting perspectives and wise words aplenty. Am particularly loving hearing what people have done with their time. Just want to second David’s sentiment: “It fills me with joy to read these comments.”

    @ Simon T – thank you for the OU link. I’ll enjoy browsing through that.

    @ Mr G – my father struggled to adapt to retirement too. He retired at a fairly traditional age, didn’t give it much thought ahead of time, took a few years to get used to the idea that he was no longer breadwinning. Now he absolutely loves it.

    I think you’re right that letting go is likely to be difficult for someone who identifies strongly with their job and the status that comes with it. The higher up you go, the bigger the whole to fill, the greater the vacuum that follows.

    @ Ermine – Phew! 😉

    @ Indeedably – absolutely, you can fit everything on that list around a normal working life. But I can’t help but think how much better it’d be if I was able to devote an extra 50-60 hours a week to that stuff. Some people live for the weekend. I feel so much lighter during holidays. Almost a different person. Do you feel differently about life during your seasonal breaks?

    @ Bruce P – what a life you’ve led! There’s a fair bit of anecdotal talk about whether FIRE/ERE attracts introverts. Sometimes introvert FIRE-ees find that work forced them to be social and so they return as an alternative to isolation. It’s a link I find interesting as I definitely sit on the introverted part of the spectrum.

  • 32 Ian November 24, 2020, 11:29 pm

    To paraphrase Mark Manson from The Subtle Art of not giving a F$ck: you will always have problems in life (whether working or not, FIRE’d or retired). The key to fulfilment is to figure out what problems you enjoy solving, and then getting those in your life.

  • 33 The Accumulator November 24, 2020, 11:39 pm

    @ Bonce – great to read about all the adventures you’ve had.

    @ theFIREstarter – wonderful to hear all is well, especially as you took the leap as COVID hit. Sounds like you’ve found yourself a sweet spot with your work-life balance.

    @ Fire And Wide – I agree, I think it does take effort to make the most of a new phase of life. I guess that’s not the case for those who are great improvisers or love spontaneity, but I’m a planner – I enjoy it and it’s part of how I look forward to things.

    @ C – I think your point about physical fitness is key. None of us know how long that may last. Again, speaking very personally, I was shocked by how short my father’s young old age was. He lost a good deal of vigour, quickly.

    @ David – Thank you for sharing. I’ve read that post a few times – it’s a great pick-me-up. Jacob really does live a life in tune with his values.

    @ Phillycheese – I think you’ve nicely summarised how I think it will go. Dark days sometimes, pangs of loss occasionally, plans smashed asunder by events but, overall, as you say: “liberated, happier and calmer.” And sleep! Want more sleep.

    @ xxdo9 – thank you for sharing. I don’t know if this reference will mean anything to you but with your calm reflections and dedication to simplicity I think of you as the Taylor Larimore of Monevator. That’s a good thing!

    @ Hariseldon – that bucket metaphor is spot on. I guess a successful FIRE returns the compliment. Take the corporate hand out of your bucket and look for the hole. Possibly that sounds a bit rude.

  • 34 Laurene Henderson November 24, 2020, 11:53 pm

    Once you step off the wheel, you very quickly find that you are not the same person. You will not want the same things in the same way. The God of Small Things will rise.
    You won’t miss people because there is a whole life and community out there that you may only have suspected and never seen.
    You won’t rot because you will find yourself learning new skills (mine were website creation for a local gardening club and joining a U3A science and poetry group.
    You will be astonished how much you notice wildlife and the seasons. You will read those books, support those small independent shops, plug into an economy you did not realise. Buy new? Are you mad?
    I have never looked back, and I was a workaholic, never switch off, department head teacher.
    Have that Nike moment and just do it.

  • 35 xxd09 November 25, 2020, 12:35 am

    Accumulator -I have been a Boglehead for over 20 years -albeit a U.K. one
    Taylor Larimore is of course one of their good guys -a great supporter and proselytiser for the Index Funds of John Bogle of Vanguard fame
    Currently he is over 90 and recovering in hospital from an op but still posting financial advice from his hospital bed-helping the amateur investor like me
    I think he just got an award for 30000 posts
    A real live example of an truly altruistic financial blogger!

  • 36 { in·deed·a·bly } November 25, 2020, 12:38 am

    > “Some people live for the weekend. I feel so much lighter during holidays. Almost a different person. Do you feel differently about life during your seasonal breaks?”

    Absolutely. I sleep better, and deep enough to dream. More active, more outside time, more often. Relaxed (mostly). Usually content. Sometimes even happy. Optimism steps up, the glass looks half full.

    My relationship with my kids improves greatly, fun Dad rather than grumpy after work Dad.

    It isn’t perfect, but for the last few years it has worked for me.

  • 37 Al Cam November 25, 2020, 1:21 am

    FWIW my tuppence worth: it is still very early days for you – just let it all wash over you a bit and try not to overthink things. Easier said than done I guess – but IMO there is no need to rush.
    One thing does seem clear already though – there is still plenty of interesting stuff for you to write about!

  • 38 The Borderer November 25, 2020, 2:31 am

    For me the answer was simple:-

    1. Get an allotment. A community of the nicest people in the world, fresh organic vedgies, strawberries and rasberries (&etc, etc, to die for), fresh air and exercise. And the spiritual fulfillment that “man has no greater purpose than to make things grow”.
    2. Play golf.
    3. Don’t read the news.
    Feeling good.

  • 39 Matthew November 25, 2020, 9:21 am

    We become institutionalised! Even if we manage to FIRE, by the time we do we’re so many miles away from being the lazy teenager that had better things to do than work, and by that time the non-work life you had before (admittedly, school – there was no alternative after leaving anyway) is gone

    Well, change is as good as a rest – we save our arses off when really you just needed the FI security to switch jobs.
    When you are FI (believe you are already) – you owe nothing to nobody, it’s such a different mentality to what is required at work – although I’m not FI yet I feel like a different person at work vs at home – I feel like I owe my life to be a service to society at work because I have to trick myself to get through the day but at home I’m quite happy to disappear off the radar and let others have the work.

    Your parents raised a kid because they wanted them to be happy, they didn’t simply want to add another cog to the machine – you don’t have children for them to be minions

    It doesn’t matter if feel down you do want to slob out in your pants eating wotsits all day – shame is repression and rest is natural, and as long as you maintain your health you don’t need to worry about self control

  • 40 weenie November 25, 2020, 11:33 am

    Thanks for a great post, TA, which has resulted in some great comments.

    That list at the bottom of your post is priceless (thanks to whoever came up with it!) and I can answer most of them easily but am struggling with a few, so now’s the time for me to start pondering on those!

    To add to the comments, my folks retired early (Mum at 47, Dad at 57) thirty years ago. Before their retirement, they worked 6 days a week (in their own takeaway business) and they had no holidays (the only family holidays were day trips to the seaside in the summer.

    The first few years of their retirement consisted of round the world trips – I enjoyed receiving their postcards (remember them?).. After that, they settled into retirement life, engaging socially with their commumity, Mum started pursuing her passion for amateur opera singing, Dad enjoying his time gardening and his passion for horseracing (going to races and betting, not owning them!). They haven’t worked since they retired, income has come from pensions and property.

    I think I have a lot more hobbies and interests than either of them so I reckon I’ll be fine there. But I’m probably not as sociable as they are so this is the area where I would need to focus on.

  • 41 Nun Warthead November 25, 2020, 11:49 am

    @The Accumulator “A project needs to be absorbing enough to soak up the hours. It needs to give me a sense of building towards something and having made progress each week. ”
    Are you going to plan your retirement with a Gant chart, milestones and targets? Will you be using an Agile framework to deliver on these? Will you include your wife in your weekly scrum? Will Mrs Accumulator get an annual bonus if she helps you reach certain targets?
    Relax. Don’t replace one rigid regime with another. You have been liberated. If you are naturally curious (given by the some of your more obscure financial research, I presume you are), you will naturally discover things to interest you. My enjoyment in retirement is being able to go off at tangents into subjects that I’d never considered. I don’t set targets or goals…if I get bored with something, then I move on to something else that has sparked my curiosity.
    I’m three years retired and have spun off on various tangents: wildlife/landscape/macro photography; walked the north-east coast; painting; pension planning (thanks for the info Monevator); offroad running; gardening; wild camping; diy; cooking; re-reading some of my Uni text books …etc, etc, etc. No targets, no goals; just pure enjoyment. Do I have Status Anxiety? Am I bothered that my paintings are rubbish? Would it have bothered me if I’d only walked 80% of the north-east coast?…nah, I left all that rubbish behind when I stopped having to prove my worth against my peers.

  • 42 KayD November 25, 2020, 12:16 pm

    I’ve had a 22 hours a week technical job in a school, term time only, for the past 10 years. It is an active job which is varied and taxes my brain, and being in a school every day is different as something is always kicking off! I also have an all consuming entomology hobby. So along with my money-making share-dealing hobby that I try very hard not to spend too much time on, I think that I have a good work/hobbies/life balance. My partner is a part time teacher in a different school but is aiming to retire within 5 years. I’m aiming not to retire as long as I can manage and enjoy my job. Hopefully I might have another all consuming hobby by then.
    I feel that I’m very lucky to have a job that is not desk bound, but who was it that said “The chair is the enemy of human health”!

  • 43 Patrick November 25, 2020, 12:27 pm

    One issue not mentioned is health and the grim reaper. Since retiring 7yrs ago next Monday at the age of 57 I seem to have spent most of my time travelling to and from local hospitals, first for my mother in law then my wife and now myself. I left hospital in March after a five day stay for my final chemo as the first COVID px arrived and then went straight into lockdown. Considering that I was a squash playing, running, gym bunny who never missed a day at work due to illness this all came as a bit of a shock. Remember, if you want to make God laugh. Tell him your plans.


  • 44 Vanguardfan November 25, 2020, 3:12 pm

    @nun warthead. I find it hard to give myself permission to abandon things that I grow bored with. Especially if I have made a commitment (to others or myself). So thanks for the reminder that meandering is absolutely fine!

    Although, I do often require a structure to make things happen, even when I do want to do them. The balance between enough goal setting to be motivating but not enough to be pointlessly stressful is quite a fine one, in my experience.

    @pat. Sorry to hear that. You are so right, we take life and health for granted.

  • 45 Richard November 25, 2020, 4:24 pm

    This post appears to be written by someone without clear goals in life. FIRE isn’t the goal — it’s a means to pursue goals. If you’ve made retirement the goal you’re bound to feel somewhat at a loss when it happens. However, let’s suppose your real goal is to achieve something for yourself (become an excellent violinist) or for other people (make a real difference to the environment) then getting out of wage slavery is just a step in that direction.

  • 46 Rosario November 25, 2020, 5:57 pm

    @ Richard – I think that’s a simple but excellent comment. I’m sure some don’t actually know what it is, beyond financial security perhaps, that they are striving for. Even for people such as myself who have a vision of retired life to work towards, it’s all too easy to be consumed with the numbers and lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve.

  • 47 Jim Mcg November 25, 2020, 6:43 pm

    I Retired Early and then proceeded to fret about it in my blog for about a year! It didn’t sit comfortably with me, and the why was hard to put my finger on. It’s hard to generalise but one or two things I learned was that you should develop hobbies outside of work before you retire. Ditto for social networks. You’ll keep those going when you do retire. There was something about work I missed though – something to do with fulfilment and taking on challenges that aren’t set by yourself. Plus I missed the social structures and I enjoyed the career that I’d chosen, so I missed that too. The big thing for me turned out not to be Retiring Early, it was having the Financial Independence to choose to do it. When I chose to go back to work, it felt a lot different too. I still feel the work is my choice and it makes a big difference. It’s nice to know I can take it or leave it – the work, or Retiring Early.

  • 48 Sydney November 25, 2020, 6:53 pm

    I suggest checking up on Financial Samurai, who retired in 2012. He talks a lot about the negatives of early retirement and all the mental hurdles he’s had to deal with and is still dealing with.

    In my opinion, Financial Samurai is the most real FIRE or FIRE-related blog today. I linked one of his classic posts about the negatives of FIRE to check out.

    Worst case, you can always go back to work!

  • 49 The Accumulator November 25, 2020, 7:57 pm

    @ Nun – there’s nothing that Mrs Accumulator loves more than a gantt chart. I like to gantt all our date nights. As for her earning an annual bonus – out of the question!

    Your list of hobbies looks excellent. I hope I adapt as well as you.

    @ Borderer – an allotment is a great idea.

    @ Laurene – You sound like you’re having a whale of a time. Funny you mention the seasons, watching the garden transform as the pages fell off the calendar was one of the great pleasures of lockdown 1.

    @ Weenie – I hear you on remembering to be sociable. Must. Get. Out. More.

    @ Richard – thinking through what you might want to do with your life beyond wage slavery is *exactly* what this post is about.

    @ Pat – I hope your luck turns. I wonder how differently we’d all feel if we knew how many active years we had left.

    @ Vanguardfan – I’m with you. Some things I’ll happily do all day long. Certain things I need to put a structure in place to make happen. I don’t beat myself up about it though. I’ve just lived in my own brain long enough to understand what motivates me.

    @ Jim Mcg – that’s another key difference right there. You’ve enjoyed your career so devoting time to it on your own terms makes complete sense. My equivalent is writing for Monevator. But my day job long since stopped being about what I enjoy to do.

  • 50 John B November 26, 2020, 12:23 am

    Conservation fills my need for nature, exercise and accomplishment. No fiddly detail either, which is a delight after years of software. I’m a member of 4 groups now. I do dabble with wikis and text processing to scratch a technical itch, but nothing beats a roaring bonFIRE.

  • 51 C November 26, 2020, 8:55 am

    @Richard. The goal, without getting too hippy, may be to simply “be” rather than “do”. Perhaps you want be a certain kind of person with particular characteristics – the “doings” are a means to an end.

  • 52 The Accumulator November 26, 2020, 10:26 am

    @ C – that’s an excellent point. To build on that, goal-setting is generally held to be concrete and time-bound e.g. I want to write a best-seller in three years time.

    But it can be reframed in terms of a process e.g. I’m going to write the best passage of my book that I can today.

    I think this second method of goal-setting helps reinforce and deepen your idea of ‘being’. I prefer this idea of enjoying the process of what you do, versus valuing a life in terms of measurable ‘achievements’ e.g. promotions, money in the bank, trophies on the mantlepiece, car driven, letters after a name.

    Those things may come, but ideally as a consequence of a values-driven process.

  • 53 Vanguardfan November 26, 2020, 10:28 am

    Mulling this over, and thinking that, for me, the hard things about giving up work are about letting go of expectations and also (but to a lesser extent) identity. If you have worked all your life to ‘achieve’ and be ‘successful’ then it is hard to pivot towards a more process oriented way of ‘being’. Though of course, this challenge comes to us all, if we live long enough to grow aged and frail before we die. It’s not something specific to FIRE, although perhaps when you deliberately choose to step out of that achieving existence then comparisons with peers are more acute. And of course plenty of those who are FIREd are still hooked on achieving.

    (Also, I still can’t subscribe to comments on the iPad. Seems to work a bit better on the phone but I don’t write comments on the phone much. Still getting subscribe links which are expired before I can use them).

  • 54 Vanguardfan November 26, 2020, 10:29 am

    Ha, that was a serendipitous crossed comment!

  • 55 Richard November 26, 2020, 11:08 am

    @C, @The Accumulator — An analysis of values can certainly help. One worksheet that comes up in therapy includes a values exercise where you try to work out your values in various areas of life. I’ll give you the headings here:

    – Family
    – Marriage / Couple / Intimacy
    – Parenting
    – Friendships / Social life
    – Career / Employment
    – Education / Personal growth & development
    – Recreation / Fun / Leisure
    – Spirituality
    – Citizenship / Environment / Community
    – Health / Physical wellbeing

    These are good things to contemplate once in a while, to help reassess why you’re doing things. Think of it like rebalancing your portfolio!

  • 56 The Accumulator November 26, 2020, 7:14 pm

    @ Vanguardfan – 100% that pivot away from a goal-driven mindset is a key part of life’s journey regardless of FIRE. I imagine it’s part of the human program given the ubiquity of that ‘there must be more to life than this’ feeling that visits people from their mid-thirties on.

    Presumably some can’t come to terms with it – hence midlife crisis for some, or inability to define ‘enough’ for others.

    Those who successfully pivot find themselves enjoying new roles e.g. teacher, mentor, guru, community elder, philanthropist, takumi etc etc.

    I started that mindshift in conjunction with the financial component of FIRE. Not sure I’d have stayed the course if I didn’t do both together. The financial side has an end point though, the spiritual side does not.

    @ Richard – yes that’s a diverse portfolio of life funds you have there. I hope you’re using active management.

  • 57 Matthew November 26, 2020, 8:00 pm

    If it helps bridge the gap you can have yearly appraisals with MrsA :p
    Get a pet! It gives company and demands your time and attention
    P.s. Noticed on the bbc that DB pensions and linkers will do cpih rather than rpi from 2030, would help control the cost of debt without too much QE. Also suspect that there’s a limit to negative gilts and that eventually people would short them and that QE would make its way into the general economy

  • 58 ermine November 26, 2020, 9:45 pm

    > I imagine it’s part of the human program given the ubiquity of that ‘there must be more to life than this’ feeling that visits people from their mid-thirties on.

    Carl Jung said it well –

    “Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”

  • 59 Nick S November 26, 2020, 10:33 pm


    > It needs to give me a sense of building towards something and having made progress each week.

    With your career/work did it feel like any part of it gave you the above?

    @JohnB did you ever enjoy your software work? I’m in that game and a long way to go to retirement, I feel at a crossroads now to change to a more meaningful career but unfortunately I don’t know what that is.

    I’ve countless options but no idea where to go, do you wish you’d done anything differently looking back?

    Interesting you mention conservation, I’ve done some volunteering in that area and I’m trying to up my veg gardening at home, both of which I’ve really enjoyed as I’m normally chained to a desk!

  • 60 Nick S November 26, 2020, 10:41 pm


    > I imagine it’s part of the human program given the ubiquity of that ‘there must be more to life than this’ feeling that visits people from their mid-thirties on.

    Why wasn’t I warned about this!? Any essential reading for when you hit this phase? I’m all questions without hints of an answer. I’m lucky don’t need ‘answers’ for everything but I do need to feel I’m heading in the right general direction!

  • 61 Matthew November 26, 2020, 11:03 pm

    Wanting life to mean something is a bit odd considering that we are still genetically cavemen with cavemen brains, and there’s no meaningful way that we or any animal could’ve realistically had a legacy. Maslows pyramid of needs is swift to refocus you on more primal things if you no longer have bases covered (like medical problems)

    Maybe that’s what this is, reaching the next level of Maslows pyramid, since security as a need is gone, that motivator you relied on is finished, and you have to figure out love&belonging and self actualisation

  • 62 The Accumulator November 27, 2020, 10:01 am

    @ Matthew – yearly appraisals! Another wonderful bonding opportunity which Mrs Accumulator will surely love. I can’t thank you enough!

    Tragically, I do know a couple who actually do that.

    @ Ermine – that’s beautifully put.

    @ Nick S – yes, I found meaning at work. I had to decide for myself what it was and how central it was to my identity. It’s difficult to imagine surviving if I hadn’t found it at all meaningful. There were some at my company who clearly lost all motivation, were bitter and resentful and seemed to hate every minute. I’d guess they couldn’t find a way to make those hours add up to anything positive. That’s a terrible way to spend your time.

    Re: books for this phase of life. I haven’t discovered anything game-changing. What became obvious is that:

    This feeling is perfectly normal.
    Even great thinkers don’t have a ‘solution’.
    It’s very difficult to recognise ‘the answer’ even when you likely have it.
    The answer is more like a net – it can stop you free-falling but it’s still full of holes.
    We are never more than a work in progress. Nobody has it all worked out.
    ‘The answer’ won’t stop you feeling dissatisfied or adrift because change is afoot. A change we have to make and that naturally comes laden with doubt.

    I wonder if there’s an analogy to be made with adolescence? Most adolescents resent their parents. This likely stems from hormonal engineering that triggers children to embark on the journey to adult independence. The human life cycle requires this change.

    The “afternoon of life” as Jung / Ermine present it seems to me to be another phase of the life cycle. Older humans make room for younger ones to take their place on the stage.

    Older humans place their experience at the disposal of anyone willing to learn from it and find a new role in the tribe once they’re past their reproductive prime.

    Anyway, you’ve read Frankl. Midlife by Kieran Setiya is decent.

    Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life by Paul Dolan comes at it from a different angle. This didn’t do much for me but I don’t think that was Dolan’s fault.

    @ Matthew – “Don’t look for the meaning of life, look for the meaning of *your* life.” – This helped me a lot. Again I can’t remember the source.

  • 63 Nick S November 27, 2020, 1:50 pm


    Yes I remember we had another back and forth in another related blog post, I believe you found meaning in being of service to the people around your which is certainly noble! I don’t seem to have found my answer yet, my great fear is becoming one of those people, it seems I’m at a bit of a crossroads, recognising where my current path leads and seeking something more fulfilling.

    Thanks for the book recommendations, btw I’m aware nothing in these will solve my problem but the hope is they look at things from different angles and allow me to try a few hats on so to speak.

    Your comments on it being normal are good to hear, I’m somewhat aware of it but saw it as a very niche or minority thing, since others seem to breeze past it or find a way of effectively blocking it out

    There’s perhaps something in your analogy, I’m just not clever enough to add to it!

    Loving this series of blog posts btw, it covers exactly what I’ve always been concerned about with FIRE. I always recognised it wasn’t the answer but it seemed a sensible thing to pursue in absence of a clear one.

    Sometimes I think it is a bit too like the matrix once you realise work is a choice. I do often wonder if I’d have been better off never discovering it or doing so later. It reminds me of gaming on world of Warcraft and the likes in my youth. I would always amass a fortune and there would be very little point in it as I’d continue doing the same stuff in the game anyway and never spending it!

  • 64 Al Cam November 27, 2020, 2:09 pm

    Re inflation – some folks might be tempted to think there is a bit of a “sleight of hand” hereabouts!
    As I understand it, the current proposal is to it to rebadge CPIH as RPI and drop the existing RPI. So, in effect, everything that is currently linked to RPI is still linked to RPI – but the RPI will be calculated differently. This “wheeze” has been around, albeit in a variety of guises, for a few years.

  • 65 Matthew November 27, 2020, 5:09 pm

    @ai cam – although I would be negatively affected by such a change (to the DB) I think it might help stave off more QE and ultimately inflation, I’m even erring on supporting it because my son probably won’t have a DB and probably needs less future tax burden more

    @TA – I think meaning of life is decided by the reason for conception – be it a conscious decision to raise a happy child, to increase one’s tax credit claim or simply the glint in the milkman’s eye. I think there wouldn’t be many parents conceiving to create a servant or soldier for the benefit of the country, even if they do lay back and think of England

    I was thinking about setting up a fake investment company with “office” complete with Xbox that I could go and do a 9-5 in each day, get pizzas delivered, etc

  • 66 The Accumulator November 27, 2020, 7:29 pm

    @ Nick S – WoW is a great analogy and you make an important point:

    “It reminds me of gaming on world of Warcraft and the likes in my youth. I would always amass a fortune and there would be very little point in it as I’d continue doing the same stuff in the game anyway and never spending it!”

    Grinding isn’t just a problem in virtual worlds.

    Bill Gates: “I can understand about having millions of dollars. There’s meaningful freedom that comes with that, but once you get much beyond that I have to tell you, it’s the same hamburger.”

    Being a billionaire I guess Bill defines ‘enough’ differently to most of us but the point stands.

    The service to other people thing. It’s not noble. It’s just part of the answer. It’s who we are as humans. It’s what we love to do and be. Not exclusively of course. There’s lots of good evidence for it though, plus the evidence of my own brain when I reflect on what matters. Could be we’re just at different stages of the journey.

    Totally agree about examining the problem from different angles and using different viewpoints.

    Very glad you’re enjoying the posts.

  • 67 John B November 27, 2020, 10:28 pm

    @Nick S I enjoyed 8 years mid-twenties to thirties, but then having 8 jobs over 2 decades and not liking any of them I decided it was me, not the jobs. I never had the people skills or ambition to get into management, and it grew ever more frustrating knowing things were being done wrong but not being able to persuade others why. Top tip in software, become a contractor, pump your pension with salary sacrifice. I got several jobs because the spec was written “we need someone like John”, and I earned lots of dosh without departmental politics. You do need to be hard-nosed and threaten to walk if the rates are too low, but if you are good you can do it.

    Never expect a software career to last past 50. You just won’t be able to keep learning new skills, and you will become too expensive, and eventually the legacy system work will dry up.

  • 68 Nick S November 28, 2020, 12:40 pm


    Agree completely on service, unfortunately for me it doesn’t seem to be enough right now or I’m doing it wrong or something. Maybe it’s just lack of understanding that it’s only part of the answer and I’m expecting too much or I don’t understand the feelings I have will always be there. I certainly orient myself around people in terms of focus over the company.

    I also still think it is noble, as you mention it’s part of the answer but few people approach professional life this way, i find the opposite positioning rather toxic and hard to work with people like that.

    @John B funny you mention contracting, it was my long term aim while building my skillset as an SDET, unfortunately I seem to have begun to view my skillset as inherently less useful by comparison to data science for example so considering a total swap. I also worked with a lot of contractors who despite getting the best pay, seemed to get a lot of the worst work which turned me off a bit, on top of IR35 needing to play out in my local market.

    Thank you for the advice, it matches my current thoughts but way better to hear it from the voice of experience. Not convinced management is for me, prefer to focus on a craft but feel like I may have chosen the wrong one of late!

  • 69 John B November 28, 2020, 1:25 pm

    @Nick S I have a friend who was a software contractor who tried to reinvent himself as a Big Data consultant, but he struggles to get fulfilling roles, I suspect because he’s not great at selling himself, and they don’t listen to his technical expertise. He doesn’t want to FIRE because he views his career as important, but he certainly struggles to shape it.

  • 70 Ejner November 30, 2020, 2:11 am

    All of life is work. Some of it you get paid for. Some of it you do for for others and gift it. Some work is for glitz. Some of it you do and get robbed. You get up, do more, do less, do little but… you work. Productive work in and of itself isn’t demeaning . But how you allocate the ‘earned’ benefits is. Did you enable yourself, help someone else or did you just… buy some ‘consumer bling’.

  • 71 JD December 1, 2020, 4:15 pm

    I like the idea of having FU money to be able to do what I want when I want and not have my M-F 9-5 basically dictated by another

  • 72 Lorraine December 4, 2020, 12:55 am

    Absolutely loved this post and replies. Great ideas and inspiration.
    I’m 59 and have been living in New Zealand for 18 years. I’m about to leave my job and travel around NZ 2-up on a motorbike with my partner (having done so for 3 months around Europe and 7 months from New York to Peru 2016-17). I have a fledgling fertility awareness business to keep me productive.
    Are there any other FIRE women out there? Would love to hear how you have adapted to retirement.

  • 73 Denise December 5, 2020, 4:27 am

    My brother died aged 43. It’s fear of not reaching 60 (or any older age) that convinced me to jump off the career I enjoyed for most of my life.
    I had 25 years work behind me and I also figured it was time to try a new way of living. I still miss parts of work and the status and the “busy-ness” of that life. After 2 yrs away from it, I figure I an still de-culting. I have not found it an easy transition.

  • 74 The Accumulator December 5, 2020, 12:53 pm

    @ Lorraine – good luck with your trip! Sounds like it will be incredible.

    Have you come across Julie Buckley at Our Tour:

    Julie has been road-tripping with her partner for several years now.

    Weenie is on her way to FIRE at:

    You’ve probably come across The Frugalwoods and OurNextLife?

    @ Denise – thank you for sharing a personal story that has a wider significance for all of us. Even last night I found myself thinking, “Well, if I delayed for 3 months then I’d have X which would allow to do Y.” But I gotta get on with the new life. Love your idea of “de-culting”. I think you’re right, a minimum of two years to get used to it.

  • 75 Nick S December 10, 2020, 12:49 am

    @JohnB not sure if I asked but were you working as a Dev contracting or something slightly different? I guess your advice would be to head for this high value work? I do find it tempting in terms of bang for buck but could be interesting to see what happens in terms of market changes. I do worry I’d burn myself out in it since I’d be my own business

    @TA you mention the grind not being exclusive to virtual worlds. I get that and to be honest I’m quite suited mentally to the grind. The problem I have is that in WoW and similar, the goal is pretty clear, get to top level or get more gear. I guess I was doing that in my career in terms of aiming for world class in my field, however, I don’t think I really do want to achieve that. I’m just doing it in the absence of something better, same with chasing FIRE I guess

    I feel if I had a craft I was dedicated to, that I found purpose in, I’d be set. However, this could of course be grass is greener navel gazing type stuff. Still, I admire those who are incredible programmers or writers, the process is relatively simple for getting better. Knowledge work is unfortunately a bit more chaotic in this regard and then there’s the issue whether you feel your role produces much value at all..

    It’s quite bizarre to think I optimised myself into quite the corporate worker bee, unfortunately in doing so I seem to have lost touch completely with what I want to do.

  • 76 JManchester February 6, 2021, 6:03 pm

    I’m getting closer to FIRE and having exactly these thoughts. I found revisiting The Four Hour Workweek helpful. The sections on ‘lifestyle design’ and ‘filling the void’ are a good resource, and the author’s adventures are inspiring. His subsequent books also give you an insight into how he’s been using his time over the long haul.

    I have an observation. I think it’s true for me but it certainly won’t be true for everyone:

    The version of me that wakes up brimming full of wild, and frequently daft ideas would love early retirement. The version of me that is focused on filling his days would not. So, for me, the question is not about planning specific projects ahead of time, but about regularly putting myself in the right frame of mind.

    In one of Paul Dolan’s books, he suggests that we need a balance of pleasure and purpose to be happy. I’m not sure that’s quite right.

    I suspect that play is the missing piece of the puzzle. A lot of pleasure is mindless: watching TV, shopping, eating, etc. If we do too much of those activities we become restless and bored, which pushes us back to work. Play is rejuvenating and energising. Play is hopeful and full of possibilities.

    Perhaps if we put play at the centre of our lives and hang around with inspiring people, our days will naturally be full of energy, joy and inspiration. That sounds more like the life I’m chasing, than oscillating between work and sitting on my backside.

    Do I have a clear idea of how to do that in an early retirement setting? I do not. Not yet, at any rate.

  • 77 Felipe February 12, 2021, 2:52 pm

    Those final questions sounded like Ikigai search to me.

    Thanks for the article.

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