Why Early Retirement (or FIRE) is Not My Main Goal Anymore

Early retirement – we probably all crave it to some degree, and the intensity of such feelings is likely to be proportional to the number of days left to the next weekend. Some even draw up serious plans to reach this goal, myself included.

“Financial independent, retire early” (FIRE) has become a catchy, rallying cry for those of us who want to retire as young as possible. Frugality, often taken to an extreme, is coupled with side hustles and Excel spreadsheets to achieve the goal of stopping work as soon as possible. As someone well into his thirties now, however, I’m not so sure about this goal anymore.

FIRE without the RE

Now don’t get me wrong – I am still someone who prefers to be like the Aesopian ant, foraging and storing up for winter and trying to hit financial independence while grasshoppers laze and YOLO, but I feel like I need to start examining my FIRE goal with greater scrutiny.

“Retirement”, in its traditional meaning, is defined as leaving one’s job and ceasing work. Strictly speaking, if you are still working (even if it is for fun or to pass time), you are not really retired. New phrases have hence sprung up over the years to describe what “modern retirement” looks like now, from “active retirement” to “doing what you like”. I think we can categorise all these as “financial independence” since it represents the first two letters in FIRE.

RE, on the other hand, means stopping work altogether, or at least a substantially reduced workload, when one is still relatively young. It probably includes spending time on one’s hobbies and travelling perhaps, or whatever retired people tend to do.

For reasons I’ve mentioned before, I have an almost paranoid urge to save a substantial amount to prep for any event I cannot continue working. FI hence remains a goal of mine, but the latter two letters of FIRE aren’t attractive to me anymore.

Seth
Seth

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I enjoy my work

One of the reasons why I have largely given up concrete plans to stop work altogether is because I enjoy my various jobs. Unlike many individuals who aspire to retire early to escape jobs they dislike, I am fortunate to find enjoyment in my various roles.

From online content creation to my current full-time job, I derive satisfaction from what I do. Content creation satisfies my need for a creative outlet and my full-time job offers a work environment aligned with my values. Aside from being financially rewarding, the words of appreciation and thanks I get from people who feel like they have benefited from my work keeps me motivated to keep on doing what I do.

Work is an integral part of our identity and how we interact with others. When we meet new people, one of the first questions we ask is, “what do you do?” Our jobs often define us in various ways, making it challenging to imagine a life without work altogether particularly at a young age.

For me, work has proven to be a source of happiness and productivity. Being productive and working on meaningful tasks has even pulled me out of a depressive state in the past, and continues to be a source of joy as I achieve new milestones and successes.

My various roles are fairly flexible

Rather than aiming for early retirement, I found a way to balance work and leisure that suits me best. By reducing my tuition lessons to one day a week and focusing on subjects I enjoy teaching, I’ve made my teaching job more enjoyable.

My full-time job offers a hybrid workplace arrangement where we get to work from home 2 days a week, and even apply to go on short working trips every now and then, which I have made use of by going to Bali and Taipei.

My online content creation activities is of course entirely up to me in terms of workload and output. In a way, I’ve managed to create a retirement lifestyle without actually retiring because this combination allows me to enjoy various retirement activities like traveling for long periods of time without actually having to retire.

Lifestyle inflation is… kinda enjoyable

Early retirement often involves curbing lifestyle inflation to achieve financial independence sooner. However, I’ve come to realise that lifestyle inflation, when done wisely, can lead to enjoyable experiences. Rather than strictly adhering to a frugal lifestyle, I now occasionally allow myself to spend money on experiences and things that genuinely enrich my life, and this is possible because I keep on working to derive an income.

Buying a property on my own and moving out wasn’t the most prudent of financial decisions to make, and neither is spending weeks overseas trying to work from overseas, but I thoroughly enjoyed these experiences. I’ll never be a young adult again living on my own, nor would I ever always have the energy to be an occasional nomad.

Retiring early is risky

Finally, retiring early comes with inherent risks, as the future is unpredictable. While meticulous planning may support early retirement in the short term to medium term, we cannot foresee what life will throw at us in the long run. And when we talk about retiring in one’s thirties, your retirement timeline can be as long as 5 to 6 decades, which is plenty of time for things to happen. Unforeseen events or changes in circumstances can potentially jeopardise our financial security in retirement.

Early retirement also comes in a time where one’s earning power is at its peak. Stopping work and career progression at this point may be one of the riskiest things someone can do. The last thing I want is to have to come out of retirement at a time where it is more difficult for me to earn money. By continuing to work and maintain my financial productivity, I feel more secure in the face of uncertainties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my journey has shifted from solely pursuing early retirement to embracing the concept of financial independence as a goal in itself. Chasing financial independence allows me the freedom to make choices that align with my values and bring fulfillment to my life. It’s about achieving a level of financial security that grants me the flexibility to explore different paths without being bound by financial constraints.

I have come to appreciate that financial independence doesn’t necessarily mean walking away from work entirely. Instead, it means having the power to choose how and when I work, and being able to strike a balance between work and leisure that suits my desires and aspirations. It’s about finding joy in productivity and deriving satisfaction from meaningful endeavors, whether they fall under the traditional definition of work or not.

As I continue on my journey towards financial independence, I also understand that life is full of unpredictable twists and turns. My priorities and desires might change over time, and that’s okay. What’s essential is remaining adaptable, open-minded, and willing to reassess my goals as circumstances evolve.

Therefore, while early retirement is no longer the primary focus, I am more determined than ever to achieve financial independence, allowing me to lead a purposeful and fulfilling life. In the end, it’s not about retiring early; it’s about living life with intention, cherishing every moment, and finding meaning in all that I do. By not having the pressure to stop work early and yet having the motivation to reach financial independence, I can savour the journey, explore new experiences, and create a life that brings me contentment and joy. And that, to me, is a journey worth pursuing wholeheartedly.

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