Due to simultaneously having a high salary and spending a middle-class one, by next year, I will have saved an amount that equivalent to what a lot of young FIRE (financially independent and retire early) bloggers have saved per person for retirement. And honestly, I could live at home right now and have basically no expenses so I could retire early already.
It’s just that I have no desire to do so.
It’s not that I love love my job and I’m not saying I’m going to work until I die. But for the time being, working full-time at a challenging job with a steady paycheck is the goal, whether I have enough money to live on a beach for the rest of my days or not. Here’s why.
1. I don’t have wanderlust.
A gorgeous beach with a beer in your hand – could you imagine anything better?
I’ve seen all these FIRE bloggers discuss how they vacation. Hanging out at beaches, cooking at home, cute insular family time. I enjoy going to the beach. For a few hours every year. It won’t bother me to go more often, but I don’t yearn to go more.
I could take the beach life for a few days. This is not how I am used to vacationing. Our family has always been type-A vacationers. We pack many cities and countries into every visit. We take crash courses on the language and the culture. We ask the locals for the best restaurants and try all the specialties. We spend a lot of time in museums.
The problem is, you can only go Type-A vacation for so long. I’m pretty tired at the end of a week in unfamiliar surroundings, eating unfamiliar food, speaking an unfamiliar language.
And you could say, we could do it easier, but I’ve tried that too. I’ve lived abroad for a year. I could see how life as an expat would, but to be honest, all I wanted to do was go home and set roots down in America. I have no desire to knock out more countries off a bucket list or live the life of a traveler. I wanted to get my “real life” started.
2. The lifestyle is not enough for me.
Not only is a short-term beach vacation not that enticing for me in the short-term but I also don’t see it being enticing in the long-term. As Jordan Peterson described this path: “‘I see myself retired, sitting on a tropical beach, drinking margaritas in the sunshine.’ That’s not a plan. That’s a travel poster.”
It reminds me of Penelope Trunk’s advice that what people (particularly stay-at-home moms) want is not to quit their jobs, but to obtain part-time jobs that are meaningful. Unfortunately, those don’t exist. To get the meaning, you often need to put in the hours and the sacrifice.
Many articles about FIRE try to sell both the freedom from constraints/stress and the freedom to pursue passions. Worried about being bored? Well, you can still get a job. The thinking is that if you work at your passion, you won’t have any stress! But it’s not really true that you can get all the benefits and none of the downsides. Not working would greatly reduce your stress but you might lack meaning in your beach-life. Working might give you back some meaning but you would add back some stress.
I guess I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth in this one. You are ultimately the one that gives your job meaning, ergo you can imbue even a part-time job with meaning. But one cannot just assume that getting rid of the job is a stress-free, meaning-filled existence. You are responsible for adding the meaning – and you probably have to start adding meaning while you still have a job and not expect it to materialize the day you quit.
3. I wouldn’t change anything about my life now.
A lot of people talk about how retirement would mean spending more time with family. Well, I am very happy with the amount of time I spend with my family. And friends. And generally how much time I have to vacation.
Because I understood that I would need to work, I had already put the onus on myself to enjoy my work and my life outside of work as much as possible. It’s like how everyone I know says they don’t make New Year’s resolutions because if it’s something that they want to do, they’re starting today, not waiting until the New Year (why are all my friends so self-improvement-y?).
The same thing goes with creating a life you love before you FIRE: if you want to spend more time with your family, figure out what you’re doing that’s keeping you from spending time with them. If you’re working 80+ hour weeks, then yeah, you’re probably not spending time with your family and well, that’s going to take a toll real quick. But most people aren’t working that much. If you are working 40-50 hour weeks, you should still have time to spend with your family. If you’re not doing that, having even more time doesn’t mean instant time with your family.
People think FIRE is a magic bullet for their problems. But just as you don’t instantly get meaning, you don’t instantly stop wasting your time. Winning the lotto doesn’t mean you’ll develop fiscal responsibility. More time doesn’t equal time responsibility. And when you develop time responsibility while you’re working a job, you have less reason to yearn for more time – you’re already doing all the things you want to do even with a job.
4. It’s really not an achievement for me.
I can see people doing FIRE just to impress others. Dude, I’m not even judging. I ran two marathons just to say I ran marathon[S] with an ‘s’. I can be a prestige-whore as much as the next guy. But if you make a good salary and you live a middle class lifestyle, you’re basically par-for-the-course in my social circle. A lot of my friends are high achievers from middle class upbringings. Most people I know live very reasonable lives with high salaries. There’s no “gotcha” that I can rub in anyone’s faces. Pretty sure everyone has basically the same or more savings as me. None of them would be impressed with my savings and I’m pretty sure they’d all think, well you’ll be bored. And they’d be right.
5. It’s too individualistic.
Compared to American culture, Chinese culture emphasizes the community over the individual. You can see this in the art where the subject of a piece isn’t as large as one might see in Western art. You can see this in the language with the extensive use of passive voice. You can see this in many Chinese people’s relations with their family. Compared to American kids, Chinese kids tend to give their parents’ and extended family’s needs and desires a lot more weight in their own personal decisions.
This goes back to it not being an accomplishment for me. After my friends tell me I’d be bored, they’d probably ask, well what about your family? My family is fine. My parents are retired comfortably with a pension. My brother has saved way more money than me, having never been to grad school and having lived at home for quite some time. My sister has 3 kids, and I’ve started 529s for them. Currently, everyone’s self-supported, but I am never looking out just for my own interest.
A life where I cannot contribute to my family’s stability is not a stress-free life for me. A life where I can’t contribute to my charities of choice or my community is an empty one. Sure, I could fund my own lifestyle, but I want to be able to have back-up reserves if my family ends up needing it. I want to be able to support more than just me.
Why I’m Not Fire
I understand there are certain ways to define retirement that still involve working. Athletes retire from the sport due to age, but they’re not expected to rest on their laurels for the next 80 years. People retire from the military and go on to other jobs. These are all reasonable uses of the word “retirement” even if it can be strange to hear an 18-year old speak of “retiring” from gymnastics. Some FIRE bloggers “retire” from a job they hate to a job they love. To me, that’s called “changing jobs.” Will I switch jobs? Undoubtedly. But the term “retirement” in that scenario is meaningless.
I think you can work and earn money in retirement too. But not every single scenario can count as retirement – otherwise we could just call it “being financially independent,” which is basically the same as saving money. And obviously saving money is a good idea. To me, retiring means living a life where you have to rely on your financial independence and your job is not central to your life. You don’t have to want this lifestyle ever, but that’s what I consider to be retirement.
My parents have retired and they spend their days watching their grandkids, doing hobbies, puttering around the house and traveling a bit. They are very happy and stress-free. I think part of the bliss of their retirement is that their kids are taken care of, and they believe they’ve gotten as far in their careers as they desired. They also had a lot of stress at their work and find a lot of meaning in their current lives.
For me, I know the rat race is a little stupid. And I don’t aspire to be CEO of the world or have a super prestigious job. But I do want to see where my career takes me, and to me right now, that seems more fulfilling than lying on a beach.