When I first heard the term FIRE, I bristled. The more people I connected with in the FIRE community, the more I dug my heels in. In fact, when Ms. Our Next Life ran her Next Life series, “not for me” was the entire premise of my post (erm, spoiler alert?).
And that seems to be the common reaction of non-FIRE people. One only needs to look at far as the comments section on literally any mainstream news outlet that has picked up a FIRE piece to see a continuum that ranges from skepticism to vitriol. But here’s the thing. I actually think the majority of people are interested in financial independence. They just call it something else.
Growing up, my nana used to dream with me. She’d singsong, “Oh dear, bread and beer, if I were rich I wouldn’t be here.” And then a whole bunch of daydreaming would commence. When I first wrote my grown-up daydream post, I figured she was the only person to sing a song like that. Turns out, I was wrong. To this day, iterations of that phrase still draw traffic to my site. Why? Because people love the fantasy of it.
When I got a bit older, I started to be bombarded with “What do you want to be when you grow up?” by well-meaning teachers and other adults in my life. I think it was my dad who first told me that I should answer the question by saying two things: older and independently wealthy. Though I don’t know that I ever repeated either of those lines to a teacher (because I am such a rule follower, you guys), I do know that it garnered laughter and praise from other grown-ups in my life.
If you listen closely, whispers of FIRE surround us. “I wish this vacation would last forever.” “Who wouldn’t want to be able to start their day slowly?” “What if we could just take off work on a sunny Tuesday?”
Those echoes are proof of it. People want financial freedom. People don’t want to be chained to their debt or their jobs. In 2014, Forbes ran an article that compared a 61% job satisfaction finding in 1987 to a 52% job dissatisfaction outcome in 2014. While there are all sorts of probable explanations as to why three decades turned the majority of Americans against their work and survey results aren’t quite as dismal as they once were following the Great Recession, there’s an undeniable truth in the 2014 finding. Most of us are unhappy with our work.
And these people are not just the cubicle caricatures of Office Space lore. These are people who have all sorts of careers doing all sorts of things. And yes, these are people who make their passion their living just like me.
I can’t tell you the number of conversations that I’ve overheard from fellow teachers in recent years about saving extra or getting out as soon as they can. No one uses the term FIRE, but that’s exactly what they’re saying. They want to have enough money to walk away when they are good and ready. And if they don’t want to walk away, they want the freedom to know that they could walk away and are simply staying in the field to do the work they love.
In a career that has become increasingly politicized on both state and national levels, teacher burnout is practically pandemic in America. While I’m fortunate enough to work in a district that tries to mitigate the politics and keep the focus on kids, I know that mentality is increasingly rare. So when I hear people voice their concerns and air their complaints, I can’t help but think of FIRE. And on some level, the people that I’m listening to are thinking of FIRE as well.
So why the pushback? Aside from the fact that most working adults truly seem to have developed a healthy skepticism towards any new acronym they encounter (seriously, is there any initiative in education that can’t be boiled down to three letters?), we fear the unknown. It’s what we do. And whether it’s a situation we’ve never known, a lifestyle we’ve never lived, or even a term we’ve never encountered, we resist. Our mind throws up flags, posts caution signs, begs us not to get carried away with something that we don’t really know. Even if we already know it by another name.
So Tell Me…How do people talk about freedom from money in your real life? What other names or phrases might FIRE go by?