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Alright, before there are calls made to local enforcement agencies, I will have to explain myself.
I think discovering FIRE, of the financial independence/retire early kind, was one of the most important steps in putting me on the path to financial success that I am currently on.
There are so many wonderful stories of how members of this community fought their demons and overcame obstacles to become financially independent with or without the retire early component.
Using tried and true tested methods, namely living below your means and saving/investing, an individual can make a significant impact on his or her financial well-being especially if this path was discovered early on in life.
However even a noble concept such as FIRE can be misused and you can become consumed by the very thing you are trying to avoid.
Sticking with the fire motif, my goal of achieving FIRE was to avoid burnout in my career.
As I have previously mentioned in my blog, I feel there is a burnout continuum.
You suddenly don’t wake up one day and boom, you are burnt out.
Rather it is a little more of an insidious process, where slight annoyances start coalescing to form more significant emotional and behavioral changes if left unchecked.
My path to FIRE was supposed to cure all this.
The goal for becoming financially independent was to be able to walk away from things that I no longer wished to do or to reduce the amount of clinical hours I worked to give me time to recharge again.
Seemed simple enough, but as I am about to reveal, the path of FIRE is not always full of light and there are some dark twists and turns you have to be careful of.
My fall from grace began when I took the concept of FIRE too far.
Without moderation, any good concept can be sullied by an extremist line of thinking.
My initial downfall was when I began to prioritize money in my quest for FIRE.
Yes, money is a key ingredient in the FIRE concept, but again it must be pursued in moderation.
I would calculate my net worth to coincide with my payday (bi-monthly) so that I could then use the information to rebalance my portfolio with new money in whatever assets were lagging.
I soon got accustomed to watching my net worth typically trend upwards with every payday and associating it with a feeling of happiness much like Pavlov’s dogs hearing a dinner bell.
The problem was once that payday passed, I could not wait till the next payday came so I could feel euphoria all over again.
The days in between paydays seemed meaningless and I couldn’t wait for them to pass.
Because my net worth had direct ties to the stock market, if the market had a down period I could sense it effected my mood as well.
Little did I know but I was on the way of taking the beautiful concept of FIRE and turning it into something darker, turning myself into a pyromaniac.
By not taking time to enjoy the actual journey to FIRE but rather just emphasizing these periodic mile markers and concentrating only on the finish line, I actually was hastening my path to burnout.
Another, thankfully brief, dark period in my FIRE path was related to the competitive side in me.
As a physician, my entire educational life was about competition.
You had to get top grades and score well on examinations to be even considered for med school.
Think the competition stops once you get in medical school?
The heat of competition actually gets turned up even more.
Now you are placed in a pool of students who, like you, have excelled in their respective schools, competing for limited spots in the desired medical specialties/residency programs.
So it is easy to see why that competitive switch just doesn’t get turned off even after all these years.
“That’s great Xrayvsn, but tell me how does this relate to FIRE?”
Well for me the darkness arose when I was no longer just happy with my progress on the path to FIRE.
I had this burning desire to see how I was doing compared to others in my cohort.
It pains me to admit this, but I even found myself constantly looking for posts that would mention what the average net worth would be for various ages all so that I could just reaffirm that I was way ahead of the bell curve.
After awhile even that got boring.
Fortunately by this time my net worth had grown even more to the point that I was no longer in the “borderline zone” of financial independence but well entrenched in it.
Coming to the realization that I had “crossed the finish line” made me see the errors of my previous ways and I luckily came back to my senses.
Who knows if I really would have completely fallen down to the level of a full blown pyromaniac if my financial journey was longer than it was.
So as a word of warning to those about to embark on the path to FIRE:
Be careful of getting consumed by fire when you are trying to achieve FIRE or you may indeed turn into a pyromaniac and likely burning yourself in the process.
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Money is just a tool. It’s one of the best tools in the toolbox, but a tool still. And it can buy other tools ?
Money is indeed a tool. The problem is if we become obsessed with it it can go from being useful to something much darker.
Being aware that we may be growing “crispy” helps.
As does tracking and growing Net Worth.
When giving talks to physicians I ask them what Net Worth is. Few can even tell me how to calculate it.
Once they understand it and see they are behind, their competitive spirits can propel them.
It is true. We can create competition out of anything. It can certainly lead to unhealthy behavior if left unchecked.
TBH clicked on this title because my husband accuses me of being “slightly pyro” (I like sticking my fingers in the wax of burning candles! It’s not weird! Don’t make it weird!) and was looking for a little support here. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to put this advice to use instead 🙂
LOL. You’re pyro stuff is way better than mine. 🙂 Sorry I couldn’t provide the needed support with your candle behavior 🙂
Excellent post and definitely a “cautionary tale” – I can totally see this sort of obsession happening . I confess that I myself, now post FI and RE (down to 2.5 days a week office only gyne), have become (unnecessarily) obsessed with frugality. It’s as though it’s my new “sport”- there’s such a high with each new bargain or smart decision. I will need to monitor myself to be sure that I don’t enter into a zone of unnecessarily depriving myself of things (that would would truly make me happy) that I can otherwise safely afford . Love posts like… Read more »
Thank you for the wonderful comment and kind words.
It is funny but true that I get more dopamine response now from big saves than big spends which is a good sign. But you do have to do it in moderation for sure
It’s easy to get caught up. I find myself getting impatient for payday because I calculate what I’ll get paid (it varies month to month based on the number of billable days and my overtime) on/around the 1st and don’t get my check until the 10th to 12th. So I sometimes do the math early (since I already know what my credit card bills will be). Which makes me then itch to get the money all transferred over and done with — but I still have to wait several days. I don’t think I’ve been consumed by it (yet) but… Read more »
Your version of payday waiting is much healthier than mine was. Variable paydays can add a complicating factor for sure. I have a base salary so it is a lot easier to predict what I am getting (and then the big ones are when whatever I made over the base salary gets paid down).
Appreciate you stopping by as always 🙂
I agree. Having moderation in everything is good. But getting moderation right is typically hard for most people.
If it is a choice between being a pyro vs lackadaisical about FIRE, I would choose the formal. It will probably be very hard to achieve FIRE with a laissez faire attitude.
Better to be crispy than raw.
Good point. It is a fine line you need to walk to have a perfectly balanced life. That said, an occasional stroll to either side can be a nice break. But the Pyro side does indeed boost your wealth much quicker (just have to be cognizant of what cost it is to your personal life)
It’s a slow process for someone accustomed to being compared and winnowed from a competitive pool of applicants to learn to assess based on an internal scorecard.
We are all still learning how to give ourselves gold stars, and it takes some unlearning to get it right. Baby steps, like checking personal capital less often, are helpful metrics to measure our recovery…
I like the internal scorecard concept as the only thing you should be worried about. It is tough to switch gears and comparison is indeed the thief of joy
>>The days in between paydays seemed meaningless and I couldn’t wait for them to pass. Great post. While I don’t have the comparison issue per se, I did fall into this vicious cycle of the high of socking money away each month, only to get a bit “depressed” waiting to put away money next month. My business has monthly renewals and invoices automatically go out the first of every month. I found myself waiting like a kid watching a gumball come down the slide in a gumball machine. I’ve only recently gotten a bit more balanced, but if I’m honest,… Read more »
Thanks for sharing your own experience. I agree you have to keep things in check or if can get out of hand