FIRE is rarely, if ever, a solo journey

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Much of what I’ve written about to date on this blog has admittedly been rather self-focused. I’ve largely discussed the solo aspects of the FIRE journey: my career, the path I undertook to achieve my goals, and how it has felt to take these steps and process the emotions associated with the same. I have written about the impact of this path on my family, but not in extensive detail. This week I found myself thinking about how I was overdue to dig into this a bit more. If there is one thing that has been reinforced by time spent on the Two Sides of FI project, it’s that FIRE is not a solitary process. Most of us have a partner, close family, or others in our lives taking part in and being impacted by this journey.

My greatest FIRE mentor of all

The amazing person in this vacation photo with me (sporting my pre-FIRE hair!) is my wife, Lorri. We’ve been together for around twenty years as I write this. She is my greatest ally, closest friend, and the best person I have had the good fortune to meet. There is no question just how much my life is improved and enriched by having her in it. As I think about all the years we’ve spent together, I must also acknowledge that Lorri is among the most important mentors I have had in my life. I’ve written about the importance of mentors before, but largely in reference to my career or during college. We all must surely acknowledge how much we learn from our partners and spouses. But how does that pertain to FIRE? Very much so in my case.

In a recent conversation on my YouTube channel, we talked about how Lorri greatly influenced and enabled my FIRE path. Very early on, she gave a strong and supportive voice to what I had already been thinking – that I did not want to stay in my chosen biotech career until traditional retirement age. We both craved the freedom to spend our time as we wished: seeing the world, learning and experiencing all it had to offer, and doing so together, free of schedules set by the workplace and our bosses. Lorri helped normalize this idea to me, and together we formulated our plans and set out on this journey.

I have learned much from many FIRE blogs, YouTube channels, and from working with financial advisors. But in the end the most valuable and impactful input has been from Lorri. She has an unfailing ability to maintain perspective, and direct my focus to the things that are truly most important. It’s so easy to get hung up on the mechanical aspects of financial independence – the numbers, modeling, and other “busywork”. Rather, my wife has always ensured we spend enough time on what really matters: our family, our aspirations, and on the big picture. As someone wired for getting lost in the minutiae and in managing the many tasks involved, I can’t overstate how important this has been to our journey of financial independence and early retirement.

Before and afterwards, you’re in it together

Whether we are talking about pre- or post-FIRE life, the decisions made and steps taken impact our loved ones as much or more than they do ourselves. My own chosen career path and “leveling up strategy” to achieve FIRE, often meant long hours at work, substantial travel, several relocations, and frequently work interference in our personal lives. This meant sacrifices all around, including many made by Lorri. Yes, it was tough for both of us to be apart, particularly on longer work trips. But it was assuredly even harder for her, dealing with all the things back home, alone. I didn’t always appreciate or acknowledge that as often as I should have, and I feel pretty guilty about that. However, even when times were most challenging – when our daughter was very young, for example, my wife had a remarkable way of being supportive and keeping us focused on our goals. To set the record straight, there’s no question that Lorri had just as big a role as I did in enabling our success!

In the ten months since I took the huge step of leaving my career of 23 years, I have experienced a series of emotions. Documenting and processing these has truly been the biggest benefit I have experienced from writing this blog. However, it’s important to acknowledge that these changes do not only affect me! Lorri has been dealing with me in new ways – and for many more waking hours in any given week – than ever before. True, the isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified this situation. But even without those added challenges, this would still be a big change. Yet, Lorri has been incredibly supportive the whole way. She’s so great about getting me to talk about what I’m feeling, and pushing me to get out and take a hike together, or to plan a small family trip. I’m really thankful for that nudge and I know I don’t express that often enough.

Once recommendation I would share is to ensure you check in with your partner and your family along the way. I’ve gotten valuable feedback I might not have received otherwise, simply by asking questions about how things are going. Particularly in my initial months after leaving the workplace, I didn’t do a good job of this. I was definitely keeping my feelings bottled up rather than talking openly with Lorri or others about them. As you can imagine, sometimes this led to negative and frustrating outcomes. Realizing the benefit from talking more openly – something very much facilitated by my wife, I’m now better about this. Make no mistake, I remain overwhelmingly positive about my decision to continue on the FIRE path! But I’ve also learned that it’s easy to underestimate the impact of such large changes. Given that these also affect your family, it’s vital that you work together to both enjoy all the great things as well as manage the challenges as they come.

It takes a village, after all

All of this is not to say that any of us should expect our spouse or partner to be the sole outlet for helping manage challenges we experience, or to be the provider of all solutions. That’s a lot to ask! As close to perfect as she may be in my eyes, Lorri is not the only person from whom I receive the benefit of support. I have found tremendous value in talking with a few close friends and family. While we may all be on different journeys, there is surely something to learn from the path each of us is following. Admittedly I’m someone that doesn’t ask for help very often. But if you spend your time – virtually or otherwise, with the right people, they’ll make sure you get the support you need.

When I started working on Two Sides of FI with my longtime friend, Eric, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun – and if we did it right, informative for our viewers. What I didn’t realize was how impactful it was going to be for me, personally. Tackling the topics we have covered in our episodes to date (three released and a fourth about to go out as I write this!) has been of immeasurable help to me in managing this transition. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about producing a YouTube channel and podcast, it is that the editing process requires you to repeatedly review footage. This repetition, combined with Eric’s insightful questioning, forces me to spend a lot of time thinking about the exchanges we’ve had. After a fast-paced career where I feel like I was alway racing from one thing to the next without stopping to reflect, I’m now forced to slow down, focus, and think more deliberately. I think this is a hugely positive change for me. I recognize that blogging or YouTube may not be the right outlet for everyone. But even journaling, or simply confiding in a good friend, is a vitally useful way to process the many emotions experienced on our path through life.

Money topics, including FIRE, can be difficult to discuss for many of us. And not everyone will understand your decision to seek financial independence or to retire early – that’s a whole topic unto itself. It’s for this reason that I think online communities and social media can be so useful. I’ve received tremendous value from interacting on Reddit, forums, and more recently on a FIRE-themed Discord server. These forums can provide a very useful mechanism to seek advice, learn from others’ experiences, and talk with other like-minded people. This is online after all, so caveat emptor! Not all sites are as useful, there is always a certain noise level, and sometimes “group think” can be an issue. It is also vital to remember that not all information out there is 100% accurate. But in aggregate, I have gotten much benefit from the time I have spent with these communities, and recommend them as a valuable source of information on your financial independence journey.

Whether you are on the FIRE path or not, I believe there is something of value in what I’ve written here for each of us. None of us travels our path through life alone, and humans largely are not solitary creatures. Seek support in the comfort and guidance supplied by those closest to you. Don’t forget to acknowledge them either! It’s all too easy to get caught up in whatever we are feeling in a given moment. It’s vital that we remember the partnerships we have in family and friends. It is a shared journey and we need to support each other. I wish you all well and for the fullest success in achieving your goals!

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