Shortly after graduating college, I knew I wanted to pursue financial independence, retire early (FIRE). Now I’m 30, financially independent (even with recent crazy market swings), and recently laid off (thanks coronavirus). Am I my goal?
In 2018 I took a three month sabbatical from work (a good deal of which coincided with my husband taking time off before starting his new job), and depending on day-to-day market fluctuations, we were financially independent (FI) (using a 4% withdrawal rate).
Short story shorter, the sabbatical was not goals; at least, not our goals.
- I got hit by a car while biking shortly before the sabbatical. As far as accidents go, this one was pretty lucky: driver stopped, police were called, and I did not hit my head or end up in the hospital, but, you know, still not a great way to start a sabbatical.
- We spent a month with basically no internet [cue horror movie soundtrack]. Yes, it was in the middle of Acadia National Park during peak leaf peeping season, but for us, that gets old pretty quickly. Plus, when you want to work on things like game development, the internet is pretty crucial.
- A lot of travel: to the national park, to Cents Positive, and to FinCon. We love travel, but going into the sabbatical I wanted it to be like a mini FIRE experiment. There just was not enough time leftover to see what life day-to-day life without a job was like.
That sabbatical was the signal I used to really realize that I need external structure. My resting point is not jogging because I’m restless, carving a serving spoon out of driftwood, then knocking out 1,700 words for my novel, all before noon. My resting point is staying in bed until noon watching other people play Animal Crossing, then forcing my sims to live optimized lives for ten hours (No! We do not read books for fun! That is what the chess table is for, young lady!).
Do what makes you happy, though, right? Except that at the end of my couch potato days, I don’t feel happy. I don’t even feel less stressed, usually. I feel more fulfilled when I can look back on things I’ve made, or people I’ve helped. I just really struggle with activation energy and need a motivational catalyst.
Long term Fergus and I are looking to slow travel the globe for a while, and work on projects together in dedicated bursts of time, being tourists one week and digital nomads the next week.
Since Fergus is more risk-averse, we’re looking to save up an extra buffer before pulling the plug together. If the S&P 500 dips below 2,000, like some say it could, we could be talking an extra couple of years even.
Cut to now: 2020, unemployed, and still confused.
I know more about myself and how I work (or don’t!) than ever before, but I still honestly don’t know what I truly want or need in the short term.
There’s a type of role I recently learned about that is technical while also emphasizing communication skills. I *think* I want this role, but it means brushing off some technical skills (and acquiring some new ones as well).
So to get my foot in the door there’s:
- Generic interview practice: behavioral questions, solidifying my “elevator pitch”
- Resume / LinkedIn revisions: telling the best story I can, in a tailored way
- Technical interview practice: drilling problems and being clear about thought processes
- Technical community outreach: attending virtual events, possibly speaking
It’s a lot, but even more overwhelming when you consider that some senior engineers will spend months preparing for technical interviews, with hours of prep a day. Meanwhile I’m short a few classes for a software engineering degree and have been largely nontechnical for the last year. Yikes.
So what happens when I try some trickier interview questions that I totally don’t get? Apparently I cry, play Minecraft for the rest of the day, and wonder if I’m wasting my time.
Do I need a job for external structure?
I have a literal list of things I want to work on, but left to my own devices, I just don’t work on them. The only times I’ve been so engrossed in a project that I lost track of time have been: on projects that involved other people and occasionally researching and writing for blogs.
The thing is, I don’t need a job for that. Long term I’m hoping to get that external motivation more from Fergus, but he’s not some special motivational unicorn. I could build my external structure outside of work and family, with meetup groups, social media, and organizations.
So, if the answer is “no,” I don’t need a job for external structure, then the next step should be simple, yeah? Just forget work and jump into the FIRE life.
- Would need to pick something to focus on
- FIRE life gets trickier after quarantine
I want to do too many things and can’t choose
Things I want to create (the short list):
- Scifi novel
- Nonfiction book about travels with family
- Video game
- A bajillion FFF article ideas
All wildly different skill sets, requiring different knowledge and communities. To feel accomplished instead of overwhelmed, I need to choose something for focus, but choosing feels like abandoning the other goals. OF COURSE I know this is bunk even as I type it, but it’s another layer of analysis paralysis making life difficult.
FIRE life gets trickier after quarantine
Part of why unemployed life has not been soul crushing so far is that, while Fergus is still working, he’s working literal feet away from me. We just took a five minute cuddle break, for goodness sake. I’m not waking up with him gone, then waiting until he gets back for dinner: I’m not lonely.
After quarantine, that changes.
In college, for one semester break, I stayed on campus for a few days longer than all my friends before going back home. At the end, I was so emotionally thirsty that it almost physically hurt. Spending most of my waking hours without anyone to talk to is not a good look for me.
Keeping my options open
So you know that one creative project idea on making a video game? Unsurprisingly that ALSO involves coding and would be both practice AND something I could list as part of a portfolio. And who knows, maybe I will fall in love with game development and stop the job search! If I could build a strong enough network and community within indie game development, wins all around. If not, I’ve still got more experience and a project to add to my resume.
It’s hard not to feel like a “FIRE failure” by admitting that I like being productive. Twitter is full of FIREees glorifying their “doing whatever they feel like” lifestyles. Yet these same FIREees maintain six figure blogs and/or have written books…they’re still “productive” by any sense of the word: they just don’t need the same kind of activation energy that I do.
My goal right now is to simply feel satisfied at the end of the day, and to make my life more ideal as the days go on. How that looks like in practice for me is going to be different from others, and that’s okay. I mean, I KNOW that beach bum life, homesteading life, or van life are not for me without any additional naval gazing, so it makes sense that there would be other differences as well. 😉