Last week I attended a conference of 2200 people involved in personal finance and media called Fincon. I was slotted to speak alongside four other familiar faces in the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community. JD Roth (Get Rich Slowly), Pete (Mr. Money Mustache), Carl (1500days) and Leif (Physician on FIRE). We were given an 8 am slot late in the conference when most goers are dragging and perhaps a bit hung over. When my alarm went off I thought, “If I wasn’t speaking at this thing, there is no way I’d get out of bed!” But when 8 am rolled around the room was packed out until people were standing in the back. We tackled all the common misconceptions of FIRE and shared our personal stories. I left the conference feeling great about the whole thing.
Until I sat down in my home church the following Sunday. I’ve been attending church there for 6 years. Little did I know that the pastor would be preaching the anti-FIRE sermon. He had seen the recent New York Times article featuring my fellow panelists and set aim. He spent over half the sermon taking pot shots at the FIRE community and perpetuating all the common myths.
I went from slightly amused, to concerned, to hurt.
When I’m featured in major news outlets, I never read the comments. Same for Youtube comments. I haven’t put my toe into Reddit. But sometimes the critics are closer to home. Sometimes you’re sitting at your home church on a Sunday morning. I sunk in my seat, being publically called out and criticized from the pulpit.
Any counter-cultural lifestyle opens you up to attack.
Even from people who you are on the same page with. If all the misconceptions about FIRE were taken out of the sermon, I agreed with most of the points. His same points were a lot of what I share on this site.
It’s easy to attack things instead of taking the time to understand. It’s easy to see anything different and throw stones.
Cue the Haters
Let’s say you do some odd stuff like…
- Maybe you aggressively pay off your house. (Or pay cash like we did!)
- Maybe you don’t drive a new car every four years.
- Maybe you eat dinner at home.
Or maybe you’re really weird.
- You don’t carry credit card debt.
- You ride a bike.
- You take family vacations to National Parks.
Someone won’t understand. Or even care to understand. Instead, they will just criticize.
Maybe it’s your friends, people you share the Thanksgiving table with or old coworkers. Someone will have opinions.
Others will be confused.
How do we deal with others confusion?
Do anything different. Create something. Say something that matters to you. Live the life you feel called to live.
And someone will be confused. By confused, I don’t mean take the time to ask good questions and understand you with empathy.
I mean they will criticize. Throw you under the bus. Try to shame you. Turn others against you. Not everyone of course. It just takes one person out of a 100 to shake us. Or make us doubt ourselves.
At Fincon this year, one author shared how the Amazon reviews for his book were 3.5 stars. He highlighted all the great reviews. And then showed us one that simply said, “Blah, Blah, Blah.”
It just takes one. One person’s confusion about our work or our value. You might get 500 glowing reviews on your financial plan, life plan, or choices. But one person comes at you with a “Blah, Blah, Blah” comment and our eyes and mind fixate there.
Never let someone else’s confusion become your confusion.
I drive a 20-year-old Honda Civic (ironically, driving this old car instead of upgrading to a $40,000 SUV enables us to give more generously above and beyond our tithe to our church).
Driving an old car confuses people. They pity me. They assume I’m poor. Occasionally they look down on me as though I have less value as a human being (like the old coworker who said I shouldn’t be allowed to park with the other employees because my car was so embarrassing).
They are confused. But I’m not.
- Our net worth is around a million.
- I hit financial independence at 32.
- I was able to foster and adopt 4 kids.
- We volunteer in our community and giving is our largest line item.
- I’ve started working part-time this fall and invoiced more in two months than I used to make in a year.
- My life, impact, and contribution is greater than it’s ever been.
And I drive a beater car.
I went to have snow tires put on my car last year. The young guy who went to pull my car into the garage gave me a look of pity that clearly said, “I’m so sorry that a pretty girl like you has to drive an ugly piece of crap like this.” The look on his face was so clear, I could read his thoughts word for word. I was tempted to reply, but that seemed weird. Instead I just telepathically responded, “Dude, it’s OK, really. I’m rich.”
When we know who we are, others confusion doesn’t need to shake us.
I could have easily, neurotically, started babbling about lifestyle inflation and passive income and living my best life. But I didn’t have to. It wasn’t my job to help him understand.
It’s not your job either.
Others confusion isn’t your job to fix.
My pastor can think I’m a lazy bum who will be ashamed when I get to Heaven. My parents might not understand why we travel so much with our kids. I might write things that other people think stinks. I might create things that others love to trash talk about.
That’s not my problem or my job. Life can’t be lived by a popular vote. If people want to understand, that’s wonderful. I’d love to explain it. But it’s not my job to chase people down and sell them on the value of my ideas and contributions, or my value as a human.
Fearing the Critics
I know so many people who are terrified to step out. To step into the area where others might criticize them or misunderstand them.
I really empathize with that. I spent most of my life in that space. And occasionally hang out there still. Wanting to create, wanting to live out my highest point of contribution, wanting to do something that mattered. But simply terrified of the critics.
- What if someone misunderstands?
- What if I fail and then everyone will KNOW. They will know I’m not good enough, or smart enough or talented enough. They will know that I’m not enough.
- What if I say the wrong thing? Or come across the wrong way?
- What if I step out and not every person loves me? What if it creates an opportunity for someone to be critical?
Friends, it will happen. Good people won’t always understand. People who love you won’t always understand. And then there are people who just love to tear the scared/brave soul in the arena down.
Brene Brown said that after her TED talk went viral her husband, friends and therapist told her NOT to read the comments. So naturally, she went and read every single one. And she said: They validated every single reason I ever had for staying small and not stepping out. Everything I was terrified someone might say about me was in the comments.
What’s the alternative?
The cost of a life lived without criticism is high. You have to give all your most important choices over to the majority. At the same time, you need to keep your life really, really small. If too many people see it, you’ll lose the consensus of approval.
Every time I stepped out and did something big, at least one person strongly disagreed with me. When I went to Bible college, married Adam, adopted Micah, when we had our first baby, moving to Europe, giving away 50% of our income one year, moving to Montana, adopting a sibling group of three from foster care, going back to work, leaving work, starting to write again….
Purpose Driven Life
I think our lives should be driven by our purpose. Our values and gifts should get center stage. Not social consumerism.
You might have to make some counter-cultural choices to get there. You might have to try things that might fail. There will be risk. Someone will be confused along the way.
Let’s tackle a few of the common FIRE misconceptions.
- We drink all day…on a beach.
- We don’t do anything./ We stare at ceiling fans.
- We aren’t taking new ground or having an impact.
- We hate work and are rebellious, entitled jerks
- We just want to travel all the time.
1. We drink all day…on a beach
This might be fair of normal retirees. The rise of alcoholism for people’s in their 60’s and 70’s is staggering. When their entire life, identity and purpose has been a 40-year career, it can be a hard transition.
Except, I know a lot of early retirees and this describes zero of them. (Although the obsession for craft beer is a real thing!)
What I do see is people thinking that when they retire early they will have ALL the time to do ALL the things. Then being painfully disappointed they can’t squeeze everything in. They overcommit. They get early retiree burnout because they take on too much.
2. We don’t do anything. We stare at ceiling fans all day.
This one might be my favorite. I’ve written about creating a Highlight Reel. Every early retiree warns that you need something to retire TO. I talked with Steve from Think Save Retire about it. Very few people actually think they will lead happy, fulfilled, meaningful lives staring at ceiling fans.
Most people view “retire early” not as a finish line but as a starting line. Now I get to fully lean in. Now I get to do the things that always mattered. Now I get to run faster towards my goals and dreams because I’m not spending all day earning money to pay my car payment. I want to be like Betty White and Eugen Peterson!
3. We aren’t taking new ground or having an impact.
I take it back. THIS is my favorite.
Folks, I use to sell furniture, and mattresses and coffee. I was OK at it. Did I try to do it “for the glory of God?” Sure, most days. Did it actually matter that I did it? No. Was it the best use of my skill? No. Was I amazing? Nope.
There are a few things I’m actually good at. I just rarely picked those things as professions. At the start of this mini-retirement I crafted a bold plan: Spend 90% of my time in things I’m actually good at. Areas I have a deep knowledge, passion, natural skill set and flow.
“Taking new ground” and “having an impact” is hard to quantify. But I’ll do my best for you. You can judge however you see fit.
- Every week someone reaches out to me because my story gave them hope/encouragement/motivation.
- Thousands of people read the words I write.
- I speak to audiences near and far.
- I mentor people through difficult transitions to creating a life full of purpose and meaning. (And I always have a 3 months wait list.) I make more money working part-time than I ever did working full time.
- I was able to adopt 4 kids.
- We are able to give more generously than we ever had. (Because our passive income covers 100% of our expenses, we could give 100% of our income to charity.)
Or I could go back to making an awesome cappuccino earning barely above minimum wage if that would make everyone more comfortable.
4. We just want to travel all the time.
Well, there might be a bit of truth here. For most people work ended up being their entire life, for a long time. After our three adopted kids moved in with us, Adam used every single sick day and vacation day to help take the kids to appointments, doctors, attend court dates and meet with caseworkers.
We were ready for our kids to have new adventures. Not courtroom adventures, or having a social worker drop them off at a new house adventure but outdoor adventures. We wanted to help them explore, learn and find wonder in this amazing world. So we do weekend adventures each week where we get out of the house. We travel around in our pop-up camper to National Parks. We try to make up for a few lost years.
5. We hate work and are rebellious, entitled jerks.
I’ll admit a lot of people stumble upon FIRE after a horrible day at work. They can’t imagine doing this for another 30 years. They think, “There HAS to be more to life than suffering through this job just to pay for all this stuff that is supposed to make life suck less.”
Sometimes people are burned out. Even the Bible talks about Sabbath years. God didn’t create a Sabbath year every 7 years because the Israelites were lazy and entitled. God knew we needed rest. Our best life is often a well-rested life.
The word Sabbath has fallen out of favor in lieu of the new term mini-retirement. It’s not that we are lazy, rebellious, entitled jerks. Sometimes we are just tired. Sometimes we miss our spouse, kids, extended family and friends. Sometimes we have kept our nose the grind for so long we have forgotten who we are. So we step away. For a month or a year. We take a Sabbath year.
FIRE makes that possible. FI gives us options and freedom to do the things we feel called to do.
I think financial independence is the perfect expression of faith.
It’s knowing your purpose, wanting to have an impact, wanting to live true to your values. And being willing to buck the trend and make some hard tradeoffs to do it.
I didn’t strive for FIRE so I could opt out of life. FIRE let me fully opt-in. My greatest work is still to come. The only difference is it doesn’t have to earn income anymore.
You would think the church being full of passionate, hard-working, disciplined, wealthy, purpose-driven folks who happen to have time and freedom would be a good thing! I think it is.
A note on comments: You all are amazing with comments! But sometimes when we feel attacked it’s easy to attack back. And it’s extra easy to trash talk church stuff when it seems out of touch or mean-spirited. Trust me, while writing this I had MANY sharp barbs I could have thrown. But during the Fincon FIRE panel, we were each asked how we respond to mean comments and critics. And my big fat mouth said, “with empathy.” Geesh. So I tried extra hard in this post to do that. And I hope your comments will be the same. Actually, it’s fine if they aren’t, I’ll just delete them. =)