“What if I am not able to deliver the project?”, “What if I get fired?”, “I am a huge failure!”, “What is the point of everything?”. My brain was becoming an endless pit of questions. “What if, what if, what if…?”. Suddenly I felt entire weight of the world on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. This is my first panic attack, welcome to adulthood in the modern era.
I have been an anxious person but the anxiety attacks were fleeting. At the age of 27, having full blown anxiety was my wake up call. After trying for months to figure out why this is happening, I couldn’t. All I could gather was that it is a natural reaction to what my brain thinks is an imminent danger and some chemicals inside me gone awry.
FIRE, the solution?
After struggling for couple of years with on and off anxiety or panic attacks, I finally decided that FIRE is the answer. After all, all my anxiety attacks were related to work. Hence, I thought if I eliminate this “work to earn” process, I shall be anxiety free. This was the reason for me to start on my FIRE journey.
However, I have realised that anxiety is not something that one can beat. It is as real and as necessary as other reactions or feelings like pain, joy, sorrow etc. One can only try to tame it. Also, chances are that if you have anxiety you have been an insecure overachiever. And if that is true, then as an overachiever you can’t just become calm overnight. But one thing FIRE definitely does, is to give you time and space to fix yourself. So what is the answer, is FIRE the solution or not?
Let us see how FIRE will and won’t help you below.
Three ways FIRE will help you?
1. No need to work for money
One of the best thing that can happen to anyone is if they stop working to pay the bills. Trust me, that is when you are at your best. Problem with insecure overachievers is no matter how illogical or at least improbable it will be for them to be out of work, they cannot truly believe this fact. What it leads to is self-doubt, fear of failure and then full blown panic attacks and constant anxiety.
Financial independence, mathematically defines the retirement amount, that shall be enough for you. This depends on your expenditure, life expectancy etc. (you may read about calculating the retirement amount here). Once you reach this amount or even when you are on the path to reach this amount, it takes away the fear of not having money. And hence, you can fearlessly follow your dreams.
2. Time and space to heal yourself
FIRE itself would not fix your anxiety or panic attacks. However, it will give you time and space to fix yourself. The worst thing about anxiety or panic attacks isn’t the attacks themselves. It is the vicious circle of attacks, one after the other, that you aren’t able to come out of.
For example, when I was in a job that made me travel every week, then every sunday night I couldn’t sleep because of anxiety. After that I would be ‘on’ the next full day, making me grumpy and hence even more anxious that I am not being the best. This made the anxiety or panic attacks even stronger and an endless loop. If I am financially independent, then if one night I have a bad panic attack and I cannot sleep then I can easily sleep the next day without worrying about not being productive (in the sense of today’s world, whatever it means). Hence, I could break the cycle if I am financially independent.
3. Helps you ask more relevant questions and focus on the right things
Before I had anxiety or panic attacks, all I could think about was a huge paycheque, being successful in usual sense of the word etc. But after discovering FIRE, I have figured out that the above said things do not matter a lot. Beyond a point, it is just an aimless exercise of accumulating more and showing off.
I also figured out that no matter how much I accomplish, even if I accomplish my dream, my brain will find something else to be anxious about. I have understood that constantly striving to achieve “the next challenge” isn’t the key to happiness. The key to happiness is being “mindfully” present. That is to stop worrying about future, but being mindful of what one is doing at the moment.
Three things FIRE will NOT do?
1. FIRE, in itself, won’t turn you into a new person
If you are an overachiever, a laid back person, anxious, depressed or whatever word you use to define yourself, you would still be the same even after achieving Financial Independence. Just because a switch flipped, an overachiever wouldn’t suddenly be okay to not accomplish anything. Or a laid back person , wouldn’t turn competitive overnight. But as I mentioned above, being Financially Independent will give you time and space to work on yourself.
2. FIRE won’t give you a purpose
While most of us crib about the rat race, there is something good about it too. Running the rat race is a great distraction from having to think about larger but more abstract questions around life’s purpose. Once you achieve Financial Independence, you may not have to run the rat race but then you have to find the real purpose.
3. FIRE won’t manage your relationships. Your circle of friends and/or relationship with them might change
This one is probably the hardest. Being on the path of Financial Independence requires a huge mindset shift. This is because you would be going against the herd, saving your money instead of spending it. And if this wasn’t anything like you before, then there is bound to be friction. People near and dear to you, will notice this change and will, more often than not, be shocked.
One has to make sure that your near and dear ones understand why you have chosen the path to Financial Independence. Even after you have made them understand, they will still question you, fight with you, try to make you change your mind because after all, if you all have to hang out how can one person have distinctly different principles. Especially when they are used to seeing you spend money without thinking. And they cannot understand why you have decided to change unless they go through the same experience.
This will be a test of you and your relations. Some may stick with you, some may not and you have to accept it. Just because you have decided to become Financially Independent doesn’t mean world will align. On the contrary, you will have to make conscious effort to explain why you are doing what you are doing to your near and dear ones. Some will understand, some won’t. But that is life.
FIRE is not a magic pill
All in all, FIRE is NOT a magic pill. Just being Financially independent or on path would not solve anything. However, it will help you clear the clutter and provide you with the time and space required to solve the larger issues.