The FIRE Post: A “FIRE” Definition & Status Update

I’m long overdue to share some big personal finance news with you: I’m unemployed! Or, FIRE’d (read on for a “FIRE” definition if you’re not sure what that is)! Or both? It’s complicated. You decide.

As some readers might recall, I went through a “restructuring” job relocation scenario last year at MegaCorp and my teammates and I were given the “option” to keep our jobs via relocating to NYC or the Bay area. Alternatively, we were given a small time window to find other roles at the company. I’m not one to relocate when an employer suggests it – so I opted to stay put in favor of a short term-limited rotational role that lasted through Mid-April, where I backfilled for a member of a different team that was on leave.

The temporary role went well and it reinvigorated my intent to continue my time with MegaCorp. COVID-19 had other plans for me. When it came time to find my next role, towards the end of my rotation in March, COVID hit, a work-from-home order was implemented, hiring ground to a halt with the pandemic and economic uncertainty, and MegaCorp implemented a company-wide hiring freeze as a final anti-climactic nail in the coffin for my time at the company.

I would have liked to have continued my tenure, at least until economic and public health conditions returned to a relative normal – whenever that may have been (though I’m starting to doubt we’ll ever return to an old normal – I think we’re in an indefinite new normal). It’s not particularly fulfilling to be confined in relative isolation at home during a pandemic, after all. But, fate had different plans for me.

I’m not bitter. I had a great run in 13 years at MegaCorp. In the role where I spent the majority of my time at the company, I finished #1 globally in revenue in the history of my organization – among thousands of colleagues – and by a large margin <pats self on back>. I even finished with 2 of the strongest quarters in the history of the organization on my way out the door, as an encore, for any doubters. I also had a chance to experience 5 other roles at the company over the years, which broadened my skillset, and allowed me to make a lot of new friends and acquaintances. It took a team shutting down in my office, a fixed end date, and zero hiring due to an unforeseen global pandemic to kill me off – not quotas, stress to perform, or mismanagement from one of 15 ambitious managers I reported to in my time at the company.

As I’ve stated before, luck – both good and bad – can be one of the biggest determining factors of your financial fate. I had a lot of good luck for most of my tenure, and a lot of bad luck in my exit. This is why I recently stressed the importance of looking at work as a temporary transactional opportunity. Your current employment status quo is never 100% guaranteed indefinitely (even nurses and other critical, high-demand health professionals have faced layoffs during the pandemic). So, make it count while you can, particularly from a relationship and personal savings standpoint for the hard work that you do, because the future is unpredictable. Time and independence are more valuable assets to purchase than luxury and stuff, so save as much as you can while you can. Your earnings at the beginning of your career have a critical impact on your lifetime earnings.

This is the first time that I’ve not been employed since college, but nobody should feel sorry for me. In fact, by walking the walk on what I’ve been preaching on this site for so many years, I’ve built up a safety net that allows me the luxury of choosing whatever I would like to do moving forward.

Am I “FIRE’d”? What is the Definition of “FIRE”, Really?

If you’re a reader of this site, you are probably familiar with the concept of “FIRE” – short for “Financially Independent, Retired Early”. It’s a concept that I have been drawn to.

Am I FIRE’d? Well, by traditional standards, my status is unemployed and looking at the moment. But, I could be FIRE’d by most people’s definition (if absent the looking part). We’ve lived a very low-cost lifestyle, which has boosted our household personal savings rate to a very high level. By definition, the “Financially Independent” part of FIRE is reached when your annual investment income surpasses your annual cost of living (often referred to as “the crossover point“) – and we’ll pass that most years. With the “Retired Early” part, many experts recommend a saving level equivalent to at least 25X annual expenses, which allows for a safe withdrawal rate of 4% or below. Check mark on that too (important note: it doesn’t require a fortune when your expenses are low)!

FIRE financially independent retired early

But… I value freedom. Including the freedom to not be labeled. I’m not going to box myself in with a label or an indefinite status as many have done when reaching a similar status (and then consequently criticized when deviating from that label). Since April, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection about what is next for me. I’ve entertained the idea of rejoining MegaCorp, I’ve searched for other interesting roles (which are very limited with all of the continued uncertainty and historically high unemployment), and I have even played around with the possibility of purchasing or investing in a bike shop!

If I had to summarize the path forward for me, it’s this:

  1. I will continue to look for things to do that I’m excited or passionate about.
  2. When I find those things (or they find me), I’ll do them.
  3. If those things result in income, that’s a bonus.

So, label it what you will, but the output is that I will be doing productive things with my time, when I find them, and some of them will result in added income, whenever that may be. Notably, I will not be beholden to any employer simply for the paycheck. That much is certain. And while my delivery of this news may come across as anti-climactic, that is the big climactic payoff of this story.

Much more to come. Carry on.

Update: here’s my 6-month FIRE update and 1-year FIRE update.

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