Fear versus FIRE

What is it that you fear the most? In the quiet, dark hours of the early morning, when sleep is elusive and the world is quiet, what scary thoughts creep forth from the depths of your soul? I have many small David sized fears (public speaking, cockroaches walking on my skin, entering the ocean in the dark), but here are my twin Goliaths:

  • Everybody I love will die before I do, and
  • My life will draw to a close, and I will have nothing to show for it but a steaming pile of regrets.

The Effects of Fear

Some fears are irrational (like my fear of swimming in the dark, or the conviction of Mr. 1500’s daughter that tornadoes are out to get her, or Toddler BITA’s fear of Santa Claus’ teeth). Maybe like me you fear something that you have no control over (like the timing of someone’s death). Maybe your fear is based on a traumatic event in your past. Maybe you fear things more abstract than cockroaches, like abandonment, or loneliness. Fear, like the myriad characters of Dr. Seuss, comes in all shapes and sizes.

No matter the form your fear takes, fear is debilitating.

You can have location based fear (maybe you have a fear of heights, or a terror of the ocean). You may have the kind of fear that only creeps out of its dank hole in your mind in the dead of the night when sleep is off on a beach somewhere sipping a margarita. You may suffer from circumstance based fear (like the fear of public speaking). Maybe your fear, like Santa Claus, only visits once a year. Maybe you bear the burden of your fear perched on your shoulders every day.

Fear has its advantages. It is a vital survival tool. Sans fear homo sapiens would have been no more than a small, sad smear in the timeline of the universe. Fight or flight allowed our ancestors to stay alive long enough to breed. However it is hard to argue that any of my fears are in any way enhancing my longevity. If anything, they are probably cutting short my span of life. Fear induces stress, and studies abound that associate stress with a weakened immune system, increased cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, decreased fertility, impaired formation of long-term memories and damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. Other symptoms include fatigue, an increased likelihood of osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, and aggravated clinical depression, accelerated ageing and even premature death.”

I would very much rather that my bowels remain un-irritated and my aging progresses at a rate that made a glacier look like a gazelle. And that means that I need weaponry in my arsenal to conquer my fears. I have self-awareness and introspection in my quiver. I could add techniques like meditation or hypnosis to my holster. I can wield the samurai sword of finding someone to share my fears with. I could lob the hand grenade of facing my fears head on and squishing them flat.

Thinking about my anti-fear arsenal led me to ponder the question: is FIRE (Financial Independence and Retiring Early) a weapon that works against fear?

Fear versus FIRE

If you, like me, are aspiring to FIRE, then in all probability FIRE is one of the biggest, most audacious goals of your life. So the question I asked myself is: “Can the biggest, most bad-ass goal of my life help me conquer the fears that are holding me back?”

I think the answer is yes.

The pursuit of FIRE strengthens you

The path to FIRE is long, and it isn’t an easy one. The journey will toughen you up. Your willpower muscles will get well exercised. You will learn lessons in self-control. You will know what it means to keep your eye on the ball. You will be a master at being able to focus and shun distractions. You will have proved that you can be persistent. You will know that when tough times come, you don’t back down; you double down.

All of these lessons will stand both you and I in good stead when we decide to face a fear and stare it down. We will both be the stronger for the journey that we are on. Strength is a good thing to have on your side when you go to battle with fear.

Confidence from FIRE

Achieving goals helps build our self-esteem and our confidence. If you take a big, difficult goal like FIRE and you make it happen, your level of confidence is likely to receive a big booster shot. Sometimes all we need to face down our fears is the confidence that we are indeed stronger than them. FIRE can help you believe in yourself, and believe in what you can do. I wouldn’t want to be the fear that has to stand its ground when faced with a you that has made FIRE your bitch.

FIRE reduces the stressors you have to deal with

Once you attain the holy grail of FIRE, you will have eliminated a bunch of stressors from your life. You will no longer worry about money. You won’t be cussing people out during your hour long commute. You won’t have work deadlines to make you sweat. You won’t be worried about your next promotion or how to deal with the fact that your toddler woke up with a fever and you have a really big presentation due today. Your chores will no longer be stressful because you will have ample time to get them done. The pace of life will be slower. What does this mean?

It means that we will be giving ourselves far fewer fronts on which we need to do battle. This means that if we decide to battle our fears we have more resources available to throw at that battle. Ours will be the mightier force, and the odds of victory will be in our favour.

FIRE buys you time

Once you are financially independent, and perhaps especially if you choose to retire early, you will own much more of your time. There will always be time spent on mundane maintenance activities like grocery shopping and brushing your teeth. What you will reap is the time that you used to spend in your cubicle and the time you spent commuting. You get back the time you worked for the Man in the evenings and on weekends.

How does time help with fear? You need time to work on getting over your fear. Perhaps you need to meditate for thirty minutes every day. Maybe you need to take a swimming class. However you choose to attack your fear, if you have more time to spend on the charge, your odds of success are only likely to improve.

Of Fear and Fire

 

This FIRE advantage is one I’m personally banking on to deal with my big fears. No, I can’t control when the people I love will die. What I can do is spend lots of time with them before that time comes. That is something that FIRE will allow me to do. If my worst fears do come to pass, memories are all that I will have left to sustain me. FIRE will ensure that I have a metric ass tonne of memories to warm myself by in the long, dark evening of my life.

FIRE equals freedom

FIRE is a worthy opponent for my second big fear as well, that of not having accomplished anything worthwhile before my time on Earth is up. I’ve written before about my why, about the reasons that I want to achieve FIRE. FIRE will set me free. Free to explore, childlike, once again. I will only be constrained by the limits of my own imagination. I like to believe that once I am free to run wild once more, my creative juices will flow. I want to give myself the best shot at success. FIRE allows me to get rid of all the excuses, all the reasons why I’m not at my creative best.

It is clear that freedom is a powerful force in my battle against my fear. How might it help with yours? Maybe there is a volunteer opportunity somewhere in the world that would help with facing a fear. Well, now you are free to go there. Maybe there is a workshop that you could attend, but it would need a three hour time commitment daily for a week. Now you are free to make that choice. Maybe the current political climate in your country is scaring the living daylights out of you. Well, now you are free to go on an extended sabbatical around the world.

Final Thoughts

I am not advocating waiting until you have achieved FIRE to tackle your fears. The best time to deal with your fears is, obviously, now. But if it so happens that what with your job, and your family, and your many responsibilities, the days get away from you and find yourself no closer to resolving your fears, I hope it gives you hope to know that just down the road FIRE is waiting to give you a hand with your fears.

When you fear, darkness blooms within you. Light a FIRE. Let it be the dark’s turn to be afraid.

Readers, what do you fear? Do you feel that FIRE will help you with those fears? What are you doing to address your fears right now?

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15 thoughts on “Fear versus FIRE”

  1. Wow, I loved every word of this post! Such an eloquent exploration of a really great topic! Fear can indeed be crippling, yet often fruitless in the areas beyond our control. I’m like you in the major Goliath fears, deaths of loved ones and the insignificance of my life. Faith in God does bring a great deal of comfort and hope in the midst of my fear, but doesn’t eradicate the fear.

    Absolutely, FIRE is also a huge fear-fighter! I used to be so scared I’d never save enough to retire, but now we are deliberately planning for it and making it happen much sooner than previously planned. I still worry about elderly parents and when they may need to live with us, college expenses for two kids, and our health, among other fears, but sound FIRE principles give me more peace of mind. Why not control the things I can control so I can relax more about things I cannot control? Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    1. Thanks Kate! I’m sure my Goliaths are shared by many. And no matter how many times I tell myself that there is no point worrying about something I can’t control, it never quite goes away. Elderly parents are a concern for me too – especially since mine are on a different continent!
      And you are right: the more we get the things we can control under control, the better equipped we are to face the things that we have no control over.

  2. I’m always stressed about having time for things. Obviously that would be much easier to do once we achieve FIRE. I had a few weeks off work during the holidays and I felt so happy and fearless. I was able to get so much done, too. The scariest part of FIRE for me is quitting a job with a steady paycheck and venturing off into the financial unknowns.

    1. That is a good point: FIRE itself can be scary. It is a good thing we have years and years to prep for it, build in buffers and contingency plans and vanquish most of the unknowns. I know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. However I like to think about it like this: lets say our plans do go awry, and our backups fail us and we need to improvise. In that scenario the years of preparing for FIRE will have stood us in good stead: we will be focused and determined and resolute, and we will be more likely to succeed than to fail at figuring out a new way.

  3. I don’t know if I am more prone to fear or just live in such a way that I have to bump up against it all the time. =) But it’s ongoing. And generally my fear is buried under 4 other things. It takes a while to figure out that it’s actually some fear holding me back. But it’s worth it, and I think I am slowly getting better and recognizing it and dealing it with it.

    1. Fear is a tricksy little beast. Our minds will play all sorts of games trying to convince us that there is nothing there, rather than face up to it. I think it is probably a good sign that you are running into fears so often. My guess (based on your blog posts) is that you are changing things up, trying new things and growing.

  4. I actually use to be motivated to save and increase my income by fear. The fear that my kids would experience the financial difficulties I saw my parents go through when I was a kid. We’re now mostly beyond where that is a legitimate fear and I’m very thankful that financial independence has bought me that. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Good point FTF. I talked about the positive effects that fear has on our survival rate. Fear (in moderate doses, dealt with well) can also be a good motivator. Nothing like good old fashioned fear to keep one on the straight and narrow.

  5. Without a doubt, my biggest fear is public speaking. I don’t know why that is. I’ve always been afflicted with it. I even freeze up in front of family and friends. Very weird. But I’m working on it. I now force myself to utter at least one sentence in every group setting I happen upon. Very nice post, Mrs. Bita. It made me think. And I love the way you connected fears with FIRE. Bravo.

    1. How nice to see you here Mr. Groovy!

      While I have no doubt your fear of public speaking feels like it is cramping your otherwise groovy style, as far as fears go if that is your biggest one, you are a lucky man. Good for you for taking steps to conquer and eventually vanquish it.

      And thank you for your appreciation.

  6. Loved this post. Fear is evil and often makes us live a life of mediocrity and conformity so we don’t have to confront it. It holds us back from doing the things we know we are capable of doing. FIRE is definitely a most audacious goal…sometimes I fear that it may not happen…mainly because we live in a high cost area with no plans of leaving (all of our family and friends are here). But I’m definitely going to strive for it…interested to read more of your journey.

    1. Welcome Andrew. We are on the same page about fear.
      The best part about FIRE as a goal is that just striving for it makes your life better. In the worst case, even if you don’t get to retire early, you are certain to enjoy a very comfortable regular retirement. That is more that what most people are likely to have. I’m sure you’ll get there though!

  7. I don’t know that FIRE helps you deal with your fears. I think its that FIRE and facing your fears both require the same attitudes and behaviours. The confidence gained from taking control of your life to achieve FIRE is the same confidence you need to handle fear. At least, that’s how it feels to me. We are all different though.

    1. This makes a lot of sense to me, but I have nothing to back it up with. Fear is often rooted in loss of control, and FIRE helps address that in a big way. Wonder if there’s a connection!

    2. I think whether FIRE helps you with your fears directly or indirectly depends on the fear. I like your observation about FIRE, confidence and control.

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