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.
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.
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?