FIRE (financial independence retire early) seems to be the center of the personal finance universe these days. So many people are frustrated with their jobs, feeling trapped, unappreciated, and/or unfulfilled. It’s no wonder a concept that promises to free you early is so appealing.
But what if your job DOES matter? What if you being there every day makes a clear difference. What if your work has a clear sense of purpose that aligns with your beliefs?
You should still be seeking financial independence (FI.) You shouldn’t assume that your job will always fulfill you, that your team or boss will always be great, or that your job will even exist in the future. Things change. So, make sure retirement on your own terms is an option.
We aren’t pursuing FIRE, but we have embraced FIOR – financial independence optional retirement.
Our Jobs Matter
I have a favorite quote:
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.Bertrand Russell
This places me on the verge of a nervous breakdown for almost 20 years. My job matters. A lot.
Sense of Purpose
My partner TFI and I both work in public education. Both of us shifted our career paths early from jobs that were primarily money-related (banking and economics) to careers that fit our need to contribute in other ways.
Public education isn’t perfect. Far from it. But, it’s important. I believe that universal public education is critical to a functioning democracy and a socially just world. Our delivery system and equity of outcome have a long way to go, but the foundational concept is right.
As educators, we feel the awesome responsibility to change the trajectory of people’s lives. Good education does that, and we work in schools where it’s really important. We aren’t trying to make sure already comfortable people remain comfortable. We’re trying to improve the future for whole communities.
We build deep relationships with the families and students we serve. Their success and failures matter to us. Sometimes, having to be gone for a few days due to illness feels like failing them.
I agree that no one should be loyal to a corporation – because corporations aren’t loyal to you. Our jobs aren’t the same. While the district, state, or federal government may not be loyal to us as workers – we feel a deep loyalty to our students.
Maybe that makes us suckers, but it’s reality.
We don’t lack a sense of purpose in our careers.
I Am Not Easily Replaced
Teaching, and leading, is a combination of skill and art. Doing it to the highest level requires experience, relationships, and an ability to ignore the noise.
These aren’t jobs where employees can be easily plugged into gaps. In fact, due to labor shortages in our area we can’t find one day substitutes, let alone fill all our openings with the high-quality educators our students deserve.
The economic incentives don’t recognize this. Our income streams are fixed, and often shrinking. Bonus structures aren’t a thing in public compensation.
We choose to do it anyway. And, we are good. TFI is an amazing elementary teacher. I’m a great administrator. We are not easily replaced. That means, when we choose to walk, we know our students and communities are going to get lesser service – at least in the short term. This is true of many experienced educators.
If I was convinced there was someone that could do my job as well or better than I do – I’d gladly step aside immediately. Then, I could go fill a gap somewhere else.
Sometimes recongizning one’s worth is a double edged sword.
Not only do our jobs matter – WE matter in our jobs.
That means stepping away is a decision bigger than ourselves.
If Your Work Matters…It’s Hard to Leave
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve ready plenty from medical professionals and other support careers about that sense of purpose (and identity) that can keep you hanging on too long.
That sense of service and fight against feelings of selfishness.
For now, we’re satisfied to be at work. We feel a sense of purpose, the work fulfills us, and those things outweigh the challenging bits.
We don’t need to run away from our work.
Okay, Why Consider Retirement At All Then?
Well, besides DEATH, we realize that what is true now might not be in the future. Things change. Sometimes fast.
You should never assume that your job will always be satisfying, fulfilling, or even available.
Early retirement isn’t our primary driver. Yet, we are still pursuing financial independence aggressively. If we’re so happy with work – why?
Everyone should pursue FI to have the option to stop working on their own terms.
Here are our reasons for building a path to optional retirement as part of our pursuit of financial independence:
Work Might Change
You might love your job now. That’s unlikely to always be true. Your team can change, your boss can change, your role might change against your will. In education, there are a few things that make this likely:
New leadership at the building, district, or state-level can dramatically alter the work we do. A new site administrator can mandate practices that don’t align with our beliefs.
A new school board could suddenly mandate curriculum that is regressive or harmful.
State policy can emphasize subjects or place time requirements that reduce or eliminate learning we consider essential for students.
Even if it isn’t big policy change, the difference between working for a great boss and just an average one is significant. If you’ve ever made that shift, you know how true this is.
There is no win to being a public educator. Small government types attack constantly. You hear the phrase “As a taxpayer…” whenever someone disagrees with you. Resources you may have now can be cut pretty quickly. Your salary is often published in local media.
Parent advocacy is intensifying and not always in a good way. All parents should advocate for their student’s need. Yet demanding other students are expelled, or calling for a teacher’s job because they disagree on classroom management approaches, are now almost daily experiences.
And, of course, my job in leadership means that if any educator I’m supervising makes a serious mistake I’m likely to end up in the paper and be fired for it.
While there are still those educators who teach the same grade, in the same room, for decades that is the anomaly rather than the rule. Educators move, both voluntarily and involuntarily, often.
There is a shortage of those willing to step into leadership positions depsite higher wages. Attrition is high.
We both have great teammates now, but they may all be gone in a year. I know your job is likely the same. Stability is rare in today’s work world.
All jobs have things that can change them. I know you could list factors for your job as well.
It’s a mistake to assume that things will always be tenable.
You Might Change
Even in the unlikely event a job stays exactly as it is, it’s unlikely that YOU will stay the same. We all (hopefully) grow and evolve.
The work you love currently may not be something you love a few years from now. You may need greater adventure, greater stability, or just a new focus.
All jobs have trade offs. The costs you are personally willing to pay now might not be worth paying in the future.
As one example, I currently choose to live with a significant gap between my personality and my role.
I’m an introvert with a strong aversion to drama. Somehow I’m the public face of my school. I support amazing teachers who happen to have a flair for the dramatic in a profession with a baked-in martyr complex.
Let’s just say my personality isn’t aligned with the requirements of my job. Every single day drains my energy. There are points each year where I’m not sure I want to pay the price.
For now I do it without regret. I may not always make that choice. Similarly, you may not always be willing to put up with some of the things you tolerate now.
Life Might Change
There are a number of things that make being locked into a job problematic.
A relationship may end – or begin! An aging parent might need you to move closer and/or dedicate time to their care. You or a loved one may suffer a catastrophic injury or have increasing health support needs.
There are too many things to list here, but life changes fast. Things might change around you so that your job is no longer ideal.
Give Yourself Control
There are so many things outside your control. Don’t let the decision to retire be one.
If you can build financial independence, then whether, and how, you choose to work is in your control and your control only.
Just having a plan gives us a satisfying sense of control in our jobs. We do our jobs better because we know that we can walk soon. It helps us balance out those public pressures, the distractions that pull us from our core mission, and even sometimes ignore requirements that we don’t believe are in the best interest of students.
We absolutely refuse to be those educators that hang on too long for financial reasons. You know them – the cynical bitter ones that refuse to find joy in the job, and make sure no one else can either. They do the minimum and gripe about any work to improve.
It’s not good for students, their peers, or the bitter individual. How much better for everyone if they were able to walk away? TFI and I have a pact that if the other ever reaches that point and is unaware, we’ll send in a resignation letter on the other’s behalf.
We’re not quite financially independent yet, but it is in sight. When we get there, we likely won’t stop working. But optional retirement will always be in our back pocket.
The concept of optional retirement isn’t new. Plenty of other people have talked about pursuing a work optional life. Tanja Hester of Our Next Life wrote a whole book about it. You should read it if you haven’t!
We aren’t running from our jobs. They give us purpose. But we don’t assume we’ll always feel that way.
Why Not Just FIRE?
Honestly, I think most of it is just semantics and perception.
We choose not to have a hard early retirement date. I think that can lead to suboptimal decision-making or disappointment if there are major market declines right before your planned date. I know how obsessive I get about goals once set.
There are also tons of misconceptions about FIRE out there. You’ll hear that it’s only for software engineer bros. Or, that it’s people living off government benefits while complaining about government. Both are true in some circumstances but are far from capturing the whole picture.
Many people seem to think early retirement is related to laziness.
Or, you’ll get hit by the retirement police who believe early retirement means that you can’t work at anything.
In some cases, it’s about running away from a job rather than towards a sense of purpose.
While we don’t buy into the negativity around FIRE, we recognize the complexity of the term for many.
Financial Independence Optional Retirement (FIOR) Just Fits Us Better
Instead, we want to build financial flexibility that gives us choices. That choice could be to keep working. It might be that we dial back but work less.
We may even decide on early retirement and travel. It’s all on our terms.
Optional retirement is a powerful motivator for us – driving to early retirement isn’t.
For all those reasons, we’ve embraced the concept of FIOR – Financial Independence with Optional Retirement.
The same seems to be true for many educators. I’ve recently changed the Educator on FIRE series to Educator on FIOR because very few had an early retirement date. Instead, they were building financial independence for flexibility but assumed they’d continue working in education. Our careers matter.
How about you?
Do you get a sense of purpose and fulfillment from your job? Do you have strong feelings about FIRE or FIOR? Or maybe you just hate acronyms in general?
Either way – comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.