Comparison is the thief of joy.
Anyone that takes even a vague interest in personal finance blogs or the personal finance community on Twitter can’t fail to have noticed the recent hype about FinCon.
You’d have to be living under a stone to have escaped the buildup during the last few weeks, the action from the event itself and now finally, the debrief. I don’t say this negatively – quite the opposite. It brings to mind my days of feverish excitement when new tour dates for Take That were announced 😊
The thing is, an event like this attracts many of the “big players” in this community. These are the people whose books and blogs I have read and whose podcasts I have listened to. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and spreading the word, so that the rest of us can learn. Everything I know about FIRE, I learned from them.
But the intense coverage of FinCon is a bit like the FIRE Oscars. And watching the fun play out over Twitter and a hundred blog posts, I can’t help but wonder why it holds such a strange fascination.
I look up to these people. I respect them. I want to have what they have. Having lived my forty something years immune to the concept – have I finally succumbed? Do I want to keep up with the (FIRE) Joneses?
Just like in life, where a colleague’s new car may spark a jealous streak for some, that’s where the problems start. Because I think my FIRE set up is just fine until I look at how other people are doing this thing and then a wave of inadequacy drowns any feeling of achievement. At least for a minute.
Here’s what I’m not doing.
Writing the Next Big Thing
I am happily typing away on my little corner of the internet knowing I’m never “going viral”. I don’t write the right sort of articles for that; mine is more of a diary than a “how to”. I just commit my thoughts to the page and am satisfied with the creative fulfilment it brings.
So I’m not creating a major blog that will sell for thousands or that drives an income from ad revenue. I’m not going to win a Plutus Award or get a publishing deal because so many people read my words. But my ramblings have forced some perspective and have cleared my head and for that purpose it works. Pressing “Publish” means it’s helped a few others along the way and so that works too.
Travelling the World
Travel seems to be high on the list for many early retirees. For me, it’s about spending more time at home. Being forced to travel for business when life circumstances made leaving the family really hard, has pushed me to the other extreme and for now at least, I don’t want to go anywhere.
I follow the bloggers who travel the world in an RV or hopping between AirBnBs and think wow, that’s amazing! And then I look at myself and my lack of drive to get out there and wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.
When they look back at their lives they will be able to tell such a fantastic story of how they worked hard and saved their money so they could wave goodbye to the corporate world and disappear into the sunset. While mine might read that I worked hard and saved my money so I could wave goodbye to the corporate world and settle into….. what?
Is it so bad to be a vicarious adventurer? I love seeing their photographs and reading about their travels, but I also love my home and the stability and safety and oasis of calm it provides. I am embracing a simple life but I don’t want to fit all my worldly goods into a backpack any more than I want to stand in the rain all day at a Take That concert.
It occurs to me this difference I see between what I’m doing and what they are doing might have something to do with age. The people that get the most coverage are often the youngest – those that achieved financial independence in their thirties. It’s an incredible achievement; no wonder I put them on a pedestal. But they also are at a different stage of life. Maybe I just have to accept that I am middle-aged! 😀
Saving the World or Tackling the Big Issues
The people in the FIRE headlines can be vocal. Articulate and passionate for their causes, many run podcasts or organise events (or both) and often appear on panels or are being interviewed regularly. The very traits that allowed them to succeed in their careers and led to their financial independence are applied to their passion projects, sometimes with a vivacity that leaves me in awe.
In comparison my ambitions are small. I’ve written before about finding fulfilment in early retirement; my choices are local not global. I’m not going to bring a voice to a worthy cause but I can contribute to a community in my own quiet way and every little helps.
Don’t Compare Your Weaknesses to Someone Else’s Strengths.
Ok, so I’m not writing the next big thing, travelling the world or tackling the big issues of our time. Sometimes I feel a bit inadequate with my simple aspirations. I am hopeless at keeping up with these Joneses! Reflecting on this I’m reminded of the quote:
“Don’t compare your weaknesses to someone else’s strengths.” – Anonymous
I’m not doing those things because that is not where my strengths lie. I’m better in a very small group than a crowd. I would never voluntarily make myself the centre of attention. I can better apply myself to the low key in life, that nevertheless can still make the world a better place.
What I have learned is this: It’s ok to work hard and be clever with your finances and get yourself in a position to have choices, but you don’t then have to change the world. You don’t have to use that freedom the way that anyone else does.
You don’t have to keep up with the FIRE Joneses – they would be the first to tell us not to.