I grew up watching too much TV, going to the movies and reading more books than I can count. There is such appeal to the escape into another world with a nice clean ending. Our hero is drawn to action, encounters a problem, tries to solve it, stumbles, overcomes obstacles and eventually triumphs – the classic hero’s journey.
Most stories follow this same arc. It allows a build up, some suspense and an overall sense of relief when the task is accomplished.
Life isn’t like that. Phases of your life may be, but life as a whole is not. Without knowing it, I had been comparing the journey to FIRE to the hero’s journey – some part of me thinking of it as a destination to be reached.
While the journey to FIRE might match this format, it’s not the only journey you’re on in life (well, unless you’re going for unhealthy FIRE).
It’s easy to see why. The Hero’s Journey approach has steps that correspond nicely with growth in any subject. Take FIRE for example:
The Call to Adventure – When you first hear about
FIREfrom a blog, podcast, friend or news article.
- Refusal of the Call – “Wait, I couldn’t do that… or could I?”
- Meeting the Mentor – This is almost always reading Mr. Money Mustache, Our Next Life or J.D. Roth. With the growing amount of FIRE in the news and bloggers, this could be many different people.
- Crossing the First Threshold – Realizing the “Shockingly Simple Math” and calculating your own FIRE date.
- Belly of the Whale – Diving deep into budgeting (or mindful spending) and investing; a step it’s hard to imagine NOT doing after you’ve done it.
- The Road of Trials – The small series of tests to make sure you have what it takes. Opening a Vanguard account, spending more time with Google Sheets than is healthy.
- The Meeting with the Goddess – This is where the hero meets with someone and gains an item that helps them. In this case, I’ll just assume it’s Vanguard and $VTSAX.
- A Woman/Man as Temptress – The call to abandon your quest. Moving into a big house and lifestyle inflation fit the bill here.
- Atonement with the Father/Mother/Abyss – Confrontation with whoever holds the ultimate power in life – ie, talking with your spouse about what you both really want out of FIRE.
- Apotheosis – A point of greater understanding is achieved. You and your significant other are on the same page with more resolve than ever.
- The Ultimate Boon – Reaching your final goal. Financial independence is achieved!
- Refusal of the Return – A reluctance to share the “boon” with others for fear of being thought of as different. Feeling guilty that you’re not working, or that you’ve reached financial independence when so many have so much less.
- The Magic Flight – The journey back with the boon. Think Indiana Jones after taking the golden idol. Perhaps tax-loss harvesting your gains and resetting your asset allocation to prepare for retirement?
- Rescue from Without – Just as there were mentors needed to achieve the ultimate boon, there are mentors needed to bring them back to everyday life. Hi Vicky Robin and other FI bloggers who are already FI and sharing their wisdom!
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold – A return to a new normal with the knowledge gained, and perhaps sharing it with the rest of the world. This sounds like an excellent time to start a blog.
- Master of Two Worlds – Achieving a balance between the material and spiritual worlds. After moving away from your previous job, finding a new balance in life that makes you happy and fulfilled.
- Freedom to Live – Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death. By enjoying every day there is nothing to fear in life.
This is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey template which has been an inspiration for Star Wars and other epic tales. The parallels to FIRE are clear (which is one reason why there might be so many blogs about it).
My favorite quote from Campbell is in reference to the last step:
The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, nor is he fearful of the next moment (or of the ‘other thing’), as destroying the permanent with its change. ‘Nothing retains its own form; but Nature, the greater renewer, ever makes up forms from forms.Jopseph Campbell
I love this takeaway. It’s story of continual growth and change – not a finish line.
Every blog and story I read by people who have left their jobs (either because they are retiring or because they have other dreams) seems to hit on this same idea: that it’s only the beginning of a new chapter. They might have gone through this hero’s journey for FIRE, but they’re ready to start another one should the right call to adventure come.