Over the past several months it really seems like the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement has gotten its 15 minutes of fame.
I’ve seen several Market Watch articles among other publications, as well as the big kahuna NY Times feature that really shed the spotlight on the movement.
While these spotlights aren’t unheard of (there’s been many features of FIRE bloggers over the years), it’s brought an interesting observation to my attention.
All these have featured big name bloggers, who have done an amazing job writing about and spreading the word of the movement through their own platforms. These features are well deserved and past due for many!
Plus, it only makes sense to feature the big bloggers who have an audience and influence. These are the leaders of the undertaking! (or cult as I found out).
What’s one thing they all have in common?
They have a great story.
Just about everybody loves and can appreciate a good story, but sharing these stories can have their downsides too.
Let’s dive in a little deeper:
Great Financial Independence Stories: The Good
I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a good story.
Whether it’s someone paying off a lot of debt on a low/average income, or another quitting their job to make less money and pursue their passion, or someone else retiring in their 30’s, (among so many others), these stories are just awesome to hear and read about.
These stories are so many things, but number 1, they’re real.
When people share their story they’re telling the world about their incredible accomplishment, and providing evidence that their feat, whatever it is, is in fact possible.
Many people refuse to believe something until they see it, or are taken through it step by step; well here is their evidence. It is now known how this feat can be accomplished, and people have a potential guideline in how to replicate that success for their own benefit!
Not only are these stories real, but they’re inspiring.
Hearing and reading these great stories can really provide you with the motivation to get through a tough situation.
For example, paying off debt can be a long a grueling process, but just knowing there are people out there who have accomplished this before can help provide you with the motivation to keep going right at the moments where it all seems so pointless.
Or, you may see someone’s story and say, “I want to do what he/she did, how can I make that possible?” and use that as your blueprint to your own great story.
These great stories are real, inspiring, and no two stories are exactly the same.
Sure, many stories follow the same general theme, debt payoff, retiring early, quitting job, etc. but the exact situations on how they do it can be wildly different.
Whether that be differing incomes, age, gender, race, lifestyle, background, etc, or even the way people went about accomplishing their feat, it shows how wide and all encompassing pursuing Financial Independence can be.
Great Financial Independence Stories: The Bad
Have you ever heard a great story and thought, “wow that’s awesome, but there’s no way that’s true, there has to be some kind of catch,” or “they’re in a much different situation so this doesn’t apply to me.”
As I mentioned above, I think it’s awesome that there have been more and more Financial Independence stories in the mass media to help spread the movement, but there’s a catch:
What is the underlying goal of these big publications?
They want to make money. They do that by publishing stories that generate more readers, whether that be through print, or online.
What’s one way to generate readers?
Share a great story.
All this is great stuff. There’s a problem though, perhaps you’ve identified it.
Most of society does not know about is not familiar with Financial Independence.
As a major publication you know this, and thus in your article you aren’t going to go into the nitty, gritty details of how the great story became possible at risk of losing viewers who aren’t interested, instead they recount the story from the 1,000 foot view.
Imagine being in the shoes of the average consumer driven person. It may be easy for some people as that may have been you some time in the past!
You hear/read the 1,000 foot view of a great Financial Independence story through the article, or maybe even just a sensationalized headline (again, to drive views), and from this point of view, it can be tough to relate.
Because they usually only share the best stories (think “retired at 30”, or “paid off $150,000 in debt in one year”, etc) this can be a huge turnoff to people as they simply cannot accomplish that feat.
Because they can’t relate to that overall great story, it’s also very easy for them to miss the underlying message of how they can take the steps to better their financial picture that these people with the great stories employed.
Thus, this first foray into the Financial Independence space can often be considered a missed opportunity for many. We all know too, that once someone has an opinion on something, especially a negative one, it can be notoriously tough to change.
You Don’t Need A Great Story to Pursue Financial Independence
On the whole, I do think that people sharing their great stories, and those getting picked up by major publications is a good thing.
Despite what the extremely negative comment sections will tell you, it’s likely where I discovered the FIRE movement and I’m sure countless others can say something similar.
I do, however, think that many people get caught up in not having a great Financial Independence story, and perhaps don’t feel qualified or that Financial Independence isn’t for them because of that.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Firstly, I think you could argue to much success that all Financial Independence stories are great, merely because we are a relatively small community who shun the typical consumer tendencies.
That’s pretty special no matter how you look at it.
But if you’re in the business of comparing your story to the “great” ones (which we all know we need to stop doing!) and feel like you don’t belong because of it, look no further than this blog.
I honestly don’t consider my Financial Independence story to be a great one.
My parents raised me with the values that lent itself towards saving, I have an above average paying job that’s allowed me to save a good chunk of my earnings, and upon discovering FIRE I simply made the conscious choice to live and spend more mindfully to accelerate my path towards Financial Independence.
I acknowledge I’ve lived a very privileged and fortunate life, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to a “great” story.
Others may feel the same way about their situation. Perhaps they found out about it in their 50’s and think they’re too late, or had always saved something but didn’t have a goal to save more, or any countless number of other situations.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter who you are or how great you consider your story, Financial Independence is for everyone.
Our timelines to Financial Independence may differ and everyone’s situation is unique, but don’t let your background or story stop you from starting or continuing along on the journey.
The only thing that matters is how you choose to go forward, great background story or not.
What are your thoughts on the great stories in the Financial Independence space or the recent waves or major features? Do you agree/disagree that a great story is needed? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!