How Warm is that FIRE under your Ass?

Many people are chasing FIRE (Financial Independence / Retire Early) to escape the daily grind at work. They long for the days when they can pursue their passions freely, without being tied to a soul-sucking job.

The motivation to FIRE will of course vary from person to person. In fact it’s not even on the radar for the majority of the world. It’s actually very rare for someone to join this select group of people. Pursuing this type of non-traditional lifestyle is definitely not mainstream.

Usually what drives people to FIRE is the relationship they have with their traditional job. That relationship is generally defined as a combination of their feelings towards their job, and the level of income it produces.

That combination will usually trigger someone to seriously consider a FIRE lifestyle, or not.

Job Satisfaction Grid

One of the great things about blogging is that I get to come up with any concept I feel like exploring. This is an example of exercising that privilege.

I wanted to put some definition around the relationship between job satisfaction and income, and then tie it back to the motivation to FIRE. This led me to come up with a simple grid to capture the connection.

Where you happen to be on that grid could define how motivated you may be to chase FIRE.

Here’s my version of what such a grid might look like…

income to happiness

The Y-Axis is focused on income, and is broken into three levels. I toyed with the idea of including actual income values, but ultimately decided not to. I didn’t want it to be an unnecessary distraction leading to pointless debates about the definition of a high income.

Income levels are relative, and will vary based on region and household size. To keep things simple I’ve chosen to go with the standard Low/Medium/High categorization

Low – Your income is below average, there is very little potential to generate any freedom years. You score a $.

Medium – Your income is average, with some potential to generate freedom years if expenses are managed. You score a $$.

High – Your income is high, with significant potential to generate freedom years if expenses are managed. You score a $$$.

The X-Axis is focused on job satisfaction, and is also broken into three levels:

Hate – You have a deep aversion to your job, and it’s a significant source of unhappiness in your life. You score an angry face.

Ok – You’re fairly indifferent towards your job, with no strong feelings either way. Your job generally does not impact your happiness. You score a neutral face.

Love – You can’t stop gushing about your job, it’s a significant source of happiness for you. You’d be lost without it. You score a love face.

There could be all sorts of grey in between, but I think this simple grid captures the general intent. This is just a very basic representation of the relationship between income level and job satisfaction.

I’ve included “sound bites” in each quadrant to keep things light, I’m sure readers can come up with even more creative versions to drive the point home.

FIRE Motivation Grid

This kind of grid will generally be very dynamic. It’s a snapshot in time since both income and job satisfaction could change over a given period of time. Over a lifetime, you could actually end up experiencing every box in the grid.

Since I covered the ground rules for the Job Satisfaction Grid shared earlier, I can now translate it to the world of FIRE. It's just another angle on the same concept…

retire early or make more money

At this moment, I happen to be in Quadrant 3-1. In fact I’ve been in this quadrant for about 5 years. I’ve had good days and bad days at work, so it’s not all gloom, but in general my job is a big source of unhappiness.

What helps me tolerate this level of unhappiness is the income level. Not surprisingly, I was generally happier with my job when I was lower in the organization. As I’ve moved up in the company, my stress level and unhappiness has grown exponentially. Although my income has also increased, the downsides are not justifiable when viewed over a long period of time.

My motivation to FIRE is at a maximum at this point in time, so my rear end feels pretty toasty. The fact I’m high on the income axis helps to keep the flame from burning me too much, however that’s not very sustainable in the long run.

This is why I’ve targeted an exit around the age of 45. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop working at that time. It simply means I’ll no longer have to put up with the sources of unhappiness tied to a traditional job. Things as mundane as commuting to work, and as deadly serious as time constraints.

Although I've never experienced Quadrant 3-3, I can only imagine how wonderful that must be. I'm sure the concept of FIRE never crosses into the minds of those lucky enough to find themselves in that kind of relationship with their jobs. Stay long enough in that corner of the grid, and you'll reach Financial Independence whether you're chasing it or not.

On the other hand, if you're in Quadrant 1-1 you're in a precarious position. Not only do you hate your job, but your income prevents you from being able to create an exit strategy.

If you find yourself in that left hand most column, start putting together a plan to either shift to the right, work your way up, or go off-the grid all together.

Off The Grid

As I mentioned earlier in the article, there's a rare breed of people who have accomplished FIRE. I consider those folks as living off the grid. They no longer have to concern themselves with the inconveniences of a traditional job, and their income is by definition irrelevant.

This doesn't mean they've stopped working or no longer generate active income. It simply means they have full autonomy over how they direct their time, and their happiness is no longer tied to a traditional job. They find purpose in other activities, and have their happiness dialed in

This is where I ultimately want to find myself. As long as I pay attention to my financial health metrics, and stay focused on my journey, I have no doubt I'll be able to get myself off the grid entirely.

Readers, what kind of relationship do you have with your job? Where on the grid do you happen to be at this point in time? Is anyone living off the grid, any regrets? Share your comments and thoughts below! – Max

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